Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter (i.e. not everyone is Doublefine)
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With the tremendous success of the Double Fine Adventure kickstarter (nearly $2.5 million raised with almost a week left to go), there's the idea that the floodgates have opened for the funding of more expensive, higher profile games.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
Case in point, Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter.
The guy in charge of Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter seems like a nice guy. He has a solid resume (he's worked on Halo Reach & Tom Clancy games among others). I wish him and his project well. However, as of the time of writing this article, the fundraiser is just short of 10% of its goal. Assuming a steady rate of funding, it will only reach 60% of its goal by the end date. Unfortunately, most kickstarter fundraiser see the greatest amount of funding in the first few days so the actual total collected will probably be less than that.
So what makes this project different than the Doublefine project?
1 - Lacks name recognition - There are few well known personalities in the game development business these days. In most cases, if you've heard of a specific developer, they've either been around for forever (like Miyamoto & Sid Meier) or they're a small indie developer. Most big games these days are attributed to companies and not individuals. For example, I'm a fan of many of Bioware's games but I couldn't tell you a single person who works there. And though I've seen several interviews about Mass Effect 3 recently, they're never with the same individual.
Cliffy Bleszinski could probably raise a few hundred thousand dollars for a shooter with ease. Though Christian Allen may be no less talented, he just doesn't have the name recognition.
2 - Lacks a strong niche - There's a perception (true or otherwise) that the point & click graphic adventure game is an endangered species. The Shooter genre, on the other hand, is one of the most common genres out there. Even the specific subgenre of Tactical Shooter isn't particularly rare these days. Now the even more specific HARDCORE Tactical Shooter subgenre may be uncommon these days, but then you're talking about a niche of a niche and it's hard to get backing when you're being that specific. In contrast, the Doublefine kickstarter was as broad as possible within its own genre - I imagine Doublefine already has a pretty good idea of what kind of game they wanted to make but they refrained from sharing details for fear of alienating some potential point & click fans.
3 - Lacks great rewards - I'll give them this, the starting reward of $15 with a free copy of the game and access to private discussion forums is very solid. However, after that, things start to get murky. Many of the rewards give the person donating a stronger say in specific elements of the design. I could be completely wrong here, but it's my belief that most non-developers don't want to be responsible for specific design items. If they do want to design a game, it's in very broad ways - Make me a Zombie RPG or Make my favorite class/character stronger or Give me more levels! By tying donation levels to greater control over design, they're essentially saying, "Give us money and we'll let you work with us." Pay to work is not an attractive proposition.
Also, the highest reward is a custom crafted gun. I imagine the overlap between people who have large amounts of money to donate, enjoy hardcore tactical shooters, enjoy guns, and are legally able to own such a weapon is very small.
4 - Lacks an interesting video - Although there are some clips at the beginning and a cute/creepy part at the very end with his daughter, for the most part, the Crowdsourced Hardcore Tactical Shooter video is just the guy talking straightforwardly about the project. Contrast that with the DF video which is full of jokes and personality and changes location several times throughout the video.
5 - Lacks a feeling of importance for the fans' contributions - With the Doublefine kickstarter, fans feel directly connected to the success or failure of the project. If people don't donate, the game doesn't get made. In contrast, the creator of the Shooter kickstarter admits that the $200,000 they're asking for isn't enough to actually create the game they're planning and that they're planning on using the kickstarter funds as leverage to get serious funding elsewhere.
6 - Lacks a reliable team - Doublefine has an established studio that has created several games. You can easily look at the games they've made and get an idea of what they're capable of creating. Serellan LLC? Nobody knows.
Now with all that said, their kickstarter still has a couple weeks to go so who knows? It could see a turnaround. Christian Allen has a good amount of experience and seems very passionate about this project. I hope it succeeds and they manage to create an amazing game. Still, let's see what we can learn from this particular attempt.
A new developer has no immediate control over some things. You can't suddenly make yourself into a popular or famous developer - that's something that requires time and success (and often, luck) to accomplish. Still, you do have control over many things such as...
1 - Pick your project with care. You need to pick something that's niche enough that people feel it isn't already being created without their help, but not so niche that only a few people want it.
2 - Make your goal reasonable. As far as I know, the Doublefine Kickstarter is the only video game project to raise over $100k. If you're a brand new developer, even $10k could very well be too much. Remember, it's better to set a reasonable goal that you think you could actually achieve than to aim too high and end up getting nothing because the fundraiser failed to reach the minimum.
3 - Plan out your rewards carefully. You want the rewards to be appealing but at the same time not so expensive to create that you end up wasting a huge chunk of your funding just fulfilling rewards. Pay especially close attention to the low level rewards (like $10-$25) since those tend to be the most popular.
4 - Develop a network before starting your kickstarter. As mentioned in a recent GDC talk, typically a large percentage of the funding for many Kickstarter projects comes from personal acquaintances of the people running the fundraiser. Not only are your friends, family, and contacts more likely to donate to your fundraiser, they're also more likely to spread the word and encourage others to donate.
5 - Prove that you can do what you say you will. If you're not famous, you can't just say, "I want to make a game," and expect to get lots of money. But if you can show what you're capable of (for example, high quality footage of the game in prototype status), your chances of getting funding increase drastically.