DD: Do you think that the Kickstarter has shifted? Has the wave of big Kickstarter-funded games passed?
Brenda Romero: Kickstarter in and of itself has become a game. It’s a spectator sport, and it’s super fun to be involved in these projects. It’s fun to watch them succeed, and it’s fun, in a sadistic game, to watch them fail. Watching people succeed and watching people fail, for better or for worse, as humans, there’s something to that.
I think people have a limited amount of funds to spend on Kickstarters, and I think the market is a lot more crowded than it used to be. I also think in the early days there was a lot of press coverage of “Here’s some RPGs on Kickstarter you might like,” and you’re not seeing as much of that these days. So I think there is a bit of atrophy in the community and apathy in the community. There’s not as much money because the money there was to go around has gone around. Kickstarter really is its own social network, and it’s incredibly fun to see what’s on there, but that wanes after a while.
DD: Many devs think we’ve settled on a Kickstarter format where a lot of work has already gone on, and the developer is asking for a little money to put them over the top. Is there a standardized format for successful Kickstarter games we’re settling into, or do you think the model will get shaken up again?
The Kickender, I guess you’d call it, is a possibility, but there’s also the “We’re done, help us get enough money through preorders to actually publish the thing.” So the game is done, but you need the money for community management or what have you, so the whole thing is basically a preorder platform.
You said something about “successful Kickstarters,” and it’s funny to me, because I’ve never viewed the games that didn’t get funded on Kickstarter as “failures.” They’re just not there yet, or there’s some gem of fun there that was interesting enough to make me want to play the game. Kickstarter actually prevents a bigger failure -- an actual failure would be to spend a goodly sum of cash to create a game that wasn’t as fully realized as it could be.
So one can view Kickstarter as milestone zero, just like when you’re passing through a publisher with a pitch. When I meet with a publisher and they say, “I like this element here, and I like this, but how about if we did something a bit different?” I don’t call that a failure -- that’s game design, that’s iteration.
That was my first response [to Shaker]. “What’s not right here? What do we need to do?” and that’s when it became obvious that we were spending more time addressing the weakness of the pitch than we were building the world, so better to walk away and come back with something stronger.
DD: Do you feel like Kickstarter pushes success and failure in binary terms? That Kickstarter has less of a give and take than going to a traditional publisher, for instance?
BR: It’s tough, because when I’m just making a game, for instance, way ahead of my concern for story is my concern for systems, and how the systems are playing and feeling. But with Kickstarter, you have to come out with it all. A year or so ago, people looked at Kickstarter as the silver bullet for game development, but Kickstarter shares some of the same hurdles we find in traditional game development. You have to please the board, whether that board is 9,000 individuals, or backers, or five people sitting around a table, or one person in charge of green-lighting your idea.
If the crowd doesn’t like your pitch, so be it. It’s better to know sooner rather than later. Naturally, it doesn’t feel great, but it also doesn’t feel horrible. There’s this weird, wonderful day of acceptance. Once you fail, interestingly enough, you don’t feel afraid of doing it again, because the world didn’t change. Nobody showed up to take away my game developer card. It’s a wonderfully humbling experience. Failure’s okay. What matters is debugging after the failure.