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Opinion: Kickstarter's open in the UK, but are its game devs too ambitious? Exclusive
Opinion: Kickstarter's open in the UK, but are its game devs too ambitious?
November 1, 2012 | By Mike Rose

November 1, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Gamasutra news editor Mike Rose is happy to see developers in his native United Kingdom finally able to launch Kickstarter projects, though he worries that the first to step forward may have set their sights a bit too high.

Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter launched without much fanfare in the UK earlier this week, with around a dozen video game campaigns popping up with pound sterling targets attached to them.

Perhaps surprisingly, no big-name UK studios chose to delve into Kickstarter on day one, following the examples set by the likes of Double Fine, Obsidian and Revolution Software (the latter of which is in fact based in the UK, but circumvented the platform to launch with a dollar target earlier this year.)

Initial impressions from those UK game projects that have been submitted suggest that a number of studios have perhaps skimmed over the top-funded game titles on Kickstarter, and subsequently set their sights a little too high with a long way to go until they reach their targets -- although those involved are staying positive about the outcome.

Peter van der Watt, managing director at Blazing Griffin, has a Kickstarter campaign going for The Ship: Full Steam Ahead, a sequel to the original 2006 first-person murder party game. His team is looking for £128,000 ($206,874) in two months, and is taking the wait and see approach -- and with less than 100 backers in 24 hours, the studio may well have to put Plan B into effect.

"I think that at this stage it's simply too early to gauge [whether the Kickstarter will succeed]," says van der Watt. "We've given ourselves the target of two weeks to determine the likelihood of succeeding or surpassing greatly and will make any decisions based on the data up till that point in time."

"I think we went in with a reasonably realistic view of what we hoped we could raise," he adds. "I don't feel there would have been much benefit to everyone involved in going lower. We definitely didn't want to over promise and under deliver!"

Of course, Blazing Griffin has the advantage of building off of past work. Maia is the first solo effort from Simon Roth of Machine Studios, and he's looking for £100,042 ($161,688). Despite not really having a big name to pitch to potential backers, Roth has already managed to raise over 10 percent of the target, in part thanks to a retweet from Minecraft creator Markus Persson.

"The launch of the service needed a bit more fanfare," says Roth. "There was little coverage and they flipped the switch at midnight. The only mainstream press covering it failed to champion the service, and were a bit negative."

Even so, Roth remains optimistic, although he's not 100 percent sure whether he has set his sights correctly. "By my estimates we should manage it by the skin of our teeth," he adds.

"50 percent of our target audience is American, so a pound value is very alien to them and has been a slight issue with a number of backers," he notes. "I think setting our sights above the 100k mark was important though, on a psychological level, as it makes a project seems genuine and lets backers know we have designed a realistic budget."

While Maia is definitely looking like one of the front-runners, other Kickstarter campaigns from the UK aren't looking so destined for success. The Sui Generis RPG from Bare Mettle Entertainment is looking for £150,000 ($242,505) and has raised less than 2 percent of its target in the first 24 hours.

Elsewhere, Paul Firth's mmoAsteroids has gained some traction on Twitter, yet has only seen six backers. Clearly there is an element of interested parties spreading news of a title, yet being not so quick to empty their wallets.

Kinesthetic Games is another studio with a favorable background, but one that has perhaps once again set its sights a little too high. The team of Ex-Lionhead and Codemasters staffers is looking for £200,000 ($323,340) for Kung Fu Superstar, a tactical combat game that has seen less than 100 backers and around 4 percent of its target in 24 hours.

"We have a lot of faith in our game and in our ability to see it through, so we're optimistic that the Kickstarter community will share that faith," says Kostas Zarifis, game director at Kinesthetic. "We spent a lot of time and effort budgeting, so we're confident that what we're asking for is right for what we're trying to do with the 'Kickstarter version' of our project."

By 'Kickstarter version', Zarifis is referring to Kung Fu Superstar: Origin, a sort of preview version that will be built before the full game. In fact, to receive the full version of Kung Fu Kickstarter, backers have to put down at least £40 ($67).

"We are codenaming the Kickstarter game Kung Fu Superstar: Origin," he explains. "It'll be available on PC only and it'll be sort of like the 'Season 1 Pilot' of the Kung Fu Superstar saga. Provided that goes as well as we plan for it to, we will then build on that success to make the game available on additional platforms with additional content."

Zarifis notes that the many benefits of using Kickstarter for his studio's upcoming set of games are obvious.

"It can only mean great things for both the local and global development scenes as well as the end gamer. More ways for creative people to be able to realise their creations means more good games in the market. Monopoly kills creativity and diversification."

For now, I find myself dubious of the UK games industry's current presence on Kickstarter. Many devs are seemingly failing to understand that you need a prior internet presence and community if you're going to aim for the stars with your target, and the majority of the game projects I found while skimming the new projects category are being far too ambitious.

Simon Roth's suggestion that the pound sign is putting Americans off also rings very true with me. To add to that, it could very well be working in a negative manner at a psychological level -- any U.S. backers will have to translate the pounds to dollars first, and will then be left with a larger figure, potentially putting them off, as silly as it may sound.

But of course, it's extremely early days, and we'll have to wait a couple more weeks to really gauge the full picture. For now, I would urge those UK studios planning to launch a Kickstarter in the next few weeks to skim through some of the smaller past Kickstarter successes, and consider whether the target they're considering is really in line with past expectations.

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Greg Quinn
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Whether these studios are successfully funded or not, they did the right thing by listing on Kickstarter UK as soon as it launched. Only good for publicity..

Maria Jayne
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So what we're saying is, having a Uk kickstarter is a waste of time because half the audience would be american and too dumb to figure out sterling?

Perhaps, on the other hand, perhaps they're too smart to donate to projects they don't care about?

Raymond Grier
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That sounds like a gratuitous attack on everyone using the site. You don't like the site or you don't like people asking for help funding their projects?

Maria Jayne
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I don't like the excuses people come up with as to why their project is failing on any level beyond "not enough people are interested" Because we all know it's got to be currency confusion over interest right? every project is a gold mine apparently, it's always the consumers fault when they just don't "get it".

If your pitch is good, nobody cares what currency you use.

Alan Barton
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@Maria Jayne:

I agree with you 100% about aspects such as the quality of the pitch & how good the product is, are without doubt the major factors in the success of any product. However there are always some people on the edge of trying to decide, “should I or shouldn't I buy into this product?”. It is for these people where we need to do all we can to get them as well, as they can make or break the success of a product reaching its minimum funding level or even just earning some more money.

So I have to also agree with this, I.e... "Simon Roth's suggestion that the pound sign is putting Americans off also rings very true with me."

But even listing pledges in dollars where the dollars are uneven strange converted amounts will look wrong, as most US consumers don't get to see that on almost any other website. It is vital UK companies can list their pledges in exact dollar amounts, as the US is by far the biggest market. I don't think its such a problem for most Europeans to see strange converted figures to our currency, as many of us Europeans have to think in dollar conversions anyway when looking at prices on the Internet. But I do strongly believe it is a major *extra* barrier for some Americans to think about non-dollar amounts, because most companies automatically list in exact dollars for them, because they are by far the biggest market. So pledges as it is now stands for UK companies, result in strange uneven looking odd dollar amounts and strange is bad because strange when purchasing is directly linked to uncertainty and uncertainty when purchasing means the potential for the loss of a sale. People don't need much uncertainty to put some off purchasing and it will put some off, consumer research proves this time and time again.

This difference can make or break a product reaching its minimum funding level, perhaps even more importantly, it can also boost any and all successful products in earning more money. How much more, I have no idea, but my gut feeling is its easily a double figure percentage difference in extra earnings and across all of kickstarters non-US projects, that could add up to many extra millions of extra income by just making a simple small change.

So I would say its vital for Kickstarter to allow us all to list projects in exact dollar amounts, if that is what we want for our product on Kickstarter.

@Kickstarter, if you are reading this, at least please give UK companies the choice.

Maria Jayne
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@ Alan, could you not put the dollar amount in brackets for the text description of each pledge tier?

I realize currency exchange rates fluctuate but it only has to remain a useful guide for a few weeks.

Alan Barton
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The problem is how can I state pound amounts which translate into the following dollar amounts when viewed by US consumers? e.g.

$5, $10, $25, $50, $125

If its converted from a stored amount in pounds, it would become strange looking numbers, when viewed in the US, like for example, e.g.

$6.37, $13.03, $37.58

Which isn't consumer friendly numbers.

Even worse, if its an automatic conversion that's linked to interest rates, then the next day, it'll be different numbers! That adds yet another potential lost sale's moment, as some will (rightly) think, WTF, it was a different amount last time I looked.

Consumer research shows uncertainty is bad when asking people to make purchasing decisions. We can't spook consumers with strange unexpected values. They need to be Consumer friendly numbers at least when displayed in dollars. When displayed in Pounds and Euros its not such an issue to be strange numbers. For European games developers the US market is by far our biggest market and in that market most websites (for all kinds of products, not just games), use friendly dollar amounts.

It is vital we can do the same. We need dollar amounts to be seen in the US like as follows, e.g. $5, $10, $25, $50, $125 ... Nice rounded pleasing numbers and we need to be able to pick these numbers in dollars. (Ok we get paid by Kickstarter in pounds, but it needs to display our chosen exact dollar amounts to US consumers).

Cameron Purdie
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Maybe none of the other games are doing as well as Maia because none of them did any marketing at all before going up on Kickstarter, while Simon has been spending all his time that isn't spent developing the game on spreading the word.

Jonathan Murphy
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The amounts are starting to catch up to what typical start up company looks for. I wouldn't be surprised if they started asking for an average of $1 million in 2014. The amount will be high if x amount of time, and people are needed.

Reminder: Indie companies pay next to nothing. They bank it all on sales. While the chance to make a lot of money is higher, the job stability, and initial pay is often insanely low. Meanwhile a lot of rich people are holding onto their cash like a squirrel stocks acorns. We need more owls.

Paul Marzagalli
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I think part of it is backers expecting a bit too much now in terms of "show" during the kickstarter itself. The whole point of a kickstarter is to gain the money you need to generate necessary assets to construct a game with, yet increasingly during Kickstarter, there's a clamor for showing off material/gameplay/mechanics that you wouldn't even see until deep into a normal marketing cycle for a mainstream game.

The pendulum seems to have swung from, "Adventure game? Take my money!" to the other end, which seems to say, "Show me all of your game before you see a cent of my money!" I'm all for careful investing, but I feel the middle ground is being lost and it's certainly prompting developers to perhaps commit to or show more than they ought to at this phase.

I don't know...just talking aloud. It's been interesting to watch Kickstarter change (in terms of developers and backers alike) over the last half year. That, and I am generally bummed that Corey and Lori Cole's Hero-U hasn't funded yet. :-( Darn you Kickstarter kids!

Eric Shaun
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Only one that took my eye in the UK launch was Spuds Quest. Backed.

Steven Christian
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They should keep it in USD.
I live in Australia and I have no problem backing games in USD (though we do have parity with the Dollar).
Introducing multiple currencies is just confusing.

If they were to launch in Australia, I would hope that they would keep the prices in USD, or at least give people the option to choose the currency when creating a project.

After all, the target market is either the US, or the world as a whole, and you can't list everyones currencies.


Alexander Cooney
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"You, Sir, are being Hunted" is doing just fine! YESSSSSSSS!

Kevin Salaba
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I looked at many of the UK kick-starter projects when they were first announced. I looked them over and was tempted to fund them, but in the end I didn't solely because they want pounds.

I know its not hard for me to look up the conversion rate, and I know I am being stingy because I will have to pay a 5 dollar conversion fee on top of what ever I purchase with my credit card. But I feel it is kinda dishonest asking for something in pounds.

Pounds have always been a strong currency and probably always will be. So when you ask for 5 pounds the real price in USD is somewhere between 5-10, it makes me feel like someone is trying to short change me for a little extra cash. I feel this when ever I see websites charging pounds for electronic goods, and tend to not to make purchases from such sites, because my feelings are such.

I do believe in kick-starter and many of these projects. But I have ALWAYS felt stretch goals were/are a scam, in addition to adding new bonuses and price tiers to a project. I really hate these techniques. Yes, with more money you can make a better, but forcing people who have backed and believe in your game to give even more money so they can get the cool features THEY want is a very sad way to treat your fans.

While I understand this is something very different, I still cannot seem to shake the feeling that is just another way to exploit a few more bucks out of me. What is to stop non-UK projects from using pounds in the future?

So please blame my stinginess and my speciousness for not backing these great projects, but if they used USD, I would feel no shame at throwing my money at them. I have back many projects in the past and some in excess of $200, so I don't really think the developer should worry that their funding will fail because they asked for 150,000 USD rather than 150,00 pounds.