It was bound to happen eventually. Video game crowdsourcing via Kickstarter finally had its first so-close-it's-unfair moment, when M.U.L.E.-inspired trading sim Alpha Colony missed its $50,000 goal by just $28.
Pledgers drove funding up to 99.94% of the game's asking price, but because of Kickstarter's all-or-nothing policy, developer DreamQuest Inc. will see absolutely nothing of the $49,972 that was pledged to the game.
As it turns out, missing its goal was a blessing in disguise, but that's really beside the point. Alpha Colony is clearly a game that backers see potential in, and in just about any other funding scenario, DreamQuest would have an extra $49k in its coffers to keep the lights on and keep the game moving as it seeks additional funding elsewhere.
It's an issue we've seen creep up from time to time, most recently in this telling blog post from Project Zomboid developer Chris "Lemmy" Simpson: one simple miscalculation of money could spell the difference between a whole lot of money or a whole lot of nothing when it comes to crowdfunding.
We got Kickstarter on the phone to discuss its policies, and whether it was considering getting any more lenient on its all-or-nothing approach.
As it turns out, no. And here's why.
As Kickstarter explains it, the company doesn't want to put creators in a situation where they're forced to deliver anything under budget.
Most creators scope out their backer rewards based on their funding goal. Someone has to pay those T-shirt printers, after all, and if funding comes in below a creator's minimum goal, they may be stuck footing more of the bill than they'd anticipated.
"We want to protect them from that awkward situation," a representative tells us.
Backer protection, too
Of course, the same goes for backers.
When someone puts down money toward a Kickstarter project, they are doing so with the understanding that nothing is coming out of their wallets unless the creator's goal is met.
Backers are not putting money into a pool. Backers are, instead, making a decision that a project is worth their money if it manages to reach its funding goal.
"It creates this narrative arc," Kickstarter tells us.
"People get sort of emotionally invested in this idea. If you're approaching the deadline, and you're short, people rally behind it."
"It's almost like a gamification."
Benefits, even in failure
We asked what advice Kickstarter would give to game developers like DreamQuest who just missed the mark.
"It's not like you're walking away with nothing," they say.
Just about any campaign will manage to build a community around a game, even if it hasn't been developed yet. Developers can take that experience (and that fanbase), and seek funding elsewhere. Even on Kickstarter:
There are no rules saying that you can't re-launch a project on Kickstarter, even at a different price. In fact, speaking to Kotaku, that was the company's response to DreamQuest's situation.
Unfortunately that doesn't always work and, in fact, did not work for DreamQuest...Alpha Colony's first attempt on Kickstarter raised over $100k before funding was canceled, more than double what it raised on its second, downscaled attempt.