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Opinion: Black Isle is a great case study in how to NOT crowdfund your game
Opinion: Black Isle is a great case study in how to NOT crowdfund your game
December 20, 2012 | By Mike Rose

December 20, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    19 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



Crowdfunding has been a godsend for video games in 2012, allowing studios to bypass publishers, gauge interest, and go directly to the fans for funding. But it's also been a way for lazy developers to ask for free money with a pitch that would get them laughed out of any boardroom.

Case in point: Black Isle today launched a crowdfunding scheme for Project V13, a post-apocalyptic game that has been in development for an indeterminate amount of time, and may or may not have anything to do with the work that was done on Fallout Online, the MMO that Interplay isn't allowed to make (or even talk about) anymore.

The vague campaign is, intentionally or otherwise, misleading and frankly insulting, and here's why.

Calling the studio "Black Isle" is manipulating memories

The main point to note is that this revival of Black Isle is more in name than anything else. The original Interplay company was founded in 1996, and closed down in 2003. Numerous members of the Interplay team that made the first Fallout banded together to form Black Isle, and this studio went on to create Fallout 2.

With this year's comeback, only two of the original team have actually been brought back in to work on Project V13 -- studio head Chris Taylor, and Mark O'Green, both of whom worked on the original Fallout series. In fact, notable figures like former Interplay CEO Brian Fargo and designer Chris Avellone have said that they knew nothing of Black Isle's resurrection before it was announced earlier this year, and each have no hand in it whatsoever.

black isle 2.gifWhy does that matter? Well, for the sole reason that the current Black Isle studio seems to be attempting (and succeeding) in using the name alone to gather up pledges. Press and gamers are jumping on the chance to discuss the revival of the Fallout team, many unaware that it really isn't the original team at all, but rather a bunch of developers who, for the most part, have nothing to do with Black Isle's past.

When a fan of the original sees such enthusiastic headlines as Fallout Creator Black Isle Studios Is Back and Fallout 2 Dev Working On Post-Apocalyptic RPG, why would they believe this is anything but the original Black Isle?

So what exactly is Project V13?

It's a good question, and while we can make a fair guess at the answer, it's not been specifically explained yet.

Project V13 was the codename for Fallout Online, an MMO based on the Fallout universe that was recently dropped by Interplay, after Bethesda won the rights to a Fallout MMO.

Given the PV13 name, coupled with the fact that Black Isle says the game has been "in development for years," it's rather safe to assume that this is Fallout Online with all the Fallout references removed.

Fair enough, you say -- Interplay has had this in the works for years, and to throw all of the work away over a dispute would be madness. But here's where it gets tricky. Bulgaria-based Masthead Studios was working on the original Fallout Online build, with the plan that it would be published by Interplay. With this move to Black Isle, there's no word regarding whether Masthead is on the project anymore.

black isle 1.jpgMore notably, the pledge page for PV13 fails to describe the game in any detail, refusing to even list the type of genre that the game will fall under. "We've had to make some major changes recently," it reads, suggesting that the MMO angle may well have been dropped -- but in place of what?

Why would backers want to put cash down for a project outline that is so incredibly vague and disconcerting? And what happened to all the work that was done at Masthead all these years? Is there really not enough there to put together a prototype and seek proper funding?

What is the money even going towards?

Even if you decide to look past all of this shadiness, it's pretty impossible not to raise a critical eyelid at the crowdfunding scheme itself.

Where it has become common practice to offer backer rewards for those putting funding toward your game, Black Isle has decided this isn't necessary. If you pledge $10, you'll be granted access to a special Black Isle forum. If you put down $20, they'll even let you post on the forum.

There is no way to receive a copy of the game by pledging -- even if you decide to put down $10,000 -- because the money isn't actually going towards a game at all. In fact, the money will be used to build a prototype, which Black Isle will then show to investors in the hope of gathering up moolah elsewhere.

black isle 3.gifAnd why is there no total figure shown at all? Shouldn't the entire point of open crowdfunding like this be that consumers can see how well the scheme is doing, and choose whether to be part of it? Hiding how much you've actually made is more than a little dodgy, truth be told.

Look, this whole crowdfunding thing is new for all of us, but there are some very basic lessons that we've learned from the campaigns that have come and gone. Treat your backers with respect, and they'll reward you with their support. Treat them like second-rate citizens that are expected to hand you wads of cash for basically no reason, and they're going to go somewhere else.


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Comments


George Booth
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Great, the dickheads who want to abuse the system are going to make it impossible for me to get a Kickstarter ready if I legitimately needed it to fund a game. Thanks jerks.

Ken Kinnison
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@Maciej If people become jaded to kickstarters (which may already be happening) then a plucky indie (or group of vets) may not have a solid pool of backers that might have existed if they hadn't been burned.

I understand the feeling.

Adam Bishop
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Why are people so convinced that some small number of Kickstarter failures are somehow going to render crowdfunding obsolete? There are failures in everything from banking to restaurants to relationships. People don't sour on a concept just because it doesn't succeed 100% of the time.

Emppu Nurminen
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@Maciej and Adam, people are referring about buyer behavior evolving, just like in any other industry. It's Basic Marketing 101 that some trick to make money will hit the saturation point eventually, it has happened with other areas of game industry too. Literally testing the waters how blatantly you can rip off people will make it only just faster to hit that point.

Matthew Fioravante
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Crowd funding is an incredibly new concept. The fact is that at some point a number of large failures are going to occur and people are going to become smarter and more conservative with what they invest in, as they should. Right now its still an exciting new fad.

It doesn't mean crowd funding will die, it just means it will change. Instead of whining, try to understand the current state of the crowd funding game and find your edge to succeed.

Halsy Knox
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Wrong David Mata. That's not why KS exists. It's not for fat cats who don't want to risk their own money. It's for people who have a solid idea or rough first product and need money they don't have in order to fully realize their idea. Just like the law there's the letter of it, and the spirit of it. And this isn't Kickstarter anyway, but regardless, the spirit of crowdfunding is the same regardless. And this is the Caen brothers trying to scam people...yet again. If you're unaware of their history you really have no business chiming in here.

Groove Stomp
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Wow. Excellent. Crowdfund a prototype to shop out to publishers so you can score a publishing deal. Yeah, exactly what Kickstarter is all about.

Daneel Filimonov
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Kickstarter is not involved in this.

Jakub Majewski
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To be fair, this *should* be close to what Kickstarter is about. I mean, the whole point of Kickstarter should be... you know, to kickstart a project. Trying to raise money in order to develop a prototype that will allow you to finance the whole game seems like a very appropriate thing to do.

It's just that in this particular case, the appropriate thing to do is being done in a terribly inappropriate manner that practically screams "greed" "cash-in" and a bunch of other similar terms.

Joshua Kahelin
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Black Isle is a defunct studio that made some really amazing CRPGs. This is liken to Infograms re-branding as Atari or EA making an game store called Origin.

Jakub Majewski
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While I agree with your general sentiment, I still feel compelled to point out that this is nothing like Infogrames re-branding as Atari.

Infogrames had a great deal of renown and recognition which it gave up for some crazy reason to revive a brand that had been dead for a decade, and on life support the decade before that (when was Atari ever a household name? 1983?). It was a bad move which gained them nothing.

Ron Dippold
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I'm a huge fan of the original Black Isle games, aside from the staggering number of bugs, but I can't think of a reason I would give even $10 to something like this. As you say, for what?

I think this is the least informative (not a) Kickstarter page I've ever seen. If you don't have anything to show off at all, don't start your crowdfunding. It screams desperate and out of money.

Stewart Spilkin
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I respect these guys as game developers, they have done some cool things, but I've got to agree with Gama on this one. The are really offering nothing, and not even the promise of anything. They say they want to cut through the bureaucrats and make the game they want to, but where is the money coming from to make the actual game? And does anyone believe there won't be strings attached to that? Or are they going to crowd fund that too, and really stick it to the original funders. If you look at their legal/faq page, you will see that it's actually Interplay, (or the withered husk that remains,) and there really is no BlackIsle Studio. The first sentence is "Through its BlackIsle.com web site, Interplay Entertainment Corp. is raising funds." So it seems all BlackIsle really is, is a website. That you can pay. To maybe someday access a forum. To discuss a game that might get made someday. That you will then have to spend more money to actually own.

Maria Jayne
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$20 to post on a forum most people can't see and most backers can only read, about an IP that doesn't exist yet in a game not even prototyped?

Sign me up!

Lincoln Thurber
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In my mind, I say let Black Isle do what it wants. Most people who care to read what was posted on the BL website will understand that they are funding a starting point 'demonstration/skylark' for a game. It is very clear in the text what the company is doing and why. If people think that crowd funding something like that is sleazy that is okay. However, do not pretend that people are confused. Asking for money to not put your own on the line is part of modern commerce. There is no deep dark secret...people have money, those might want to help out, so who are we to say people cannot give other people money. Feel free to call your congressional representative if you afraid of the loosely goosey monetary system we have set up, I'm sure he can draft a law to make crowed funding illegal...as well as birthday gift money from grandmothers or tossing change in Jimmy Fund cans.

As a side note it is rather funny the line in the sand that has been created about if Black Isle is actually Black Isle. Where is the logic that if only studio head Chris Taylor, and Mark O'Green are back, but not Brian Fargo and designer Chris Avellone that means they are not Black Isle? OMG! Somebody had better get on the phone to Epic Games to pull the sign off the side of their building if Cliffy B and Mike Capps are gone now. And poor old Irrational Games better call a lawyer because without Don Norbury, Clint Bundrick, Tom Gerritson, Joseph Faulstick and Nate Wells they are not even a legally able to call themselves a hot dog stand in Boston.

Heck, Irrational really should just toss Bioshock Infinite code in an abandoned quarry, if so many people are gone. Because, why even make games at all if even one person left your company, right?

Ron Dippold
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I realize the sarcasm here, but how about we see if the new Epic, Irrational, or Black Isle can dev any decent games before judging your sarcasm as intended or unintentionally correct, eh.?

Recently, we've got Infinity Ward going to hell and even being beaten by Treyarch since key people left. Blizzard's gone south (Diablo III, Starcraft II), though maybe that's because all the remaining good people are on Project Titan.

To make this positive, do we have any instances where key creative people left and the studio surprised everyone and did even better? I honestly think there must be at least a few. Certainly not Fable! I'd say Halo, but moving to an entirely different studio is slightly different.


Jacob Germany
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I think his point is not that companies can't have rises and falls in quality output, but that the name is only valid if everyone remains the same, or if key people remain but not others. In this case, the implication is that the name holds no weight as if it were a handful of people off the street with no ties to Black Isle, which isn't true.

I think the problem lies in the assumption that the public assumes a company remains the same after more than a decade. I think it's an odd assumption, and I think it's fairly safe to assume most would recognize some level of change, especially after a history involving dismantling and a subsequent mysterious return of said company.

Slightly off topic, but I don't understand the Fable comment. The Lionhead head remained the same through Fable the Journey, so any example of other personnel changing loses its weight when they are further down the design ladder.

Ron Dippold
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Fable is certainly a little unfair. Peter was 'creative consultant' through the end of Journey, which is a polite way of saying 'we blackholed his input after he left', but he certainly had significant design input before he left for 22 Cans. I understand it's a fantastic horse simulator.

Halsy Knox
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And surprise, surprise it's the Caen brothers involved in these shenanigans. Honestly, if ever there were some scumbags that need to be ridden out of town on a rail. I'm of the opinion they belong in prison...permanently. I hope that no one is naive or foolish enough to give those crooks even one cent.


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