One of the hottest stories in the entertainment industry this week has been director Rob Thomas' successful Kickstarter funding for a movie based on the 2004 television series he created, Veronica Mars.
The campaign is the latest in what has become a string of big-money Kickstarter record-breakers. It raised $1 million in just over four hours, faster than any campaign to date. And when it hit its funding goal of $2 million just a few hours later, it became the highest goal to be met on the site yet. Hollywood is so abuzz with the news that other cult TV show directors have been forced to comment about what this might mean for other cancelled shows (sorry, Firefly fans, there won't be a reunion anytime soon).
But what does this have to do with the video game industry, you may be asking? Quite a bit, though maybe not immediately.
Convincing the gatekeepersRob Thomas, as you might expect, doesn't own Veronica Mars. Those rights sit, as they always have, with series producer Warner Bros., which has involved itself in the crowdfunding campaign in some capacity.
While no one has come outright and detailed exactly what its commitment to the project is, it seems to have gone something like this: Warner Bros. will handle the distribution, the marketing, and even the Kickstarter reward fulfillment for the movie but has not, as of yet, committed any money to the actual film production.
And while it's possible that Warner Bros. may now be convinced enough by the campaign's success to front some production money of its own, this was at the face of it a pure revenue share deal: you give us the movie, we'll handle the rest and give you a cut. It's exactly the kind of deal that Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart famously turned down before launching the studio's successful Project Eternity campaign.
Warner Bros. is treating the project like a guinea pig, to see if the crowdfunding wave can apply to traditional entertainment. And it's hard to imagine that video game IP holders aren't watching this experiment closely to see if it can apply to games as well as it can for movies.
In fact, we've already come close: when Funcom design director Ragnar Tornquist left the studio and went independent, he licensed the rights to his The Longest Journey adventure game series from the company for what became a $1.5 million campaign of its own. It's easy to imagine a similar revenue share deal in place here though, by all evidence, Tornquist's Red Thread Games studio is handling all of the promotion and distribution itself.
It only takes a furtive glance at Kickstarter's most-funded video games to see how popular projects that involve creators returning to a cult franchise can be: Wasteland 2, Elite: Dangerous, Broken Sword - the Serpent's Curse Adventure, and Carmageddon: Reincarnation are among the top-funded game projects of all time.
It doesn't take much imagination to see a future post-Veronica Mars where, say, Activision is willing to take a chance on small developers. Maybe if SpaceVenture and Hero-U waited another year to get on Kickstarter -- and if, of course, their revenue shares were enough to give up their games' ownership in exchange for the added publicity -- we might have seen them pitched as new entries in the Space Quest and Quest for Glory franchises that they are continuing the legacies of.
This isn't to say that a proven IP is necessary -- or even important -- for your game. But for creators passionate about their legacy content, and for the fans passionate enough to vote with their wallets, there may be value in a new publisher-developer-crowdfunding dynamic in games.