This week saw amazing news from Kickstarter, a website for the "crowd funding" of creative projects. Essentially, artists post their ideas on Kickstarter, and interested people offer to fund them. In return, the donors get rewards—such as a copy of the game they funded, in which case the funding is more like a very, very early preorder.
Between the beginning of the year and August 31, $50 million in funding was pledged to games through the site, making games the most-funded category (films were No. 2 at $42 million). If you look at all the funding raised in Kickstarter's entire history, games have risen from eighth place to second in a single year. Last year, less than $4 million in funding went to games, which itself was a big increase from about $500,000 in 2010 and $50,000 in 2009.
Clearly, funding for games has been growing steadily since the site began, but this year, there was a turning point: the Kickstarter drive for Double Fine Adventure. As Kickstarter's blog notes, "more dollars [have been] pledged to the Games category each month ($7 million) after Double Fine than the previous three years combined ($4 million)."
And it's not that Double Fine itself accounts for the entire increase. The game's drive ended at less than $3.5 million. The rest of the money is the result of the increased confidence that Double Fine has given to other developers and their supporters. As of today, seven of the eleven Kickstarter projects to surpass $1 million in funding are games. There is more to this trend than just a single successful project.
This is good news for gamers, and maybe—just maybe—it could be the first step of a major shakeup in the video game industry.
In the short term, gamers should love that Kickstarter has managed to carve out a niche. We all have a game fantasy—maybe a new game in a dead genre, or maybe a reboot of a cult classic whose developer has long since disbanded—that the major publishers simply have no desire to make a reality. By connecting game makers directly to their consumers for funding, Kickstarter removes that obstacle. If enough people want to play a game, you can get the money to make it. Period.
Of course, Kickstarter's niche is still pretty narrow. A single big-budget title can take tens of millions of dollars to make, and Kickstarter just doesn't seem capable of pulling together that kind of dough yet. Instead, the platform is great at bringing underappreciated projects to fruition, and at providing established developers (such as Double Fine) with an alternative funding source if they don't want to deal with publishers.
The big question, however, is what will happen if Kickstarter continues to grow. So far, the acceleration in growth has been ridiculous: Game funding grew by ten times between 2009 and 2010, by eight times the next year, and by ten times again this year—fifteen if you extrapolate to cover the next four months.
If growth continues at this pace—a big "if," I admit—we could conceivably see a world where established developers go to Kickstarter for major, big-budget projects. Say a development team comes up with a great idea, but can't get the green light from a publisher—or the interested publishers want to take too much creative control. In theory, such a team could take its plan directly to the people instead of relying on the established money channels. It would also help if Kickstarter would facilitate bigger investments, with the investors receiving a share of the profits, though this might stray a little too far from the "crowd-funding" model.
Of course, it would be wrong to see the major publishers as big, evil conglomerates who hate their customers—after all, the only way they make money is by putting out games that we want to buy. But sometimes they do leave good projects on the table, especially risk-taking projects that aren't guaranteed blockbusters.
What Kickstarter does is let everyday gamers give these projects the funds they need, filling a gap in the market that has existed for far too long. And someday, Kickstarter could do much, much more. Two of the biggest functions that a publisher serves are distribution and funding. With the Internet slowly replacing disc storage, distribution is becoming a non-issue. What if funding became a non-issue too—and developers made their case directly to gamers instead of counting on a publisher to pick the best projects?
Date: September 17, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*