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Panic on the streets of Kickstarter: end of the gold rush?

Tuesday, 27th November 2012 11:07 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Britain’s indie A-listers are asking Kickstarter for millions to fund their latest games, and victory is by no means assured. Patrick Garratt asks whether or not there’s been a failure to judge the mood.

Molyneux, Braben and the Olivers have gone to Kickstarter in the space of a few weeks and asked for £1.8 million. And it appears Britain’s old-timers have misjudged the gold rush.

Fear’s risen in the British indie space in the past few weeks, and it isn’t based on the regular issue of being able to afford the next can of beans. Senior UK developers Peter Molyneux, David Braben and the Oliver twins have taken their ambitions to Kickstarter. And all’s not well.

Their goals are lofty. Braben’s asking for £1.25 million to fund a new version of yesteryear classic Elite. Molyneux wants £450,000 to create a new god game, Godus, which he hopes will hark back to the “glory days” of Bullfrog and reinvent the genre. The Olivers are looking for £350,000 for the first Dizzy game in over 20 years.

There’s been friction. Elite, particularly, has come under fire from the twitterati for being a pitch along the lines of, “Remember Elite? It was great! Give me a million quid and I’ll give you another one.” The Elite proposal caused particular ire because the original page contained no video and little information. If you compare it to Limit Theory’s Kickstarter – which is showing what appears to be a relatively mature procedural space game with a funding limit of $50,000 – it’s pretty easy to see why there was skepticism.

Godus, too, has been caught up in the moaning. Here we have Peter Molyneux, a successful man, asking the gaming populous (sorry) for a great deal of cash to get back into god sims. There’s no gameplay video, a few concept screens and some documentary-style footage of Peter and the other 22 Cans guys talking about what they want to do.

Nerves are setting in. 22 Cans has started releasing dev diary updates on Godus, first talking about Molyneux’s old games and elements the studio’s going to re-use. Braben has now shown off what is purported to be multiplayer gameplay, exhibiting two ships flying through an asteroid belt. We’ve also seen some cloud technology in a video of Braben talking about procedural generation, but it’s obvious the “game” either doesn’t exist or is too early to show.

While there was initial excitement over the Elite Kickstarter, the total seems to have largely stalled at around £600,000. The situation is more easily noticeable if you look at the Dizzy pitch: after six days, just over £16,000 has been amassed, a drop in the total’s ocean. There’s a strong chance the project won’t get funded.

Molyneux, Braben and the Olivers have gone to Kickstarter in the space of a few weeks and asked for £1.8 million. It appears Britain’s old-timers have misjudged the gold rush.

While Molyneux’s a natural showman and now “only” has £300,000 to raise in 24 days to get Godus funded, Braben is defending a sticky wicket. He needs to pull in some £650,000 in a little over a month to get Elite off the ground, and while the IP does have a fabulous legacy, David has none of Peter’s pizazz. Perhaps Elite was too long ago. Perhaps the project he brought to Kickstarter should have been more mature, like Limit Theory or Big Robot’s Sir, You Are Being Hunted. These smaller projects are seemingly further along and have lower goals (Sir was funded quickly at a target of £40,000). Molyneux will probably get there: it wouldn’t be surprising if Braben and the Olivers missed their targets.

The problem here isn’t that people don’t want a new Elite or a new Dizzy, but that they don’t want to feel as though they’re being ripped off. These are relatively large sums of money, applicable in the traditional style of development where you have a sizable team working in an office. Kickstarter has shown us that small, remote groups can put together attractive games for a fraction of the cost, and that people are prepared to pay for them, to fund the underdog. Yes, Double Fine and inXile raised $3 million a piece for a new point-and-clicker and Wasteland 2, but that was back in the spring and the concept of cutting out the publisher was fresh (also, watch Schafer’s video on the Kickstarter page: if you’re not laughing within 30 seconds there’s something wrong with your brain). Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts recently took over $2 million out of Kickstarter for Star Citizen, but it was pitched with some incredible PR assets showing hulking carriers and space combat zipping along to a heart-bursting score. Crucially, too, all these developers are American.

What happens if the big UK projects don’t get funded? It will almost certainly mean the end of any chance of another Elite game being made (it’s unlikely there’d be a Kickstarter attempt unless it was necessary). Dizzy’s been off the table for the last two decades, and what does it say of the future of 22 Cans if Godus doesn’t make it?

We’ll soon find out. Kickstarter’s role in game creation is already mature, and competition is intense. Crowd-sourcing does still apply to the reality of the larger modern indie dev – the one where ultra-conservative disc-sellers won’t go near point-and-click adventures or mid-budget space sims – but raising an amount in excess of £1 million may require more than some cloud tech and a logo.

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30 Comments

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  1. BinaryTweedDeej

    Disclosure: I used to work for the Olivers, and made a Dizzy-style game.

    An interesting point I saw raised on Twitter is that is there a difference between the treatment of US and UK proposals? I can’t help thinking there’s a hint of the British penchant for seeing successful people fail that is often most evident in tabloid coverage of celebrity culture.

    I do certainly think that the UK pitches have done a poor job of communicating their proposals, and have relied too heavily on nostalgia whilst skimping on specifics.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. RandomTiger

    You have to do a good pitch, its that simple. Chris Roberts clearly put a lot of effort in and created a pitch video to wow. Double Fine didn’t have anything to show but leveraged their whole history, including recent past of character and game creation and made a nice enough pitch video to show they were serious.

    You wouldn’t send just a wall of text as a serious pitch to a publisher and wouldn’t be able to sell a game just on the basis of decade old examples. So why would you expect this to work for the general public? Yer you might get lucky but leaving it to luck seems a bit risky. Do a good pitch, make the vision of your new product clear to those familiar and unfamiliar with your previous products.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. The_Red

    Excellent read. I actually just realized that their games are for UK Kickstarter and not the US one that has given so much money to Project Eternity and others like that.

    Really spot on about more matured projects showing up like Star Citizen or Limit Theory instead of a few concept art vids. Makes me wonder why Project Eternity got away with it without any real video (And just one beautiful but empty screenshot).

    #3 2 years ago
  4. BinaryTweedDeej

    @RandomTiger Fair point regarding Chris Roberts, although I’m not sure the Double Fine pitch was much more developed.

    I suspect all three Brit developers under-developed their pitches in the excitement of it all, and are sadly now faced with an uphill struggle.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. RandomTiger

    @4 It wasn’t but its was cleverly done and they got there first of course. Double Fine are a fairly safe pair of hands, they are used to making small games, they demonstrated humour in the pitch that you might expect to see in their product and an understanding of what they had to do rather than saying well we did this 20 years ago, lets do it again! They also offered the making of videos as part of the product and didn’t ask for that much money on the scale of things.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. FabioPal

    It’s easier, if I see an iPad game asking me 270k$ I’m never going to pledge for it!

    Dizzy… 20 years ago, nobody remembers it (not even me!)

    and Elite… well, Limit Theory is a good point, asking 5% of what elite requires without showing anything.

    I don’t think that there’s something about being or not being from UK, it’s just the way you show your product.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. UuBuU

    The Project Eternity kickstarter is the perfect example of how a kickstarter should be done.

    ~ Firstly they hyped it up beforehand with those teaser images, enabling them to really hit the ground running in the first few hours with a lot of generated interest

    ~ Secondly, while they didn’t have any game content to show off, their starting pitch was very strong, passionate, and well structured, with a clear outline of the kind of game they want to make. Yes, they mentioned a handful of old games they worked on, but only to strengthen their credentials and to give examples of what features to expect from the new game. It didn’t come across at all like they were milking nostalgia for money ~ which is the impression a number of other kickstarters have given me

    ~ Thirdly, they didn’t get ahead of themselves with stretch goals. They knew exactly what amount of money it would take to produce the game, and didn’t assume they’d get a significant amount more

    ~ Lastly, they had excellent communication with the community. The daily updates were exciting, and their developers frequently spoke with the fans via their forums and the kickstarter comments section

    #7 2 years ago
  8. The_Red

    @7
    Spot on. After reading your posting and analyzing other thoughts, I’ve come to realize that showing the matured / partially done isn’t all that necessary after all.

    While Double Fine did get away with humor and DF effect along, I think Project Eternity was funded much closer to the current time frame rather than the original gold rush month. They could have ended up like one of the many failed projects (Specially considering the bad buzz around their name and some unfinished products like KOTOR2).

    #8 2 years ago
  9. BinaryTweedDeej

    Interesting thoughts. So do we think it’s better to pre-hype a project before putting it on Kickstarter? Kind makes sense, get traction and then make a big splash of pledges to instill confidence.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. TheBlackHole

    Nice piece Pat.

    I’m glad this is happening. It’s good that wealthy, experienced devs begin to realise that they can’t use consumers for cheap, risk-free funding.

    Ultimately, isn’t this just indicative of what Kickstarter is all about? Consumers choosing which projects they want, and which they don’t. Why are we surprised that some larger devs have poorly judged projects ignored?

    #10 2 years ago
  11. mistermogul

    Molyneux must be worth millions of £/$ so why should we fund his effing game?

    This pisses me right off.

    If you’re reading this Peter – stop ripping people off and fund your own projects. Kickstarter is for proper indy devs, not millionaires… Stop taking the liberty asking for a risk-free ride.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. TheBlackHole

    @11 with all due respect, nobody knows how much Peter is worth.

    Yes, he’s probably very wealthy, but that doesn’t exempt him from using Kickstarter. Plenty of VC-backed development studios have received million$ in funding, as Pat states, whereas to be fair, Peter’s company is a small start up.

    Also, why is it ripping people off just because he has money. If he produces the game people expect then surely they’ve got their money’s worth?

    #12 2 years ago
  13. ManuOtaku

    ^i think with his tounge alone, one can make a fortune in a meat exchange market ;), he worths millions, i mean his tounge ;)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. dreamcastnews

    I only pledge for retro games ON retro systems, if Dizzy was being made as an iPad game and as a Megadrive or SNES cartridge I’d be all over it, if Braben’s game was to come out on Dreamcast or PS2 or something; I’d take a look but sadly these yesteryear throwbacks are aimed at gamers that have moved on with the times.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. freedoms_stain

    Personally, I’ve never actually played a game by any of these guys (yeah even Molyneux).

    Looking at the output of the Oliver twins on Wikipedia I would be more inclined to pay them to get out of the industry and stop polluting it with the low-end tie-in trash they’ve been peddling for the vast majority of their careers than give them any money to make a game. lol that their pitch video talks about all the games they’ve made for top publishers yet can’t summon a single title – don’t worry guys, I’d be ashamed of thast back catalogue too. Put that on top of a pitch to reboot a game series that isn’t as fondly remembered as they seem to believe in a genre that isn’t as popular as it used to be.

    By the sounds of it David Braben largely shot himself in the foot by making a half arsed initial pitch. I think that genre, given the size of its audience, is looking a bit saturated at the moment too.

    Then there’s Molyneux. His reputation is biting him on the arse. The serial over-promiser now wants your cash in advance… As I said, I’ve never played a Molyneux game, but I did own one. Fable 2, it came with my 360 and I traded it in still in its cellophane, why? Reputation for being disappointing, had plenty of games with reputation for being good to play. I’ve also read criticism from people who don’t believe Molyneux needs Kickstarter and is more than capable of securing publisher backing to do whatever he wants, so there’s that too.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. DSB

    I thought that was gonna be an epitaph going on the headline.

    I definitely think that Kickstarter needs some more results to keep the momentum going, but I’m not surprised that any of those projects are faring less than great.

    Molyneux may be “okay” when he’s making weird games for other peoples money, but would I fund him personally? Well, maybe I would for a Populous game.

    I think Defense Grid 2 is an even better example. I would think that most anyone who has played Defense Grid recognize it as a really good tower defence game, but the Kickstarter had some really weird goals, like “We’ll only make a proper sequel if we get 200%”, for a project that was already asking for a lot of money.

    And somehow they just didn’t promote it very well. Most of the people I knew, who loved Defense Grid, had no idea that there was a Kickstarter happening.

    I think that’s the quintessential job one. People can’t contribute unless they know about the project. For Molyneux that’s a question of reaching all the old Populous users (who won’t just be on gaming sites these days) and for Braben it’s going to be even harder.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. RandomTiger

    A slowdown is much better than a crash with folk throwing too much money around without asking enough questions.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. mistermogul

    @12 – If I went to VC or Angels looking for investment and had millions in the bank what do you think the investors would ask me? “Why don’t you fund this yourself?”. PM is asking gamers themselves to take the risk for his own project.

    I agree I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions as I have no idea what PM may be worth and “ripping off” was the wrong wording. My point was simply why not invest in your own game if you believe in it so much?

    By going to kickstarter he is giving himself a risk-free ride. Does he not believe in his own game? Can you imagine any of the dragons on Dragons Den giving him money if he has millions of his own?

    #18 2 years ago
  19. TheBlackHole

    @18

    Most developers are not cash-positive. They rely on VC’s to fund their games because they don’t have the money to. Then they being themselves back into the positive with revenue they generate from sales, or if they sell poorly (e.g. 007 Legends) then the company goes under because they are in insurmountable debt.

    Kickstarter is a way of funding a game based on the developer’s vision, not one changed by VC/someone else’s money, which is inevitably true of most games. It also guarantees that they won’t go bankrupt.

    On KS there is no interference. If anything, we might actually get to find out if games are better when publishers aren’t involved in the development process, or whether that leash actually keeps things focused and on-track.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Stardog

    Another issue is the £ sign. As far as I know American visitors will also see the £ sign.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. DSB

    @20 Exactly, and they do. I think the British wing suffers for that. Once you actually pledge you see the approximate dollar value, but first impressions matter.

    I think something like Kickstarter benefits from the ease of use. Between being impressed and making a pledge you have maybe 3 clicks, but that’s provided that you understand the price.

    I don’t get why they don’t just add the approximate dollar value to the front.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. mistermogul

    @19 – I agree. Most devs are not cash positive. I am talking about Peter Molyneux here, not “most devs”.

    I just happen to think with all his deals in the past – selling out to Activision and Microsoft for example – that he probably has the money to fund his own projects and not have to ask gamers to risk their own capital.

    I agree Kickstarter is a great place where proper indy devs with little or no money can get funding and I’m all for that but when people who probably already have £millions start asking for funding, I’m not sure they are good ethics – in this case Peter Molyneux.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. TheBlackHole

    So a company with hundreds of employees who are probably not cash positive (Codemasters, Obsidian, Blitz etc) can ask for backing on KS because they don’t have any money (as a company, not as individuals), but one guy with a small company (who may also have some personal wealth) has to use his own cash because we know he might have some?

    Sorry, I don’t buy that. It’s not a prerequisite of Kickstarter that you have to be poor to use it. It’s about supporting good ideas that people believe in.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. viralshag

    I just can’t get behind PM on this one. I have this feeling of playing a game a year down the line, being disappointed and PM just shrugging his shoulders and saying something like “the industry just isn’t ready for this sort of game.”

    If Curiosity was supposed to be part of the pitch, that just turns me off even more.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Old MacDonald

    20: It’s not just the £-sign. You have to input credit card details again, for instance, the first time you pledge for a british project. Not a bit deal, but I’ve seen first hand someone wanting to pledge to a project (this was Sui Generis), then not bothering when he realized he had to go get his wallet. He’d do it later, maybe. AFAIK, he hasn’t pledged yet.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. DSB

    @25 Yeah, the Amazon login wasn’t bad, but you can hardly blame them if they want to cut out the middleman.

    I don’t know of any magical way of creating that input without some kind of manual effort though.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. BinaryTweedDeej

    I’m really getting worried at an apparent belief that games should only be made by indies, and those indies should work for virtually nothing rather than ask for finance. That games should not be made by talented individuals working for salaries with job security.

    There’s a reason why studios cost more to run than indie outfits – quality of life. All this insistence on cheap projects is effectively suggesting that game developers should risk their livelihoods and the happiness of their families for the sake of their games. Is that really how we want developers to live?

    #27 2 years ago
  28. DSB

    @27 No one’s forcing them to do anything, they’re just doing what they love, in a way that they prefer. I think that’s cool.

    Which is to say nothing for the fact that artists and craftsmen have chosen that kind of life for thousands of years.

    Some people just prefer that kind of independence over working on the assembly line.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. BinaryTweedDeej

    @28 For example, I’ve got an idea. It’s groundbreaking, never-been-done before stuff. I’ve been pondering sticking it on Kickstarter to see if I could make a go of it.

    However, I have a mortgage, kids, and a full-time job. There is no way on Earth I can create a production-grade game in my spare time. 2 hours a day is simply not enough. I can’t work for next-to-nothing because I have too many bills, and it’s not fair on my family to expect them to be broke because I have a dream.

    So are we saying that I can’t have a family *and* pursue this idea? If so, that’s a shame for me, and a shame for gaming as great ideas aren’t the preserve of responsibility-free indies living with their parents.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. bugmenot

    It’s ridiculous and embarrassing how many people can’t tell the difference between

    The Kickstarter fad is over!

    and

    Sorry, not very many people are interested in YOUR game.

    #30 2 years ago