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

Tuesday, 27 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.