Disclosure: I bought into the base crowdfunding for Star Citizen, and a couple of other non-gaming projects that are not mentioned in this piece.
Crowdfunding has become a wildly popular means for artists, designers, writers and film makers to get their projects off the ground in lieu of traditional investment funding. With the rise in the number of funding projects, there’s also a rise in scams, failed projects, and teams that don’t come through with their promises. As every year passes the list of failed ideas grows longer and it’s making gamers more and more skeptical of funding new independent projects.
Mighty No. 9, though it has been released, has been a long chain of concerns and disappointments for the last year or more. Community management issues, communication problems and finally a delayed and troublesome release have left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Some backers were able to get refunds before release, but many stuck it out in hopes they would get the spiritual successor to Mega Man, but by all reports Mighty No. 9 isn’t so mighty. Often the best way for an indie game to get made now is with crowdfunding, but when backers get burned by a bad project it will make them think twice before backing another, which could turn out to be a great game.
Then we have projects that have been funded, have been updating, but have not released yet. Star Citizen is a huge undertaking, that has grown larger over the years as it has managed to raise more money than any crowdfunded game yet. Over the course of the funding the developer has expanded the size and scope of the game, but there doesn’t appear to be a release date in sight. They have updated backers regularly with videos, alpha releases of small portions of the game, and email newsletters. The delay has left people wondering if they’ll ever see the game, and some have even gotten a refund on their investment.
Worse, in my opinion, are the funded ideas that never deliver, even a bad quality product, and don’t update the backers at all. A Feminist Deck was funded completely in June of 2015, and, according to comments on the page, went radio silent in February of this year. By all appearances, the organizer has taken the money and run, which may or may not be true, but in the case of asking people to trust you with their money, appearances are all you have.
That’s essentially what crowdfunding is. Asking people for money for a product that isn’t yet created, and asking them to trust you to deliver that product as promised. The bigger issue here is faceless project organizers and anonymous artists are the bulk of the people asking for money, and the more trust that’s broken with consumers, the less they’ll trust the next one. A few people burned by a couple of failed games tell their friends, who also become more skeptical. A creator might have a great idea and be able to deliver, but they might not be able to find enough backers to trust them to get it off the ground. Messes like Double Fine’s Broken Age debacle just make it harder for the next team with a great idea.
Despite the large number of incomplete game projects there have been some great successes with games getting funded. Pillars of Eternity, for example, got great reviews from both players and critics. In its time, it was the highest funded Kickstarter game on the site. Along with Pillars, we’ve seen a couple of Shadowrun games, Superhot, and Darkest Dungeon, just to name a few of the more popular ones. We’ve gotten some great titles, unique concepts, and quality product out of crowdfunding, and it is a great way for independent developers to get their projects out there, but it’s certainly become a minefield of risk and disappointment.