Undefined behaviour: backers and developers

Today more than ever content creators are able to get their material in the hands of those who want it. Gone are the days of giant corporations controlling what gets made and how it is made. Thanks to services like Youtube, Twitch.tv, Kickstarter, Patreon, and many more, people can consume and support a wide variety of content whenever it suits them.

If it ain't broke...

Publishers have become very timid, weary of the inherit risk in releasing new and untested IPs. Instead, there has been a rise in annualized franchises like Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, GTA, and FIFA, or the release of new titles that feature similar motifs such as Watch Dogs and Destiny. The rising costs of development and expectation from consumers for bigger and louder experiences have driven publishers to bet on safer options.

Dawn of a new day

Enter Kickstarter, a crowd-funding site where almost anyone can receive monetary support from people all over the world for their project. Now the kid in his bedroom with a great idea for a game can share his enthusiasm with others and potentially make that dream a reality. In 2014, more than 1980 games received more than $89.1M in funding, solely through the generosity of private individuals. Many of these games feature stories, themes and mechanics that have been disregarded by larger publishers.

In theory, the idea is great, smaller developers can bring their quirky and unique ideas to fruition, and gamers--frustrated by the lack of diversity in the gaming landscape--can vote with their wallet and get the games they want, not just the ones they are offered.

Here be dragons

However, this has also resulted in a significant change in the relationship between developers and gamers. In the past, publishers shielded consumers from failed projects. Today by investing early in a project, consumers get exposed to the risk of losing money without ever playing the game.

Interestingly, many contributors feel they've earned the right to consistent updates from developers, and an explanation when things don't quite turn up the way they expected. Instead of answering to a handful of professionals at a publisher, developers must now content with a few thousand people with very little to no experience in game development or publishing. When any aspect of the project doesn't evolve to the satisfaction of the contributors, the developers are flooded with criticism.

Truthfully I am not at all surprised and I don't blame contributors for being a little apprehensive, there have been a number of very high profile screw ups like Yogventures. The project was funded for over half a million dollars but never saw the light of day, and the backers never received a refund.

Having contributed to several projects including A Hat in Time, Hyper Light Drifter, and Chasm I wanted to share my two cents on the situation.

Measure twice, cut once

Contributing to any project with the expectation of getting a finished product is a fool's errand. It is not stupid to expect a game in return for your contribution, but the reality is that you are giving money to a complete stranger because he promised to do something. You haven't signed a contract-not that those are a great assurance either-and you don't know these people. It's akin to giving money to a homeless person and being upset that he didn't buy a suit and get a job with your donation. You are throwing money into a fountain, hoping your wish comes true. Nothing more. I believe this is the healthiest way--for your own sake--to contribute to projects. If you are not willing to part with that money in return for nothing, do not contribute.

I suspect that a substantial number of projects backed by publishers have either not produced a quality product or simply failed to complete at all. We as consumers rarely hear of these failures for obvious reasons. If projects fail even with the backing of multinational, experienced, and wealthy publishers, it is not unreasonable to expect smaller independent projects to fall short too.

It would be a tragedy for us to return to the era where games like HLD, A Hat in Time, or Never Alone never happen because of fearful publishers. Because, even if a project fails to deliver on its promises, each successfully funded project makes it really clear that gamers want more, and that is a great thing.