I’m afraid that Kickstarter might be jumping the shark soon
OK, so that Tim Schafer thing is funded, so is Wasteland 2, is Kickstarter still a thing? Of course it is! Personally I’ve helped fund dozens of projects, sometimes giving more than I should have. But I did it out of a love for passion and creativity. When it comes to video games, the idea of letting a lot of people easily pre-order and fund a great concept feels like the utopia I’ve been waiting for. People are willing to put up their hard-earned cash for this stuff, sometimes without so much as a demo! As I’ve been saying for awhile though, it doesn’t seem like this thing can last forever.
I’m not going to get too ahead of myself here. Kickstarter is still alive and, uh, kicking, but I’m very concerned about the direction its taking.
Last Tuesday two very high-profile Kickstarter projects launched, almost simultaneously. Both of them related to video games. And neither of them actually are video games, strictly speaking. But each project stands to make or break what Kickstarter has been all about to video game projects. I think we might be watching in real-time as Kickstarter jumps the shark.
First up, the heavily publicized OUYA (pronounced “oh yea!”) hit Kickstarter like a mega-bomb. What is it? An new android-based game console with a slick design and not a lot of other details. It had an asking amount of $950,000, which is easily the largest pledge goal I have seen to date on Kickstarter. It made that amount in only 8 hours thanks to tons of industry press and commentary from Reddit and Twitter. Its now well beyond
$3.5 $4 million with 27 days to go. At this rate it will probably overtake the hugely successful Pebble watch from months ago, which hit over $10 million.
I personally was washed up in the hype and the slick video and before I knew it I had already confirmed my purchase through Amazon. And then a little buyer’s remorse set in.
This is all well and good and a few million dollars does seem like a lot, but its chump-change in the face of other major consoles. The Xbox 360 and PS3 as well as the soon-to-be-launched Wii-U have huge advertising dollars and refined supply chains (that’s a business term for “they can make it really cheap and really fast”). They also already have an install base in the millions. If OUYA has a successful campaign that nets them over 50,000 potential customers, they will still be challenged to prove to game studios that their products will sell on their device.
Why is this jumping the shark? I think OUYA is an excellent idea and I want to see it succeed. That’s pretty much what I pledged my money for. I’m really hoping they can figure out the details over the coming months on how to do this thing right. But it could also go oh-so-terribly wrong.
There may not be any major games to launch with. The hardware itself might stink. There may not be any great way to play online games (ala some sort of an Xbox Live or PSN service). But most of all, it will take years of hardships to establish the brand and an infrastructure to make this work. I hope the creators are up for the challenge. This will not be an overnight success and past experience tells us that its more likely to fail than anything. That’s 99 big ones down the drain for me and a lot of other people if it does and I don’t think a lot of us will be coming back to Kickstarter after that.
You know I’m a huge fan of Penny-Arcade. Their 3-comic-per-week website and irreverent articles have been keeping me entertained for years. I’ve been to the past 5 PAX events with no intention of stopping. And I’ve even bought quite a bit of their merch. So what are these guys up to?
Penny-Arcade wants to raise enough money to take the ads off of its site for one full year. That’s pretty much it. Taking ads off of the site would supposedly free up PA from worrying about advertiser’s whims and give them complete creative control.
I like the idea. I love Penny-Arcade. I just don’t like this.
Why is this jumping the shark? Look, Penny-Arcade has always been a shining beacon when it comes to advertising. They only choose ads for products they like and they do it very tastefully (no full background ads or pop-ups). The ads have never once bothered me. I even click on them. But this….this just feels like we’re turning PA into PBS.
Alright, you know what, scratch that. I don’t mind if PA wants to run their business this way, more power to them. I just don’t want it on Kickstarter. This totally flies in the face of the spirit of Kickstarter. Sure, they may be following the rules and all, but this just isn’t really what Kickstarter is for. Its to kick-start stuff, like things that wouldn’t exist if they didn’t use the service. Its for indie game projects, rebooting franchises and retaking control of brands you may have lost.
The fact that Penny-Arcade admits that they will be fine without this just feels so wrong. If it were a campaign run solely on their own website, I would probably have no problem with it. In fact, I would highly encourage them to do it only on their site next year, but leave Kickstarter to the people who need to be “kick-started”.
Avoiding the shark
I don’t think this thing is done yet. 2012 is definitely shaping up to be the “Year of Kickstarter”, but if there’s too much of it I believe this might go south really fast. I think the idea of Kickstarter could be around for a long time if we use discretion and responsibility.
Projects like OUYA seem so much better left to venture capitalists. Penny-Arcade does indeed feel like a website for the people, but its also a role-model for other webcomics and businesses. Kickstarter is still in fad territory as far as I’m concerned and I really don’t want to see everybody get burned all at once. We’ll see how everything goes.
As a post-script, I did find that Defense Grid 2 is now up. Now this is a project I can get behind!