Crowdfunding has become a key source of revenue for the entertainment and entrepreneurial industries.
Developers pitch their game to the entire internet, rather than a few suits in a meeting room. Anyone interested can contribute anything from £1 to thousands, often with access to the game upon release, and other perks.
Crowdfunding perks can range from a simple thank you note all the way up to several thousand pound experiences. It’s a great way for indie developers to get their games on the market and is the source of many success stories to date.
Critically acclaimed games such as Hollow Knight prove crowdfunding has certainly been a positive for the industry. There are numerous problems with the system though and crowdfunding has also courted some controversy.
Products That Never Arrive
The most common horror stories with crowdfunding surround projects that were never completed. Some platforms put restrictions on postings requiring teams behind them to reach a certain goal before the receive any of the funds.
There is a long list of titles though that achieved their target before becoming caught in development hell. Games development can be an expensive and complicated process, so even good intentioned developers can hit a wall. Worse still though are the teams who vanished off the face of the earth after receiving their funds.
Controversial developer Peter Molyneux was at the centre of one of these storms with his game, Godus. Similar to Molyneux’s now infamous promotion of the Fable series, Godus did not deliver on many promised features. A fleshed out version of the game was all but abandoned in favour of a freemium mobile version.
The PC version never made it past more than an early access beta. It was a full two years after the game’s initial release before the studio announced they would not be adding most of the features promised in the Kickstarter. Fans that funded and paid for the game were left with nothing more than a pale imitation.
“If I was pledging on this campaign I’d probably be saying the same thing as our backers. [But] people think that these are hard and fast promises. I truly believe them when I say them, but as you know, sometimes they don’t come to pass.” – Peter Molyneux on Godus
Most, if not all crowdfunded games that never arrive do hit genuine technical, financial or personal problems. This doesn’t excuse the broken promises for many backers but worse still are developers who manipulate the process.
Some ‘indie’ studios use the term very loosely are actually already well-funded businesses. Some developers have been known to exploit their trusting fans by using them as a free and effective revenue stream. The recently released Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn became one such example of greedy crowdfunding.
Former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal was heavily evolved in the game’s development with some questioning why he couldn’t fund the project himself. Shaq has an estimated net worth of $400 million but contributed nothing more than publicity to the project.
“This is just a way of raising money. What’s the difference between crowd-sourcing and going to the bank? The smart business people go to the bank. What’s the difference?” – Shaquille O’Neal on criticism of crowdfunding Shaq Fu.
Then there are those developers that seemingly keep moving the bar like the increasingly contentious Cloud Imperium. Their project Star Citizen has been one the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, raising well over $150 million. Star Citizen was due in 2014 but a full version of the game is yet to be released.
The game model also relies heavily on in-game currency and micro-transactions which has generated even more revenue. Cloud Imperium met with more controversy in August this year for attempting to monetize a live stream broadcast.
One backer lost complete faith in the project and attempted to sue the studio in July this year. The backer was demanding a full $4500 refund, claiming the studio had not delivered but his case was unsuccessful.
Crowdfunding, Good or Bad?
Crowdfunding can be a great way for some innovative but inexperienced developers to showcase their talents. It creates an accessible platform for anyone talented enough, allowing them to pursue an ideal career.
At current though, it is far too easy to exploit and the system of paying for something that doesn’t yet exist remains controversial. Projects need to be better monitored and backers interests further protected before crowdfunding will truly work.