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Is Crowdfunding Good?

By Red Thomas on July 12, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Is Crowdfunding Good?

We dove into some of the reasons crowdfunding games might not be a great idea.  Besides the potential for abuse, unintended or otherwise, crowdfunding can create problems with the development of the game.  That doesn’t mean the model is all bad, though.  There are a few reasons why crowdfunding can be a really good idea and we’ll be exploring some of those today.


Publishing companies have become trained to look for a certain margin on games.  They lose interest really quickly if the potential profit isn’t beyond a certain point.  That means the big publishers are far less interested in innovation and attempts to push the medium but would rather have something safe.  One might even say they look for something “generic.”  I’m confident there are a few games with a long list of sequels, all basically rehashing of the same generic formula, that you’re thinking of when I use the word.

Those games are all safe, though.  People consistently enjoy them and creating updated versions with new environments and imperceptible modifications to the mechanics is a good way to pull revenue from a large pool of people who haven’t yet gotten tired of the formula.  That’s great and I wish them no ill will, but it doesn’t leave much room for new ideas.

The Dwarves, based on the books by Markus Heitz was a great twist on traditional fantasy that was crowdfunded.

Earlier in the age of video games, it was less of an issue because everything was new.  Now, we have proven concepts that consistently generate revenue.  It’s hard to fight against that, except that there’s another thing happening in the industry.  There’s a slow fragmentation of the market happening, and crowdfunding came along just in time to ensure that process blows well past the point of no return.  This change is creating thousands of new genres and subgenres across the industry, so gamers are increasingly able to pick a game that scratches the precise itch that they’re looking for.

None of that would be possible without crowdfunding.  Smaller studios are often the ones that step farthest out of the box to swing at wild pitches.  Many are swinging for something they’re too inexperienced to know is impossible, and many others know it’s a hard target and want to try anyway.  Stepping out of the box is a great way to pick up strikes, but occasionally you just get that oddly perfect swing and hit something out of the park unexpectedly.  Crowdfunding allows more small teams to swing at more balls, and that means we’re more likely to see great games with new ideas.

Even the ones that fail have the chance to inspire an idea that might make the next wild attempt a success.  Very little of it would happen on the publisher’s dime, though.  Even if it did, publishers require more share in the profit, which means the margins on the game has to be better, and that pulls money away from development.

One of the great things about crowdfunding game development is that there’s an organic form of marketing and often little or no publisher involvement.  Both of which save money, which is then invested in the game’s development.  Dollar for dollar, crowdfunded money spends a lot better than starting capital from nearly any other source.

While opening up the development process to the crowd, as many crowdfunded projects do, can be problematic for development in many ways, it also provides opportunity to test and spot problems far earlier.  Backers typically receive access far sooner than would otherwise be typical, and that provides developers with much more data for early balancing, performance improvements, and early feedback about problematic systems.  All are things that support game development by saving money or resolving problems before the game is released.

Crowdfunding can be good for the backers, too.  Besides occasional physical goods that fans in all forms are always glad to have, backers often get extra access to developers and developer-posted thoughts beyond what they’d typically have.  It’s insight that few outside the industry ever had before crowdfunding became popular.

Too science-heavy to be mainstream or traditionally published, Niel deGrasse Tyson’s Space Odyssey is now in development thanks to a Kickstarter campaign.

The biggest and most obvious benefit to crowdfunding is that games get developed that wouldn’t have been developed before.  It’s a gap that many had begun to recognize, and we’ve seen attempts like Steam’s Greenlight program attempt to address it.  I don’t know that there’s any way to address it more effectively than crowdfunding does, though.

Unusual design ideas like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Odyssey wouldn’t be possible without the opportunities presented through a method like crowdfunding.  Harebrained Schemes would have never been able to make the Shadowrun or BATTLETECH games without crowdfunding.  There are copious other examples of mods and full games that have been supported by smaller segments of “the crowd” that would have never had a chance to take a swing at those errant pitches, had it not been for crowdfunding.

Like every other binary question in history, there’s not a right or wrong when it comes to crowdfunding.  The truth, as it often is, is subjective and somewhere in the between the two diametrically opposed extremes.  There are aspects of crowdfunding that can detrimental to development and not always good for the consumer.  Though without it, we’d not have many of these great indie projects, and there’d be less room for those brave enough to try something new.

Infinity: Battlescape is way too ambitious for a publisher. Maybe they’ll fail, but I’ve been happy to help them try.

My subjective truth when it comes to crowdfunding, is that it’s something to be careful of.  It’s not always the right answer, but it sometimes is.  I participate in it often because I want young developers to have a chance at shaking the industry.  I also enjoy the process of watching a game come together.  I suspect I’m not alone on either point, and that’s why some form of crowdfunding is likely here to stay.

With that said, I urge any choosing to participate in it to consider their backing a donation, though.  The game may bust and you might not get anything you were promised, or you might have even misunderstood the promise.  Being a backer can be immensely rewarding, but you should never engage in it with money you can’t afford to lose.  I think crowdfunding has a lot of potential to be good, but never let that excitement push you beyond the line of fiscal responsibility.

So, what are some of your favorite crowdfunded projects?  Let me know down below.  Also, drop a few links to any you like that are running campaigns now.  I’m always excited to learn about new ideas in the industry.

Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter:

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