February 14 2012
It's not always easy to find funding for an offbeat video game idea, and that's one reason we don't see more offbeat games. Publishers and other investors are usually looking for a sure thing like a Halo or a Call of Duty sequel. Well, when Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, mentioned that publishers had little interest in adventure games, or Psychonauts 2, one thing led to another, and the result was a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for such a project. Now at about $1.7 million, it appears to be the most successful project on Kickstarter to date.
Sometimes it seems like major publishers, who are naturally adverse to risk, aren't willing to fund the more quirky and innovative games that developers would like to produce. And the role of the publisher is rapidly changing as digital distribution removes barriers between the developer and the customer. Freed from the expense of discs and boxes, as well as shipping costs, it's easier than ever for a developer to take their product directly to their customers.
Although the role of publisher's is evolving, predictions of their demise strike me as premature. Publishing games isn't just about distribution, it's also about funding and promoting games. Crowdfunding still has a long way to go before the kind of sums needed for a World of Warcraft or a Call of Duty will be available. At the same time, it's a promising alternative for smaller projects that publishers don't want to take chances on.
It's worth noting that crowdfunding is patronage rather than investment; you're not getting a piece of the company like you do when buy stocks, you're donating to a product you'd like to see come to fruition. Whether or not you receive anything at all for your donation depends on the project and the amount donated. There's also probably little recourse if someone decides to take the money and run, or the final product doesn't meet expectations. When the crowd gets burned a couple times, their enthusiam for crowdfunding is bound to take a big hit.
Despite the potential pitfalls, I'm hopeful that crowdfunding will really take off. It would be great to see a viable way to fund smaller, more innovative games that are too risky for the big investors and publishers.