Kickstarter, Self-Publishing, and Video Games

You've all heard of the literary self-publishing revolution. (Heck, some of you are on the barricades). What you might not know is there is a similar revolution going on in video and board games. It has to do with Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Anyone with an idea for a book, a movie, a game, a technology, or whatever can launch a project page and see if people are interested in funding their project. Authors have used it to self-publish: to fund cover artists and editors, and to see if there's a market for what they want to write before they write it.

We all know why authors self-publish: because breaking into the Big 6 is freaking hard, especially if you write for what is essentially a niche audience. Turns out the same thing is true in games.

Video games, in particular, have their own Big Publishers -- companies with the connections and resources to develop triple-A titles for the major gaming consoles. I don't even know how an independent developer would sign on with them. You'd probably have to prove you have a significant platform first, or else develop a Halo clone or something else they know will work. (Sound familiar?).

But not everybody wants to make Halo.* A number of developers have been using Kickstarter to pitch the games they always loved, and to see if enough people feel the same. You may have even heard of some of the biggest ones:

* Nothing against Halo, of course. There are some very talented folks making those games.

Double Fine Adventure was a Kickstarter campaign by developer Tim Schafer, maker of some of my favorite games of all time: the Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle. Last March he asked for $400,000 to make a new adventure game -- something big publishers haven't wanted for decades. He got $3.3 million and kickstarted a revolution (see what I did there?).

A month later, inXile entertainment (starring my former and current boss) pitched a sequel to a very old post-apocalyptic RPG. Wasteland 2 got running with nearly $3,000,000.

Project: Eternity is the brain child of Obsidian Entertainment, home of most of my former coworkers. They asked if people wanted to see a spiritual successor to the old Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Seventy-four thousand people said, "YES!"

Why am I telling you this? Well, partially because it's fascinating to me. Anything that makes it easier to fund, create, and distribute creativity is awesome, in my opinion.

But also to show that independent publishing is not strictly a book thing. In the last year, there have been seven million-dollar video game projects on Kickstarter, dozens of smaller ones, and who knows how many hundreds of similar board games, RPGs, and other things.

And just like in the book world, I think the way to look at self-publishing is not as a challenge to publishers, but more like filling holes that publishers leave unfilled. Three million dollars sounds like a lot, but when triple-A budgets regularly hit 30 or 40 million, you can understand why EA and Microsoft might not be interested in a niche RPG.

In the same way, ten thousand book sales might not interest a publisher used to selling books in the hundreds of thousands, but to the self-published author, those ten thousand sales are game changing.

Whatever. I just like where the future is going. I'm excited to see what happens next.

What about you? Have you ever backed (or launched!) a Kickstarter? What do you think about the platform.


Matthew MacNish said...

Nice to have you back, even though I knew you couldn't stay away.

I backed Project Obisidan, and will be backing Torment once that becomes an option.

I've never done it for a book, but I might, if the right one came along.

I definitely like the interactivity of the whole system.

Mia Hayson said...

I love kickstarter! I think it's a brilliant way for people to help fund the things that they actually want! :) Also, as Matt said, the interactivity is pretty brilliant.

As an aside, I love the Monkey Island games. Ahhh.


Eliza Tilton said...

BGII was the best game I ever played.

Cap'n Heine said...

I've backed 2 board games, 2 card games, 1 CD, 1 book, 1 video game, and 1 set of figurines (although that last one was mostly just to get a REALLY good deal on a boatload of figurines.

So far I have not received any of them (the three I was supposed to have received already are all new to making these things, so didn't know how long stuff would take).

Another good source for self-published board games is The Game Crafter where I intend to sell my card game after a few more tests and a little bit more work.

MattyDub said...

I backed the Order of the Stick's reprint drive, and was happy to do so. I've gotten some of my rewards, and not others (that due to the fact that the author got injured recently, and has been in physical therapy to rehab his drawing hand). I think that Kickstarter fills a very important role - if studios (of whatever stripe) are currently locked into a business model where only mega-hits make money, then Kickstarter allows for non-mega-hits to grow. It allows for more efficient allocation of capital, and for diffusing risk. I think it still has some kinks to work out (like why hasn't Cap'n Heine gotten anything yet - and he's not alone), but the idea is not only good, I think it's necessary.

@Cap'n Heine: I'm still kinda kicking myself I didn't get in on the minis one. But maybe I dodged a bullet, if you still haven't gotten them yet.

James SH said...

I backed DoubleFine, inXile, and Obsidian's projects. Other than that, I've only backed a single music project as a charity thing. My reasoning for backing these games was because a) I liked the vision and b) I felt these teams could execute (though almost certainly not within the stated time frames).

Personally, I think that there will be both substitution and complement effects with Kickstarter. Also, I think that we haven't even glimpsed a final form for this type of fundraising. It will be a while before the first major flop (don't know which project) fails to deliver then gets put through the legal wringer. That process will help to clarify what rights and responsibilities are enforceable rather than just asserted.

By the way, I'm super-excited that you signed on with inXile. If you and the rest of the team bring the same spark that Fallout and Planescape:Torment had, I will have gotten a wicked steal for my Kickstarter money.

Unknown said...

I'm really glad Kickstarter is around, but I won't be able to contribute for a few years yet (when my husband will have his degree and therefore a steady job).

I'm excited about Project: Eternity, though! BG II was amazing, but I'm getting more annoyed at the graphics as time goes on. I want something more crisp and advanced!

Steve MC said...

Definitely a new paradigm for developers interacting with the public.

No group surveys or whatever the marketers do, but just going straight to offering something pure.

Angela Brown said...

I've heard of Kickstarter being used for various entertainment platforms so it's cool to see that it is having an impact. It's helping to fund some great ideas of interest, whatever the niche and like you said, that's not to be negative the Big Comps that aren't hopping on them, but it's opening the way for folks to back the things they know they want. Backing it helps to make it happen. And that's all good in my book.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Fascinating stuff! This shift toward micro-financing (although WHOA 3 mil is not so micro) is very cool for the creative arts - as you say, game changing for individual artists, as well as the industry.