Given the recent success of Double Fine and inXile Entertainment using Kickstarter to fund projects unloved by major publishers, many are seeing Kickstarter as an alternative funding source. But could Double Fine achieve the same level of success using pre-orders?
So last week, Double Fine concluded their Kickstarter project to create a classic point and click adventure game with a whopping $3.3 million in funding. In addition, inXile Entertainment passed their funding goal for $900,000 to develop Wasteland 2 in just 2 days. Their project is currently sitting at $1.4 million as I write this. There is even an article in Forbes about how this has changed game financing forever. Is Kickstarter the next great place to get funding to develop your game (particularly an indie game)? Maybe, maybe not. But, it does provide some interesting lessons and new ways to think about funding.
Basically, Kickstarter for video game projects seem to closely resemble pre-orders. It just has a bit of a different flavor. Most video game pre-orders are taken near the end of a game's completion and only ask for a portion of the full product price with the remainder to be paid when the product is released. Kickstarter projects on the other hand take the full amount of the backers money up front if the project is funded. In addition, Kickstarter projects are run at any phase of a projects lifecycle. For example, Double Fine and inXile Entertainment did theirs at the evaluation stage but other project owners wait till nearer completion.
Another interesting twist is the diversity of the Kickstarter rewards. Most video game pre-orders offer just the game and maybe a collector's edition. However, when you look at inXile's project, they had twelve levels of rewards from $15 to $10,000. This of course leads to an interesting question. Could Double Fine and inXile have the same level of success by doing this as a pre-order? Another interesting observation is how this tiered structure matches what is going on in the Free-To-Play space where you have some players paying a little (minnows / dolphins) and others paying a lot (whales). Check out a GamesBrief article for more details on the Free To Play model.
So is there any precedent for a game company to have way far in advance pre-orders. Wolfire Games is one that comes to my mind. They have been taking pre-orders for their in development game for over a year. Now, they just have one price of $29.95 for the game and no tiers. But, could they have more success offering some rare and highly valued items or privileges at a higher price? Wolfire is no stranger to innovation as they started the Humble Bundle. Perhaps they could do a conditional experiment. For example, offer a highly valued item or privilege for a limited time (before it is developed / made). If they get sufficient sales, move forward. If not, refund the money. I love a quote I found in one of their blog posts where they said they were "funded by fans". It would be interesting to see how they could uniquely serve potential whales.
So did Double Fine need Kickstarter? I think not. Is this a new paradigm in game financing? Again, I think not. There was an interesting quote from an inXile project update that reads "This is the beginning of a new era in gaming where the developer gets to work directly with the fans to build the type of product that the fans want." Shouldn't we have been doing that all along? Talking to customers and delivering them a product they want / need?
Kickstarter is a great platform, but I contend that there was nothing stopping Double Fine and inXile doing what they just did years ago. From my reading, Kickstarter takes 5% plus Amazon payments takes another 3-5%. Now, maybe that is acceptable, but for Double Fine, it means $165,000 went to Kickstarter. I wonder how much it would have cost for Double Fine to put up a project page on their web site and accept credit cards on a conditional basis for 30 days. I think it would be a lot less than $165,000. In fact, their partnership with 2 Player Productions and the documentary probably contributed more to their success. I think what Kickstarter did do is open Double Fine's eyes to possibilities.
Now, I am not saying don't use Kickstarter. It is a great platform. But see it for what it is and how can you learn from it to do something innovative to get your game funded and out there.