The Age of Fan Funded Products

When I was a teenager, Kickstart meant something different than it does today. If you told a younger me about a webpage known as Kickstarter, I would most likely assume it had something to do with Amiga Kickstart – the firmware that bootstrapped my computing platform of choice back then. Today however, Kickstarter is a website that converts this:

Shut Up and Take My Money

Shut Up and Take My Money

into viable products. Oh wait, you guys know about Kickstarter right? Well, for those of you who do not (hi, how is that rock you’ve been living under for the last few months?) here is a quick explanation:

Let’s say you have an idea for an awesome new product – like an internet enabled, super-sonic ball scratcher. You have the design in your head, you have worked out the logistics of getting it made. You also know there is a demand for such product out there, because you spend a lot of time on ball scratcher forums (you filthy pervert!) and you know there are thousands of people out there who would pay premium for your invention. The only problem is funding – no big company will give you money for this venture, unless you can somehow make it into a social thing that could be sold to Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars. Kickstarter is a website that lets you reach the ball scratcher enthusiasts directly and ask them for money to bring your product to the market. It is an idea so simple that it astonishes me we just stumbled upon it now.

I know what you think: isn’t Kickstarter just for stupid iPhone knick-knacks and artsy-fartsy bullshit? I thought so too initially. The first few successful products that got funded were of that exact nature. And yeah, an iPhone case hand-carved out of bones of the most endangered animals might be cool but they are not something I would spend my money on. My iPhone is naked most of the time, because that’s just how I roll. I really did not envision myself funding any Kickstarter projects.

But then people went ahead and started creating projects for things relevant to my interests. Let me show you just a few:

As you might have noticed, most of the things on this list are really, really awesome. Most of them have already been funded, ending up with budgets that far exceeded their expectations. Well, all except the last one, but more on that later. This is something unprecedented. Here we have bunch of video games that could have never been picked up by large publishers, getting made thanks to grassroots funding. Long time fans of franchises that were long presumed dead, now have a chance to see their favorite things be brought back to life – and not by a big studio with meddling executives, but by the original creators who care and love the product as much as they do.

When I first saw Kickstarter, I dismissed it as something cool but ultimately useless. Right about now, it is completely blowing my mind. Not only did it kick the ass of consumer electronics market with products like Pebble but it is now blowing the lid off the video game design industry. Almost overnight it has changed the landscape for the independent game design. Up until now, making an indy game meant toiling in obscurity, alone or with a group of like minded friends, on a shoe string budget and aiming low. The market for the games grew immensely in recent years thanks to the magic of online distribution. Still, some things were always beyond the reach for very small teams:

  • Professional voice acting
  • Professional art and design
  • Licensing for high end game engines
  • Testing and Quality Assurance
  • Etc..

Kickstarter opens that door an allows a guy with a dream, actually go out there, hire a team of professionals and realize it. You no longer have to aim low, and use stylized 16 bit graphics (I do realize that this is an artistic choice, but sometimes it is forced upon the creators by tight budgets). If your pitch is good, and people like your idea you can actually get a budget for a modern looking, photo realistic game of your dreams.

It is absolutely amazing and I’m really looking forward to all the listed products. How about you? What Kickstarter projects are you excited about? Which ones have you backed? Let me know in the comments.

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12 Responses to The Age of Fan Funded Products

  1. karthik INDIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    I don’t think Kickstarter allows a guy with a dream to “actually go out there, hire a team of professionals and realize it”.

    The consistent theme across most over-funded Kickstarter projects is that they’ve been pitched by well known (famous, even) names in the industry. Failing that, the team at least has an excellent pedigree (ex-Bioware/ex-Disney, in The Banner Saga’s case).

    The few exceptions have been very low budget games, like FTL (~$20000), which puts production values back into the indie camp.

    If I was to be cynical, I’d say what gaming kickstarters really are is a way for well established devs to make games that appeal to gamers’ collective nostalgia; even nostalgia rooted in very recent releases (Titan Quest=>Grim Dawn). Cynicism or no, this is a very fantastic thing. However, I just cannot see many people:
    1. Put down lots of money ($100,000+)
    2. On a completely new kind of game
    3. On a pitch by a complete newbie dev.

    The other pleasing thing about this is the return of the “medium” sized game; Barring the work of a few publishers (Paradox Interactive & WB), only the very large and the very small have survive in the market these days. Kickstarter might change that. Imagine if EA starts to fund $2 million projects again. They won’t have to focus test the shit out of their games and pummel them into mediocrity. Small budgets will allow them to hedge, making them more likely to experiment, cater to niche audiences, make more diverse kinds of games–for example, we might yet see a true syndicate sequel!

    (Kickstarters funded: Well, apart from the ones I mentioned on your forums recently, there’s Hadean Lands & Grim Dawn… that’s about it.)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ karthik:

    Ok, good point. Even on Kickstarter it is all about how you sell your idea. If you are already famous, or you have team with established credibility then it is a lot easier to sell your idea than if you are a complete nobody. It makes sense. After all, Kickstarter is not a magic money making machine. You have to pitch your idea and it will either be funded or not.

    The difference is that you are pitching it to gamers, rather than assholes in suits from EA or Ubisoft. So if you have a dream, you can get money to realize it but you have to have either credibility, or a really, really solid prototype.

    I remember reading an interview with the guys who make World of Goo which was quite successful as far as indie games go. I vaguely recall them mentioning that they wrote bulk of the code in the evenings and on the weekends, hanging out in coffee shops with free wifi, while working in their day jobs in the meantime. If kick starter was around back then, they could have gotten modest funding for their project. They wouldn’t get millions, but even the 200k that FTL got is nothing to scoff at.

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    All those ideas are great, but I have only put my money down on Wasteland 2, well because I like RPGs && I like RPGs with isometric UIs.

    While I love that Kickstarter provides a non-traditional avenue for devs to market their ideas directly to the people buying them and not at the mercy of publishers, we should not be too carefree about this. Publishers aren’t all evil and devs aren’t all awesome. They sort of check-and-balance each other out and usually, a nice working product does come out. However, take one of them out of that equation, I find that it’s a risk for my money.

    I do realize the huge gulf between “awesome idea” and “awesome product”, so it’s a catch-22 for me. I would gladly buy the product if it is awesome, but if I don’t fan-fund it now, there won’t be a product in the first place. :P

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  4. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    karthik wrote:

    The consistent theme across most over-funded Kickstarter projects is that they’ve been pitched by well known (famous, even) names in the industry. Failing that, the team at least has an excellent pedigree (ex-Bioware/ex-Disney, in The Banner Saga’s case).

    This has been a very important factor thus far. If not for this, it would be very difficult for a team to get fan-funded.

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  5. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    You know what I would kickstart the shit out of – Syberia 3.
    I’ve been waiting for this game for far too long and as far as I know it is so due to the lack of funding.

    So Benoît Sokal if you are reading – shut up and take my money!

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  6. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Interesting enough, of the kickstarts you mentioned I knew every single one.
    And I’m a backer for Shadowrun and Wasteland 2…
    Other stuff I support with kickstarter are a brasilian enthusiast creating his own post-apocalyptic/icecapmelted animated short film, one guy making really cool playing cards and -mainly- a friend in TX who’s publishing a Hard SciFi-RPG called Dark Nova (their first extension is open for some more days if you’re interested).

    But as it was said: funding mainly is a question of getting the word out and nothing helps spreading said word faster than a well-known name in the team.
    And for me: the rewards. At least partly. Some projects do spike my interest but just can’t get me to spend money…

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  7. karthik INDIA Google Chrome Windows says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    @ karthik:

    They wouldn’t get millions, but even the 200k that FTL got is nothing to scoff at.

    Holy crap! FTL raised 200k? This is insane. The last time I checked, they were at $26000. This changes my opinion of Kickstarter viability. Scratch out my previous comment!

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Mart:

    Of course. We still need publishers to make those multi million dollar games. Kickstarter however can be a great place to launch medium sized games that fans would love but the publishers would not touch with a 10 foot pole because they don’t fit into their idea of what triple A game should be:

    - an established franchise or something that will establish one
    - possibility to crank out endless sequels
    - merchandising tie-ins
    - online multiplayer
    - etc…

    And yes, ideas are cheep. Execution is what matters. Granted, most of the well funded projects on Kicstarters have one of these going for them:

    - celebrity spokesperson
    - high profile, credible team that is known to deliver quality content
    - kick-ass prototype that shows they mean business

    You need at least one of these – if you have all 3, you are actually very likely to be funded.

    @ Liudvikas:

    I would also live to see Overgrowth on Kickstarter. The open-ended, free running combat system they are putting together is ridiculously awesome.

    @ MrPete:

    To be honest, I’m usually not even looking at the awards. I’m mostly happy to just give the project some money, and receive a copy after it launches.

    @ karthik:

    Yeah, maybe it’s a fluke – I don’t know. But it’s just two kids with a cool idea, and a prototype with no celebrity backing, and no previous credentials. Most of their funding seems to be from the low level pledges of less than $50. I think I saw one backer who gave them 2k and maybe about a dozen who gave more than $200. It seems like it can be done – little guys can actually get their project funded.

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  9. cptacek UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Could we kickstart Firefly?

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS Terminalist says:

    @ cptacek:
    We can’t. Joss Whedon probably could, if he owns the rights – which I’m not sure about. If he does not, then I believe it would be against kickstarter TOS to try funding something you don’t own, even if the plan is to buy it out.

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  11. Karthik AUSTRALIA Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    @ cptacek:
    We can’t. Joss Whedon probably could, if he owns the rights – which I’m not sure about. If he does not, then I believe it would be against kickstarter TOS to try funding something you don’t own, even if the plan is to buy it out.

    See his reddit AMA for Whedon’s response to this idea.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Karthik:

    Holly shit, I did not know that AMA even happened.

    Also,how can we have Season 2 now that Wash is dead? :(

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