Experienced Points: Kickstarter: Proceed With Caution

By Shamus
on May 4, 2012
Filed under:
Column

This morning I sent in today’s column, clicked over to Penny Arcade, and saw they have a comic about this very same issue.

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A Hundred!20202013Many comments. 173, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Kailvin says:

    I agree. We really need more mid-sized developers. We also need more people with both video game design and business degrees. I look to paradox interactive as a hope for game development. They make good games if a bit of a niche. Each game they make is hard to dispute better then the last in the series. Even though they make the same style of game again and again its still fresh and innovative. (If you have ever been to their forums. You will see how good the customer service is too!) If more developers were the size of Paradox I could see a good future for the games industry.

    • Dasick says:

      Paradox.. you mean the guys that published Majesty2?

      Yeah, they seem to be hitting Shamus’ sweet spot pretty heavily. But he don’t seem to discuss their games very often, which is a shame.

      OR IS IT?! Admit it Shamus, EA IS BRIBING YOU TO BE SILENT ABOUT PARADOX! YOU’RE ON THE “MAN’S” PAYROLL! HOW COULD YOUuuuuuuuu…

    • Infinitron says:

      To clarify, Paradox are more than just a “mid-sized developer”. They’re a mid-sized developer who is self-sustaining, and can publish its own games independently.

    • Tobias says:

      Paradox is both a dev and a publisher. There are dozens of mid-sized devs working under paradox.
      Other mid sized devs are Stardock and Kalypso.
      Asceron was med-sized until the tried to get into the action-RPG market. NOw they are bankrupt.

      Maybe the game gap is Shamus’ fault for liking the wrong genres. :)

  2. Klay F. says:

    For the most part I agree with your cautious optimism.

    I don’t, however, think you give internet sleuths enough credit. They’ve sniffed out a lot of scams (not necessarily Kickstarter related though) more credible than that Mythic thing.

    • Dasick says:

      “Gameplay of WoW, visuals of Skyrim”.

      Do not want.

      These points are not their respective game’s best points, and in fact, some will argue* they are the games’ worst aspects.

      *Like, using logic and stuff. Not just spamming the screen-space.

      • Ugh. That was painful enough to hear the first time.

      • Klay F. says:

        Also, one should remember one of the Golden Rules of the confidence game, that I made up just now. Fooling one person is easy, but adding people to a con decreases the likelihood of said con succeeding exponentially.

        Or put another way, you may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but you’ll never be able to fool all of the people all of the time.

        • Christopher M. says:

          You only need to be able to fool all of the people long enough to get what you want, then start running.

          • Sumanai says:

            Don’t start running. Walk away, if you started walking soon enough you’ll be around the corner before anyone realises anything went wrong. Then run for as short a distance as possible, but long enough to make it impossible to follow you and start walking again so people won’t make note of you.

          • Harry says:

            In this case “long enough” means “long enough to raise a decent amount of money over Kickstarter,” which is… actually quite a long time, unless you’re known as a big developer.

        • X2Eliah says:

          And yet people get dumber in mobs, and are more able to make their own decisions when alone.
          So.. That’s kind of against your rule ;)

          • Chargone says:

            ehh, i think both rules are true, they just counteract each other in situations where both apply. with random fluctuations based on exactly Who is involved leading to one or the other having a bigger effect in different situations.

      • Irridium says:

        I don’t know, I liked Skyrim’s visuals.

        But the combat of World of Warcraft? Yeah, no thanks. Only reason I put up with it in TOR is because of the story. Also, it doesn’t really have the visuals of Skyrim.

        Would have been nice if it was the triforce of MMO’s, but whatever. At least now I know that it’ll play like WoW, I can comfortably ignore it and not miss a thing.

        • Dasick says:

          The point is, Skyrim isn’t the most impressive game visually, and the visuals aren’t the point. They’re nice, they add to the immersion, but Skyrim has other things going for it.

          As for the triforce… making ToR style quests a living thing? This is a scary level of tech, resources and manpower we’re talking about. I’m already uncertain if Bioware will be able to release content at a steady enough pace to keep people playing ToR.

          Also, something interesting to consider: EVE hits the first two points of Gabe’s request already (if you can break through the steep cliff of an entry barrier that is)

    • Mari says:

      “Depending on funding amount reached we will aiming to get…” This was my first clue that something was wrong. Every company cited in the listing was American/English-speaking but whoever wrote that sentence is clearly either not a native-English-speaker or not the brightest bulb in the box. While poor grammar skills aren’t enough to completely disregard the Kickstarter, it’s definitely enough to get me checking a lot deeper.

    • Thomas says:

      I thing the threat is much less from scams and just things going wrong or the developer not being organised/motivated enough. Games go overbudget and over time now, despite being very carefully milestoned by publishers. And it’s genuinely hard to self-motivate sometimes, especially if you’ve already received a lot of your money upfront.

  3. Dasick says:

    I agree with you Shamus, but that’s the reality we currently live in.

    People are used to using technology without understanding it’s purpose and inner functions. There’s just so much stuff happening around us, it’s insane to expect everyone to care about it all.

    Of course, a little common sense goes a long way.

  4. Astor says:

    If you back a project that succeedes in raising the money but then for some reason they fail to deliver (lets admit most game projects that made 0.7 to 3M will only fail if some catastrophic, *really* unforeseeable event occurs), well you’ll just get burned. If you were smart, you knew the risk (however small) was there and if you were dumb/ignorant then you’ll LEARN.

    Now, the projects that pain me are the ones that fail to reach their target. The Sherlock Holmes project comes to mind (though I didn’t care for it) asking for a “mere” 55k, and projects like Portal (1986) which sounds rather sweet and legit, but is asking for 900k (lol?).

    • Infinitron says:

      There’s another level of failure possible here. We may get games that are released in a very buggy state. I don’t know that 3 million dollars is enough to create a deep, complex game AND make it polished and bug-free.

      • Shamus says:

        But what about the original Fallou-

        Oh. Yeah. Good point.

        • Are you saying that Bethesda actually did take something from the original Fallout when they made Fallout 3?

          I never thought I’d see the day that Shamus would admit to this. After all, the recent Fallouts were the only glitchy games Bethesda has ever released. No other games in their library had any bugs at all. (/sarcasm)

        • Dragomok says:

          But at least they managed to avoid one huge bug – or is it compability issue? – in quite awe-inspiring manner.
          Many games, if you try to play them without any audio-processing hardware or drivers, just crash or fails to boot. Fallout, on the other hand, works fine. What is so special about that? If you get into a dialog with face camera (Gizmo, the Master etc.) and have no sound, the person you are talking to does not open mouth. That means Interplay released a game with actual lip-sync.
          In 1997.

          When I realized this, my mind was blown.

      • Astor says:

        Hah, yeah. But bear in mind those 3M oldies but unpolished goldies had to *endure* the nagging of a publisher and a deadline. These Kickstarters don’t. I remember many of those oldies getting the team working overtime and over the weekends, and some even after their studio closed, just to further polish/release a patch.

        So I’m pretty confident most of these guys will work their arse off to deliver a polished game, even if it means pushing back their tentative and self-imposed deadline.

      • JPH says:

        Also, bear in mind that Wasteland 2 is apparently being co-opted by some of the guys at Obsidian. So yeah, bugs are inevitable at this point. We should consider ourselves lucky if the game has a proper ending.

        Hi Krellen!

        • krellen says:

          Chris Avellone is doing writing for the game, and inXile is getting to use some story/dialogue tools Obsidian developed. Not one single Obsidian programmer will work on the project (not even Tim Cain), and in fact the only person from Obsidian involved at all is Chris Avellone.

          Hi JPH. Stop spreading falsehoods. :P

          • Soylent Dave says:

            So if it is full of bugs, we’ll know once and for all that it’s Avellone’s writing which causes bugs, not anything the programmers do!

            Edit: even typing his name in this comment caused me to do a typo… QED, Krellen

          • JPH says:

            Ah, well that dispels one of my concerns.

            I’ll admit I couldn’t be arsed to actually confirm what I read on Twitter in that case. I apologize.

            • tengokujin says:

              Obsidian has admitted that most of the bugs they’ve left in their games are because they never get the time to QA the game properly before launch, in order to keep release schedule.

              • Thomas says:

                And isn’t it confirmed the Bethseda did the QA for New Vegas?

                I’m pretty sure poor Obsidian have never been allowed to release a game within even half a year of when they wanted to

                • X2Eliah says:

                  Only problem is, New Vegas was hardly the only super-buggy Obsidian game.

                  • Irridium says:

                    Well, on the plus side, Dungeon Siege 3 was pretty bug-free. So they seem to have fixed their bug problem. Or perhaps it was a one time thing. I guess we’ll find out when their South Park RPG is out.

                    • JPH says:

                      Dungeon Siege 3 did have some rather sloppy design, though. I found the lack of a map really strange.

                      I’m pretty optimistic about the South Park RPG.

                • JPH says:

                  I’m pretty sure they weren’t cut time with Alpha Protocol. And that game still ended up a mess.

                  By “I’m pretty sure” I mean “I heard once from a guy,” of course. But I’ve never heard anything about them having their time cut during Alpha Protocol development.

                  Don’t act like Obsidian are victims. They’re doing something wrong if they continually release extremely buggy games. Maybe they’re not good at handling relations with publishers.

                  • krellen says:

                    Chris Avellone says it’s largely because he doesn’t have a good grip on scope and needs to scale back his designs, actually.

                    • JPH says:

                      That’s really mature of him to admit that.

                      This might just be overly-optimistic speculation on my part, but the South Park RPG thing seems like a much more feasible task for Obsidian than the last few games they’ve made.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Kings bounty the legend is deep,complex,and very bug free.Im not sure about its budget though,but I guess its about mid range.

        • Dragomok says:

          Except the way King’s Bounty handles mouse is downright ABOMINABLE. It binds movement to Primary Mouse Button, while binding camera not to Secondary, but Right Mouse Button, so I CAN’T ROTATE THE GODDAMN CAMERA WITHOUT MOVING MY GODDAMN CHARACTER, RAAAAAAAGH!!!

          Ah, right: this only applies if you’re left-handed.

          • Simon Buchan says:

            I, uh… what? How the shit does that even *work*? I don’t think it’s even *possible* to detect left-vs-right button, “left” and “right” are just easy names for primary and secondary in every API I’ve seen! That’s some impressive brokenness right there.

            • Sumanai says:

              I think one part of the code picks up the raw hardware message (what the button number is) and another part picks up what the system tells it (primary click, secondary click).

              So it doesn’t react to the “right mouse button” but the “2nd mouse button” which is usually located on the right. The system of course reports the same button as “click” and therefore the game acts strangely.

              I think there are ways in DirectX to pick up either the button number or its designated function, but I find it hard to believe it’s easy to mix the two up in this way. Especially if I’m wrong and you have to use DirectX commands for the other and something else for the other.

              • Dragomok says:

                I think there are ways in DirectX to pick up either the button number or its designated function, but I find it hard to believe it’s easy to mix the two up in this way.

                As far as I know, DirectInput reads raw hardware and other parts of DirectX reads primary/secondary; also, when I checked two years ago, Quake Live‘s options offered four methods of mouse input, so maybe there’s more.

                @Simon Buchan: Yes, King’s Bounty brokeness is indeed impressive and probably one-of-a-kind; I suspect mouse was coded by a person either working on someone else’s old code or following bad programming habits.
                As for detecting left-vs-right… You would be surprised that every other or third game I play reads raw hardware input only (interestingly, this includes all but one XBox ports I’ve seen). In some cases, you can rebind the buttons, which makes game playable (often you still have to navigate menus with middle finger, though), but in most cases you can’t. Ironically, platformers are in the former group way more often than strategies.

                There are only two things you can do to fix that issue.

                The first one is to buy a left-handed gaming mouse. Since it’s a niche product, there are very few models and all of them are expensive, hard to get and available by mail-order only. There’s no alternative – special mouse-enhancing programs (D-Mouse, X-Mouse) and drivers for symmetrical mice (Razer Abyssus) that, supposedly, enable switching buttons at fly, don’t do a jack.
                This solution feels a little bit like having to buy a specific pad just to play a console port.

                The second one is to ask developers themselves to patch mouse handling. This probably is not a problem, as long they are indie or niche* and have a small player base. Hovewer, if the game is popular or mainstream, gaining devs’ attention is not easy, as they get tons of ideas and bug reports every week. Therefore, the only thing that gives some chance to get the suggestion implemented is support of other players. Most right-handed gamers won’t care for or even know about the problem; as for left-handed…
                Approximately, every tenth person is left-handed, so we can assume that lefties constitute about 10% of players. This 10% divides further into groups that:
                A) hold mouse in the right hand,
                B) hold mouse in the left hand, but with unswapped buttons (!),
                C) hold mouse in the left hand with swapped buttons.
                Let’s assume that all groups are equal and people from group C) who do have left-handed gaming mice are in minority. This leaves us with about 3,33% of players that are affected by mouse reading hardware input.
                So, if you wants to get developers’ attention, you have no more than 3,33% of player base to actively support you and loss of 3,33% of potential customers/players to prove your point. Now put this against balance issues, Nvidia-related bugs or another striperrific costume for popular champion.

                At least that’s how my limited experience with popular, mainstream games go.
                I was the first one to post a thread about mouse issues in Battlefield Heroes forums, got whole twelve “signs”, had my post added to The Developer-Friendly Suggestion Portal and nothing changed when I checked ten months later.
                I filled a survey that popped just after playing my first match in League of Legends (a game that let’s you rebind every key except for mouse buttons), in which I wrote several times about the problem. I also checked the forums – there were several old threads on that topic, and all of them had nearly no replies – and disappeared during a region split.

                Sorry for such a long and rambling comment – I just had to get it off my chest.
                (Note to self: next time you take something off your chest, don’t spend five hours doing it. Which you just totally did, stupid.)

                * Sins of a Solar Empire had its mouse input changed to primary/secondary in one of the first patches.
                Gavin Simon, of Supergiant Games, of Bastion fame, replied to me after I send an, er, angry and impolite (!) message about not-left-handed-friendly menus in a demo (!) through a form (!) on their site, asking for clarification (!) and had the fix implemented two days (!) after I sent him the aforementioned clarification. If you are reading this, Mr. Simon, you are awesome. (And I will buy Bastion eventually, honest!)

                • Sumanai says:

                  It’s really annoying that the problem wouldn’t exist if it was possible to rebind all keys and buttons.

                  But about buying a special mouse. I’m right handed. I use a vertical mouse, cheapest available that doesn’t look like a rip-off (there are some that I doubt are any good ergonomically), because at least most normal mice cause wrist pains and I have no idea how to find one that I know for certain won’t cause them. Cost ~80 EUR, unreliable movement since the optical part is low quality, is apparently breaking down after two years of use and was mail-order.

                  I got lucky that this one doesn’t cause wrist pains. If I go for a more expensive vertical mouse I might have to go over 200 EUR (I only know one model that’s supposed to be better, and I’ve had difficulty finding it) and there’s no guarantee it’s actually of higher quality either from gaming standpoint or durability.

                  So if you can fix your problem with a moderate quality gaming mouse that costs under a 100 USD, I’d be happy to change places with you.

                  Note that I’m not saying that what you have isn’t a problem, just that I really wish there were better truly ergonomic mice that weren’t priced like the manufacturer knows they’ve got me by the balls.
                  Which they’ve got, but I wish they didn’t know that.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Wait,80 euros for a cheap mouse?Dear lord!Where I live,cheap mice are 10-20.Mine was 40,and its a pretty decent one.The more I read this blog,the more I appreciate my country.

                    As for wrist pain,I found out that smaller mice are much better for this than bigger ones.It took some getting used to moving the mouse just with my fingers,but having to rest my hand comfortably on the table while Im doing that was worth it.

                    • X2Eliah says:

                      Cheap *vertical* mouse, I imagine.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Oh,whoops.Failed my reading check.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      I have a small Logitech mouse for my laptop, I could probably try that out, though I think it caused pains as well.

                      There are cheaper vertical mice, but they’re basically sticks on platforms and look like they’re really uncomfortable to use.

                  • Dragomok says:

                    …And just after I wrote that, I found a single model that costs ~8$! They’re still out of production since 2010 and available only on local counterpart of eBay, though.

                    Anyway, except that one I haven’t found several last times, left-handed mice do costs about 100$, so I guess my situation isn’t as bad as yours.
                    Good luck with your vertical mouse.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      Isn’t that always the case? You find what you were looking for and it has been discontinued or otherwise unavailable.

                      Thanks, though I’m not hopeful. Keeping my hopes down helps tolerate the inevitable disappointment.

                      I hope game designers start doing a better work so you don’t need to buy a mouse specifically to fix their screw ups.

                • Sem says:

                  I was orginally left-handed with the mouse but became ambidextrous because my left wrist started acting up. Now I always switch between work and home to divide the load over both wrists. Also handy in case I ever lose an arm.

          • Nick Bell says:

            Every time I see someone using the mouse left handing, I’m surprised. It’s such a rare occurrence. I can just foresee all sorts of key binding problems this has got to cause.

            • Dragomok says:

              Nah, you just have to do one simple trick (few lines of bug-free code, tops) and allow key rebinding (which should be a standard functionality).

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                But what about games that use a bunch of keys?Wouldnt those require a flipped keyboard as well?Im somewhat ambidextrous,so I use the mouse with my left hand without a problem when the need arises(Im next to someone,showing them the ropes).But I couldnt imagine using the right side of the keyboard for much.

                • Dragomok says:

                  There is no need to flip keyboards, as most of them have symmetrical letters block (is that what you call it?), so setting up left-handed key layout is easy (even on compact QWERTY). If I play, say, an FPS, the first thing I do is replacing WSAD with IKJL. This way I can access spacekey with thumb, Shift with little finger and nummerical keys with index, middle and ring fingers (I suppose P;L’ would be much more ergonomic – it would allow the use of Control button). Then I rebind what was under ‘E’ to ‘U’, ‘Q’ to ‘O’, ‘1’ to ‘0’, ‘2’ to ‘9’ etc.
                  If the game is, say, an RPG that uses FPS control scheme, I bind additional function in a easily memorable pattern. Inventory becomes Equipment, Journal becomes Quests, Map becomes Worldmap and whatever buttons were used to manage character progression and skills are now mapped to Advancement and Skills, respectively.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Oh,youre using that part.Yeah,that could work.Ive just tried it,and I could use it.Though the huge enter key is a bit of a problem,but I know there are keyboards with small ones.

          • Bubble181 says:

            Kings Bounbty: Crossroads was also a nice sequel/expansion/thingie. 1c in general really does release a lot of good games.

            Actually, most of the Eastern European/Russian games I’ve played were in the “middle” budget category, and quite decent. People tend to compare them to AAA games, though, which often turns out unfavourable. Obviously.

      • Nick Bell says:

        IRON BRIGADE, STACKING and COSTUME QUEST were all about $2 million games. They succeeded in part by sacrificing some of the first half for the second. The games are not extremely complex, but they are polished and bug-free (at least as far as my experience). Great examples of what can be done with that size budget.

        • Sumanai says:

          Their new budget could go to their heads, hypothetically. Haven’t checked the new videos for backers, but they seemed to have their heads in the right places so I think they’ll be fine.

          Maybe even double fine.

    • Sumanai says:

      But will they learn the right things?

      If they learn that you need to be critical about what you support, okay. But if all they learn is “Kickstarter is bullshit” it’s not very helpful.

  5. Tizzy says:

    I got in on the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter, with the clear understanding that I may never get anything for my money. I know it’s not a preorder.

    I guess what we hope to get from our investment is not simply “a copy of the game”, but to feel good about helping people develop stuff we wouldn’t see otherwise. We also invest to get a form of entertainment that would be purely unavailable otherwise, except on GOG, but there’s a limit to the fun that can be had replaying old games.

    • SleepingDragon says:

      Personally I believe most of the people donating to this stuff are like you. The problem, when it will inevitably occur, will as usual be with the vocal minority, then the people who will find jumping in on the bandwagon fun or profitable. I mentioned it in the comments to the previous kickstarter related post but I just know some mainstream media will turn one of these failures into a huge scam in which “millions of dollars just disappeared” and I dread the day.

  6. Amstrad says:

    Honestly, what I really think we’ll see before outright failure is projects running far longer than the people donating expect them to.

    I backed a graphic novel in 2009 and only invested 10bux, it took that project three years to actually come to completion. Three Years.
    If not for the fact I’d invested so little that I could easily forget I’d even spent the money in the first place I could have driven myself insane with waiting for it to complete.

    But will Joe or Jane Gamer be able to wait that long when the average amount backed sits around $50? Time will tell..

    • MintSkittle says:

      Some projects are already over time and over budget.

      http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/starcommand/star-command-sci-fi-meets-gamedev-story-for-ios-an

      Star Command was originally set to come out last November, now pushed back to end of June, and they’ve been tossing out the idea a while back of launching a second Kickstarter to get it out the door.

      • Sumanai says:

        Something that struck my eye:

        SPECIAL NOTE: BACKING ON ANY LEVEL DOES NOT INCLUDE A COPY OF THE GAME. THERE IS A FAQ ITEM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST EXPLAINING THE REASONING!

        Which sounds bad to me, but there’s also no explanation in the FAQ section which sounds really bad to me.

        If they make a new Kickstarter the situation gets tricky for the backers. On one hand all the money they put could be lost in the sense that it didn’t create the game it was meant to create, but on another putting more money into it could just ensure that more money gets lost.

    • Sumanai says:

      I put 115 USD on the Double Fine Adventure, but I don’t see myself biting my nails if the game isn’t out by the end of the next year.

      Don’t know if I’m representative of the average person though. And I’m certain at least some will be complaining in a year about how “it’s taking too long, we want our money back” even if the Kickstarter page clearly stated that it would take longer.

      • Ranneko says:

        And Doublefine are being fairly transparent. They aren’t really using the Kickstarter update method to keep people on top of things but in the secret backer forums they have a post about the budget and where the kickstarter money is going, A post about art style development and one about programming development.

        The post about the budget was really interesting, and also reassuring that sensible people were working on the rewards. They are a reasonable portion of the funds, but nowhere near a major portion of the funds.

        • Sumanai says:

          Talking of which, I haven’t checked them out for quite some time.

          What I’ve seen they seemed like their biggest problem was wrapping their heads around the fact that some many people wanted a point-and-click adventure game and that they were so ready to put money where their mouth was. So I think they won’t go over budget.

          There are three things that can ruin the game in my opinion:
          1) The company as a whole crashing down for whatever reason. Since the budget already exists and they seem like they’re careful this seems unlikely.
          2) Important person or people in the company die before finishing. Which is always a risk, so I’m not going to worry about that. Also unlikely.
          3) The game itself ends up being Not Fun. Which is very unlikely in my case, since I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve played from them. Even Brütal Legend.

  7. decius says:

    The big disappoint will come when a developer raises $X Million dollars, but becomes the defendant in a lawsuit completely unrelated to what they Kickstarted for- maybe an EEO claim, or a worker’s comp issue.

    Not fraud, just failure.

  8. Irridium says:

    Yeah, it is pretty cautious. Though the fact that Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo have experience in making games and all that does sooth the mind a bit. Only a bit though.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens when a project fails.

    That being said, after reading another story about how badly a developer gets manhandled by publishers, well the pitfalls of Kickstarter don’t seem that bad in comparison.

    What a shitty way to go, too. Free Radical didn’t deserve that. Hell, if you believe the guy in the comments (number 46), it seems the PC port of the game existed because Steve Ellis wanted it. Apparently he did all the bugfixes himself. The studio that gave us Timesplitters and Second Sight deserved better dammit.

    • Klay F. says:

      THAT’S why I gave to those Kickstarter projects. The thought of yet another talented studio dying because of publisher stupidity/incompetence/greed/malice is enough to fill me with a rage so deep, as to be unlike anything I’ve experienced before, that I can’t predict what I’d do in response. I gave these people money to get a game, yes, but to also keep them at their jobs doing what they love.

      • Dasick says:

        Forgive me for being so callous, but throughout the article I couldn’t shake the feeling that the developers are trying to completely absolve their responsibility for the company’s downfall.

        I know, I know, I’m a heartless monster, and the publishers have a lot of anguish and grief on their conscience, but…

        They had problems with development because they were pushing the bleeding edge of tech. Their development team grew from 20 to 200. They kept increasing development costs. And at the same time they were making essentially the same kind of game. The way I see it, this is a fundamentally flawed premise, and it eventually caught up with them.

        Also this: “Well we weren’t well-behaved compliant boys.” And yet this company was going around waiting for a publisher to take them in. And despite their bark, they weren’t cautious enough to know when to pass an opportunity that’s way too good to be true. There are options for Indies, there’s always been. Gaming wasn’t always a “multi-billion dollar industry srs bzns”.

        I’m being totally unfair to the developers here; the suits certainly know how much pressure they can apply to your spirit (the devs AND the consumers) to maximise profit and without turning you berserk. They’re not stupid, they’re just… they’ve got human anguish down to a science.

        It’s just that I hate victim mentality. If you wash your hands and say that you were just a bystander in your life, well you’ve learnt nothing. All these trials and you’re not better for it, just bitter. It’s poison for the mind.

        • Klay F. says:

          They were riding the bleeding edge of tech…you mean like every other developer that hoped mecha space Christ to stay alive. All of the once great studios that failed to ride the bleeding edge? Yeah they aren’t around anymore.

          Yeah, stupid Free Radical for not seeing ahead of time that a publisher wouldn’t meet the terms of their own contract.

          Also, yes, how dare they demand to stay the owners of their own IPs. Shouldn’t they know their place on the totem pole?

          I’m sorry I have trouble taking all these excuses for parasite publishers seriously. Used to be you could come up with a good idea and see it come to life without signing away your soul. Guess I’m just old fashioned.

          • Dasick says:

            They were riding the bleeding edge of tech…you mean like every other developer that hoped mecha space Christ to stay alive. All of the once great studios that failed to ride the bleeding edge? Yeah they aren’t around anymore.

            Blizzard waves hello. iD is also doing fine (John Carmack doesn’t ride the bleeding edge… he IS the bleeding edge. Big difference. Plus, have you ever heard the Ferrari story?). Obisidian, being the mercenaries they are, get their engine development done by their predescestors. Paradox is picking up steam.

            I don’t really know any studios that went out of business because they tried to stay within the Golden Era range. Though, I’m not really that versed in Gaming Economical Deafeats.

            Yeah, stupid Free Radical for not seeing ahead of time that a publisher wouldn’t meet the terms of their own contract.

            Like Shamus said in the past, “contracts are only as trustworthy as the ppl who sign them”.

            As for the companies itself…

            They say that Sony failed to back up the marketing campaign for Haze. I’m not a console FPS enthusiast, but even I heard about that game. In fact, the EB games where I used to get my PC games (every once in two years) had a big-ass stand for-preorders of Haze, which are usually reserved for high profile games like CoD, God of War and Skyrim.

            I don’t know if the devs took the money out of their pocket, or who sponsored what, but as far as I see it Haze did get a big marketing push.

            As for LucasArts… yeah I see how the change in regime could have been compeltely out of the blue for them. It is, after all, internal LucasArts problems. But how long does it take you to figure out that you’re being stalled? I realise it’s easy to be an armchair consultant when this is all gone and done, but was it really this hard to notice you’re being jerked around? And once you do, why do you keep banging your head against the wall? I’m wondering, how hard (legally speaking) would it have been to meet the publishers half way, let them pull out, get all the money you can, and most improtantly, avoid being drained and tortured for half a year?

            Also, yes, how dare they demand to stay the owners of their own IPs. Shouldn’t they know their place on the totem pole?

            The publisher usually negotiates IP ownership up front (and so does the smart developer). They are free, and should be free, to lay down the rules as they see fit, and the developers are free, and should be free, to either accept the rules or not to.

            Ideas are cheap and aren’t really “Intellectual Property” until they are properly developed and defined. A publisher puts in money into the developement of an IP, the developers create the IP for the publisher while on their payroll, and get as much legal stake in the IP as the developers. Whether this is truly just or not is up to debate, but the publishers do have a right to protet their investments.

            I’m sorry I have trouble taking all these excuses for parasite publishers seriously. Used to be you could come up with a good idea and see it come to life without signing away your soul. Guess I’m just old fashioned.

            Like I said before, I’m not interested in defending the poor old publishers, who have their feeling brusied and must now go cry in a pillow. STUFFED WITH MONEY BILLS. What irks me is the victim mentality of the developer Free Radical. There were things Free Radical could have done. Even if they didn’t do those things, they can at least acknowledge them in hindsight and learn from the past. But no, they just want to play the “derp, shit happens, things were out of our control, publshers are evil” card, and absolve what responsibility they had for their downfall.

            I’m not saying that it was totally 100% their fault. I’m saying they need to cut the emo crap and learn from what happened.

      • JPH says:

        I do feel the need to point out that not all publishers are that bad. Some are. Perhaps even many are. But “publishers = evil” is overly generalized.

        • Chargone says:

          think it’s more like ‘most of the biggest ones are Really Really evil’.

          the rest just sorta gets lost in that.

        • Klay F. says:

          I agree that publishers shouldn’t equal evil. Unfortunately, Activision, EA, and Ubisoft control the VAST majority of publishing in any place that isn’t Japan.

        • Dasick says:

          Say what you want about games published by Bethesda (the publisher), but they take risks.

          In fact, as much of a PC-master-racist and consolitis-phobe I am, at this point I’m honestly wondering if Skyrim has regenrating health because Bethesda (the publisher) demanded it or if Bethesda (the developer) actualy thought it would benefit the game.

          Plus, you know the Steam line-up of indie games? That’s a bit of a lie, because all of theese games are being published by Valve. I doubt Valve gives them development money, but the other two important hurdles – distirbution and marketing – are covered.

    • GiantRaven says:

      Man that was depressing to read. Free Radical have always meant a lot to me, since they come from my hometown and Timesplitters is one of my favourite IPs. They’re one of two developers I wish could be brought back into existence since they made such fantastic games (the other being Troika).

  9. Brandon says:

    I’m really excited to see what becomes of Kickstarter projects. Sure there is a lot of potential for abuse, but there is also a lot of potential for success. I’m hoping that we will see a few good games published by good dev teams using Kickstarter funds, that become self-sustaining for creating games at lower cost ranges. Hopefully we would start to see a lot more creativity and artistry in games again.

    Realistically though, most of these Kickstarter projects are probably doomed to fail for one reason or another. There’s just no getting around the fact that games take a lot of time and money to make, and shit happens to sink them all the time.

  10. Alex says:

    Yeah Shamus, what are the odds that two groups would talk about a relevant issue when it would be topical to do so? =P

  11. Zombie says:

    I get why companies like EA and Activision need people at the head that can do business. They’re companies, they need to make money, so they stay with things that get them money, which is why we get Modern Shooter 17: The Moderning Shootering. However, they should also have someone who could maybe make suggestions about, or even veto portions of, the game if it detracted from the fun, or was like Call of Duty and suggested they, I don’t know, stop giving us the same game we’ve been playing since, what 2007? 8? I don’t even remember. Maybe not even veto, but be in some capacity to help the game be fun, working in tandem with the guy who knows business.

    • krellen says:

      Whenever someone says “businesses need to make money”, a little bit of me dies inside. This is the exact same argument as justifying people being assholes because “people have to eat”. It’s a harmful excuse that has no place in common discourse. Businesses are not starving (as ever-rising corporate profits will attest) and this jargon of “businesses gotta eat” sorely needs to be excised from our lexicon.

      Seriously, if you find yourself starting to make this argument, stop, think, and tell yourself that only a starving, nearly-dying business needs to make money.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Business do exist to make money though – it’s the job of people (both within and without – regulators and governments and so on) to ensure that these companies don’t trample all over human rights while they’re trying create wealth for their owners and shareholders.

        (there’s a reason western industrial nations became less economically potent as human rights and health & safety became more important to us – and it’s the same reason pro-business / conservative individuals speak out against “ridiculous health & safety laws” so much; they make businesses less efficient wealth-creating machines (in exchange for being better places to work and be around))

        I think it’s worth knowing and reminding people that businesses are amoral, inhuman entities that don’t care about humans (except when we’re useful as consumers and employees) – especially as they spend so much money trying to tell us how nice they all are…

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          While business do exist to make money,nowhere does it say that they can do it only by treating their customers like crap,and giving them just one product redone bajillion times.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Quality costs money. Treating customers like crap and redoing the same projects a billion times reduces quality and saves cost, and can (and in all due honestly, should) be done as long as the customers are willing to pay for the inferior product.

            Efficient systems shouldn’t spend more resources than necessary producing a good that far exceeds all of its requirements.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              That only works as long as your competitors are doing the same thing.

              • Sumanai says:

                Also it should be noted that in marketing there’s a rule:

                Getting a customer back costs 10 times more than keeping them.

                Of course that’s not an absolute rule, there are cases where losing a customer is better or a customer is easier to get back than to keep, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

              • Abnaxis says:

                That’s…going into a whole new can of worms that I’m only somewhat familiar with. From what I understand, there have been experiments done in artificial intelligence (in electricity bidding IIRC, but I have never been able to find the paper–there’s a job for you, internet), where you’ll see the system enter a state where all players start collaborating to gouge their customers, despite having no communication or interface with their competitors.

                The theory behind this is that there is no reason to lower prices as long as the demand is still there–all that would do is force your competitors to lower their prices, with little benefit in the long term. I think we’re seeing something similar with publishers. Yes, if a publisher spent more time and more money making a product decent they might make more money on a single game, but all that would do is force all publishers to spend more money on future games everybody loses.

                Since gamers seem perfectly happy to keep paying for rehashes of the same old gameplay, most people know nothing about publishers or developers beyond the splash screen they skip past in the opening graphics, most consumers follow IP more than developers, and relatively few people could be arsed to pay attention to consumer rights as long as they install the program and it works, what real tangible benefit is there to breaking the status-quo? You’d just be pissing in the big trough of money everybody is gorging themselves from, with no long term benefit for yourself.

                I’m sure there’s some snazzy economist term for the behavior I’m describing…

        • decius says:

          There exist things which allow people to create and profit from creating things that have purposes other than making money.

          Also, the current business plan of EA and the like grossly overestimates the enduring market for the type of products they are putting out. When sales fall far below projections, they need to place blame. The blame properly belongs with the projections, but the accountants blame piracy. Lots of money is at stake when sales are below projections- therefore all the alphabet soup bills which can’t solve a single problem.

          • krellen says:

            Many of those things are called ‘businesses’, and are formed under rules of incorporation, even.

            There is no legal mandate anywhere in international law (let alone US law) mandating companies to maximise profits. No one forces businesses to pursue profit in lieu of all other goals. If a business does such, it is doing so under the blessings of individual people – usually the executive board, possibly the shareholders (though likely only a small handful of “majority shareholders”).

            • Abnaxis says:

              You’ve said this a few times in a few threads and made me think about it, Krellen. Sorry if you’ve had this discussion before, but it’s been niggling me.

              A lot of times when people say corporations exist to make money, you respond with references to laws of incorporation, but I don’t think the sentiment stems from any legal standing. Rather, I think people see corporations like claw hammers. Claw hammers are designed–and indeed it is their “purpose”–to drive nails. They’re weighted and balanced to exert a strong force on a nail head parallel to its primary axis, and they even have the little claw on the back to straighten a nail that has gone awry. While the other jobs you can use a claw hammer for are countless, you can judge a claw hammer solely by how quickly, easily, and neatly you finish a job involving boards and nails with the tool, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

              While it isn’t technically true that corporations exist to make money, I do think corporations exist primarily for the purpose of efficiently transforming one resource into another, more useful resource. Oil companies take in land and put out oil. Wal-Mart brings in consumer goods and sells them for liquid assets. EA collects technical expertise and creative ideas and pumps out video games. Private companies can and do involve themselves in sociopolitical reforms and not-for-profit ventures, but their primary purpose is to bring in widget A and use it to sate the demand for widget B with as little waste as possible in the transaction.

              The best metric for how well corporations (at least for-profit corporations, not-for-profits are more complicated but still follow the same base principle) is profit. Profit is the incentive; the more efficiently corporations manage their assets, and the greater the demand for their product, the more profit they make. So while it is somewhat inaccurate to say corporations exist to make money, it is not inaccurate to say that corporations are doing what they are supposed to do if and only if they are making a profit (assuming there’s nothing illegal going on). If they are not making a profit, they are not fulfilling their primary purpose, because if they were efficiently transforming a raw resource into a needed commodity they would be making money.

              Saying “corporations exists to make money” is just a stripped-down way of expression this principle I outlined above.

              • krellen says:

                Actually, corporations exist to limit investor liability, so that an investor cannot be held responsible for more cost than the initial investment they put in. That is literally their only purpose under law.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Tell me, did you feel a breeze as the point sailed past? :p

                  Okay, so I fail at vocabulary. Call it whatever you want–a corporation, a business, a company, an enterprise, a job, etc, etc. All of these things have the same overarching goal–to take a resource and improve it in an appreciable way; to make some sort of raw input and refine it into something more desirable to society.

                  Any entity which does this earns a profit and flourishes; any that doesn’t is inflicted with loss. Saying “companies exists to make money,” while not technically accurate, is heuristically no different than saying “a company that makes money is doing what it is supposed to do.” As such, it’s really not wrong to say that businesses exist to make money, regardless of the Supreme Court definition of what businesses are responsible for.

              • lasslisa says:

                Except it’s not the same, because that ignores that the market is not perfectly efficient. So, for instance, lying to your customers / deceitful advertising is a great way of bringing in profit, but not at all related to converting Material A to Useful Product B. Same for stealing something someone else created – you just made a profit, but without adding any actual value.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  That has nothing to do with the discussion at hand. The point I am making is that “companies exist to make money” is not an invalid statement, because companies which fulfill the purpose for which they exist–that is, companies which contribute to society by efficiently converting a raw commodity to a more valuable refined commodity–by definition have to be making money.

                  In fact, your statement supports my thesis because lying and stealing are both illegal. The purpose of business is to efficiently convert raw resource A into needed product B, and the way we try to force them to do so by creating a system where “the purpose of business is to make money,” and do everything we can to restrict businesses such that the only socially-approved methods of making money is to A) be efficient and B) provide something society wants/needs from available resources.

                  The conditional “if businesses are doing right->they make profit” already exists, and the system we have built exists to enforce the conditional “if profit->businesses are doing right.” Conceptually, businesses do exist to make money.

        • krellen says:

          Businesses do not exist to make money. This is a business-school fallacy passed on based on a court case that has never been cited as legal precedence – not once. It is given because it’s an easy, convenient, but unfortunately 100% incorrect answer.

          Businesses exist for whatever purpose the people that create it wish it to exist for. Making money is how they eat; no one – not even businesses – exists “to eat”.

          • Sumanai says:

            I’m remembering from six years ago, so I might remember wrong, but when I was at school for a BBA, I was told that the reason for a corporation to exist is to provide a service or a product. The purpose of maximising profit is to ensure better future service and products since you can’t do either without money. More money means a better service or more research towards a better product. And if you come crashing down you can’t provide either at all, which is a disservice to your clients as they can’t get the service or support for their products.

            • Chargone says:

              mmm. it becomes kind of self defeating when your cripple your product or ability to provide it in the process of maximizing profit though, doesn’t it?

              most of the big corporations maximize profit primarily to maximize shareholder dividends and executive salaries. they also spend craptons of money on laws, lobbies, and legal shenanigans to reduce Other people’s ability to make money… or even do other things that have nothing to do with money… in ways that will not actually help them and instead drive customers away… so that no one has to accept that they need to change how they do things in order to keep making a profit…

              • Sumanai says:

                Yes, it is self-defeating. That’s why focusing on making money leads to problems.

                Like you said, the focus on large companies is usually to bring money to the shareholders which rarely leads to improvements for the company itself. There’s an art form the exists purely to make a company appear more healthy than it really is just for that purpose.

          • JPH says:

            I’m really sick of businesses being compared to people.

            I’m sure there are plenty of businesses that do exist for the purpose of making money, for the same reason that many people take jobs simply for the sake of money. I’m not working at a dollar store because I love scanning barcodes; I’m doing it because I want money. I’m sure there are plenty of businesses that were created with the same motive.

            Not every business exists just to make money, of course. To say they all do is a fallacy, yes. But to make such a sweeping statement like “businesses do not exist to make money” is in all likelihood just as false.

            • krellen says:

              Being a collection of people (or sometimes even just one person, as my father’s failed business will attest), businesses should be compared to people. There is nothing about a business that does not, ultimately, stem from people.

              But you don’t want money to have money – you want money because you want the things it can buy. Businesses don’t want money to have money, either; they want money because it buys things they need to continue and grow.

              I have yet to find a business whose stated purpose involves in any translation a variance on the phrase “to turn a profit”. Not even Exxon-Mobil.

              Money is a tool, not an end.

              • Sumanai says:

                If someone decides to start a company just in order to earn money, even if it’s just for food, they’ll be first thinking what they’ll do. No local place that does computer support? Well that’s the purpose of the company. The company provides computer support. It’s a way for the entrepreneur to earn a living, yes, but its main purpose is to provide a service.

                If you just go with “I’ll start a company that makes money” you won’t get anywhere. That’s why people like Kotick don’t start companies, they end them.

                • krellen says:

                  That’s pretty much exactly my point. The thing you do is the crux – not making money.

                  And Bobby Kotick is not only a horrible businessman, but a horrible human being. No one should ever try to justify his behaviour.

                • JPH says:

                  In that case I suppose I may just used bad wording. In that example situation you gave, where the company decides to do computer support, in my definition that company would exist “for the purpose of making money” because that’s the goal of the people behind it.

                  Ultimately I regard a business as an extension of the people who run it. If those people are only doing what they to to make a living, then that company exists to make money.

                  But if we’re regarding the business as if it’s some sort of separate entity, then yeah, I guess you could argue that it doesn’t ONLY exist for money. But then we’re just arguing semantics.

                  • Sumanai says:

                    I’m all about semantics.

                    The sad thing is I’m only half-joking.

                    In this case I’d say it’s important to note the difference between what the company is for and what prompted for it to become reality, since the entrepreneur can sabotage the whole thing by focusing on the money. For the owner of the company the focus has to be the service or the product, or neither will be good. And then no-one will buy them, so no money for the owner.

                    The only reason focus on the money “works” for large companies is because of brand recognition. You don’t have to actually do a good job if everyone “knows” you are the best in the field. You just have to do adequate. Maybe even worse, if the culture around it is just right.

                    It won’t work forever, but it will work long enough that you can jump ship before it starts sinking properly so the new guy gets the blame. Or just shift blame to someone else yourself. After all, soon after your rule started the profits went up, right? Who cares if it was because of budget cuts to the products that then resulted in lowered future sales because it damaged the brand? You showed ability to turn more profits than the previous guy, so surely you must know what you’re doing.

        • Shamus says:

          A private business directly reflects the values and attitudes of the people running it. The peons work to please their boss, the bosses strive to please the managers, the managers do what they think will please the owners. If people in your company are acting like amoral jackasses, then you’re either not making your values clear, or you need to fire someone. (Or you’re an amoral jackass.)

          1) Some companies make money so they can continue to make games.
          2) Some companies make games so that they can continue to make money.

          These two different attitudes result in two very different sorts of companies with different behaviors. Yes, there are companies of the first kind. If I had millions of dollars, that’s how I would run a company. I mean, in this scenario I’m already rich. What good would another hundred thousand bucks do me? I’d rather work on something fun.

          Heck, I’m making that same value judgement NOW, when I’m very much NOT rich. :) I imagine it gets easier once you don’t have to worry about the little things like car repairs and doctor visits.

          The problem is with publicly-traded companies. They’re sort of obliged to behave in profit-focused ways. Still, even then they’re not OBLIGED to be overly litigious, predatory, patent-trolling, jerks. (At least, I’ve never heard of an SEC complaint based on “you could be making more money if you were dragging more people into court!”)

          I actually think one of the big reasons businesses are so “amoral” is the whole “public ownership” thing. Instead of being owned by the founders, or by a small group of investors, they’re owned by thousands or even millions of people playing the “stock trading game”. They dump everything into to mutual funds based on performance. Nobody looks at the values of a company. It’s not surprising that this set of incentives is then reflected in the behavior of the company. The executive reward system of a public company is almost perfectly designed to produce cynical decision-making that focuses on the short-term.

          TL;DR – A private company probably won’t behave amorally, and a public one does’t NEED to, even though it probably will.

          EDIT: Added another paragraph. Sorry for text-wall.

          • Sumanai says:

            I seem to remember an executive of a publicly traded company being sued for not putting stockholders first in a decision that would’ve been short-sighted and stupid. Don’t remember what country that was in or what the outcome was.

            I do remember thinking that the drop in stock value was most likely temporary and the executive’s decision made it more likely it would come back up in a year or two.

            However it highlights the problem that CEOs in these companies are supposed to think stockholders first and foremost and the company itself second at most. In theory the stock prices should be based on how well the company is doing, in which case the system could work, but that’s really not the case.

            • krellen says:

              That decision was here in the US – Delaware, in fact, where the vast majority of US corporations are incorporated (thanks to Delaware’s generous tax structure for businesses).

              The stockholders lost. The Delaware Supreme Court, which tends to be the final arbiter on business legality in the US, ruled that executives are allowed to consider other constituencies (such as employees or customers) besides stockholders when making decisions.

              Once again, I reiterate: businesses are not legally obliged to turn a profit for their stockholders.

              That said, Shamus is correct that compensation is typically structured in such a way as to incentivise short-term, stockholder-friendly thinking.

      • Sumanai says:

        And one of the problems is that whenever someone throws that phrase around it’s used to defend the status quo, as if what the companies doing right now is the best thing they can do in regards to profits.

        Though the big thing is that it’s used to excuse questionable behaviour. “He’s an assassin, his job is to murder people, that how he feeds himself, so it’s okay.”

      • JPH says:

        I do say that “businesses need to make money,” but I don’t say that in order to justify corporations doing horrible things. I only say that when people are making demands such as extra content or an entire game for free. Going by the analogy that businesses are like people, that would be like demanding that someone give you their possessions or money for free.

        Even if a business isn’t close to dying, that’s still unreasonable. Businesses don’t need to be making money constantly, but if they do not make any money ever, they will cease to exist.

        • Sumanai says:

          That comparison isn’t quite accurate. Every time that a product gets fixed for free it’s costing the company money, but some companies do it even though they’re not required by law. Why? To keep clients and make a name for themselves. And that helps them make money in the future, by losing money right now.

          If someone you don’t know just demands that you give them your stuff, what would you be getting in return? However if a friend comes to you and says he has to get money because he can’t pay rent, by losing money now you can keep your relations with that friend good. Or improve them.

          Taking it back to software: Final Fantasy 13-2 is reported to end without a proper ending. It was revealed that the ending would come in DLC. Is it unreasonable for the people who bought the game to assume that it would contain the full story and that they wouldn’t be asked for more money in order to finish it? Because in that case the product isn’t complete, and it’s completely reasonable to ask that the product is fixed free of charge.

          Because if it’s not, why wouldn’t all the companies release games without endings and then bring it in paid DLC later?

          • Shep says:

            If it has been “reported”, then that implies that the people who have bought the game know full well what the ending is, and what it does and doesn’t contain. If you feel like you don’t want to pay for what you perceive as an incomplete product, then don’t. However, clearly if you know that the product contains an ending that you perceive as incomplete, and you have, with full knowledge of this, bought this incomplete product then you only have yourself to blame. Too many people are looking for an excuse for their own poor consumer habits, it isn’t hard to shop wisely and stop publishers taking you for a chump given the prevalence of user reviews and internet comments these days.

            • Sumanai says:

              People have, and will, buy things occasionally based on past experiences. Apple did good media players in the past? You’re going to get their new media player when your old one fails, because surely they haven’t suddenly started sucking, right?

              This is called “brand recognition” and companies intentionally build it up, which isn’t wrong but can lead into situations where the company suffers from it. Turning around and blaming consumers for it isn’t exactly fair.

              With FF13-2 I didn’t hear about the ending for at least two weeks after the release. I didn’t seek out information on it, but if I would’ve been a fan of the series I would’ve heard all the positive comments online and figured it was a no-brainer to purchase it when I had money in those two weeks. It wouldn’t have made sense to look for extra information only to risk spoiling bits of the story.

              Companies know of this behaviour, and sometimes abuse it. Saying that consumers should just “suck it up” and “not act so dumb” the next time isn’t going to magically turn people into good consumers, so companies can keep abusing this. If however they vocalise their displeasure at it and demand* change the company has a chance to “fix” the situation or ignore the complaints.

              * Well, not really. They’re not in the position to demand anything.

              This is actually good for both parties, since the company is given a choice of trying to backpedal if enough people get angry about it. If consumers just go “well, I’m not going to be fooled another time” it actually means that they stop being clients of the company. So in this case Square-Enix would be screwed since they might not even hear what the problem was but they will have hard time getting the people back even if they have no intention of repeating the “ending in DLC” trick.

              I’ve said elsewhere that there’s a rule of thumb in marketing: It costs 10 times more to get back a customer than to keep it.

              Put in another way: When consumers demand something for free for their purchase they’re making a statement. “Change this and I’ll stay your client.” Which is an important option to have as a consumer, because despite what it seems like, it’s near impossible to get perfect information* of a product without either buying, stealing or pirating the product.

              * What it’s actually like in “my case”. How long the device functions, how well does the interface work for or with me. Etc.

              The company then has an option to change it or call their bluff. What’s wrong with asking? (Let’s not get into the polite/impolite discussion here. The company is always run by adults, they should be more than capable deciding for themselves if the request was rude or not and whether this matters in the situation.)

              PS. About reading reviews before buying:
              http://xkcd.com/1036/
              I don’t like linking to XKCD, since it gets linked so often, but that strip is pretty accurate. Every time I’ve looked into buying stuff based on reviews there’s only one that seems good, but it’s only available by mail-order from out-of-country, with a high price and lacking certain functionality that I’d like. But according to reviews those functions don’t exist in anything that doesn’t melt down after a week of use even if the function is question is not used.

              With professional reviews it gets different, but is still very much bad. Especially for audio equipment.

  12. Jordan says:

    You call BS on EA selling games as “indie” that they have published regardless of them being made by 1-5 man teams not owned by EA?

    Yet earlier in your column you list Bastion as Indie even though that game is published by Warner Bros.

    There’s a gray area where publishing is concerned for indies, but the stuff EA put out in that pack was decidedly indie still. Hell, I’d call any of Wadjet Eye’s stuff “indie” and they are a publisher, albeit an incredibly small one.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Eh, don’t be hard on Shamus. The ea-bashing about this indie bundle is all the rage on the internet right now, and every website is filled with snarky “news articles” saying just how evil EA is for doing this (and I don’t mean Shamus in here – he hasn’t really written about this aside from that one side-line that’s clearly just a response to the current trend)..

      To avoid being jumped on here, let me leave these correlated things, upon which I consider this “lol ea indie bundle what crap!!” thing rubbish:
      – Those games are made by effectively Indie dev teams, under “EA Partners” program. Movie industry does such a thing constantly, and movies made under similar programs are fully recognized as indie.
      – STEAM lists all of those games as “Genre: Indie”. Notice that origin – ea’s own platform – does not say anywhere that those games are indie. Nor does EA say they are indie anywhere beyond that steam-sale. Why aren’t people jumping on steam, which is listing alleged non-indie games as “genre: indie”? What EA has done is made a perfectly normal “[company name] [genre] Bundle”. It is NO different than “Bethesda’s RPG Bundle” or “Ubisoft Adventure Bundle”… Obviously, this sort of bundle wouldn’t fly in Origin, or GamersGate, or Impulse (well, old impulse before it went to hell), because those sites don’t class these games as Indie. Steam does. Has done so since those games came out. Where’s the outrage on that, huh? EA is just playing well within the framework that Steam has set up.
      – “Indie” is a nonsense term these days. It has too many meanings and connotations, no universally agreed definition, and misuse of the word is very widespread. For example, let’s go back to what steam did. HOW IS INDIE A GENRE OF GAMING?! It doesn’t say ANYTHING about the game’s playstyle, quality, content. When you look at “genre-rpg” or “genre-rts”, you know what the game will roughly play like. What can you deduce from “genre-indie”? NOTHING. Have a RockPaperShotgun article on just this: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/05/03/why-indie-has-become-a-bad-word/

      But, hey, I understand. Ragging on EA is once again all the rage these days, now that Actiblizz has gone silent and the public needs a new big baddie that’s cool to hate. Far be it from me to hope that game journos actually do some research before posting crap (And, again, I do NOT mean Shamus here, I mean other game journos who have made whole articles about “Lol EA Indie Bundle omglol the idiots roflcake killing the industry/english language”). I can just hope that readers would think along what they read, and don’t blindly bleat every catchphrase the media throws at you.

    • Soylent Dave says:

      Those companies may have started out as indie developers – but they’re not now.

      They’ve made it.

      They have the backing of a major publisher – they’re (more) financially secure; they can probably afford to give up their day jobs now. They’ve turned professional.

      I’m not decrying them as ‘sellouts’ (it would be a brave and foolish studio who turned down the opportunity to be published by someone with the reach of EA) – but it would be ridiculous to still call them independent developers (which means ‘independent of a publisher’) when they’re not independent of one.

      (c.f. Notch’s statement recently that he didn’t regard Mojang as an indie developer any more – now that they’re financially secure)

      • Thomas says:

        They are independent of a publisher. Their deal with EA is similar to Valves deals with EA. They’re registered as EA Partners which is a none-ownership scheme.

        They’re definitely independent of publishers in the way that say Gearbox are and they are more indie or equal indie with the people who make Flower and are currently searching for a new publisher

      • Jordan says:

        Which is why I picked an example of a game that Shamus had specifically identified as indie despite being published by a Warner Bros. Also Shank, as an example, was part of the Humble Indie Bundle which leads me to think that the consensus on that is “indie”. I think I’d even classify Double Fine as indie in that it isn’t directly affiliated with one single publisher. If we’re going down this road then “hobbyist”, “amateur”, and “one-man team” need to come back as terms we use as descriptors.

        • Nick Bell says:

          Defining “indie” is always a sticking point. Everyone uses different things, often in contradicting fashions. And almost any has an except that ruins people’s expectations.

          As an example, “not owned by a publisher” runs into problems with large studios doing big games independently: Gearbox (orderlands). Insomniac Games (Rachet and Clank/Resistance). It also falls apart in when those developers become publishers. Valve is the great example, with Stardock as another. Even a studio that self-publishes only their game is thus technically a publisher.

          “Not professional” or “not financially secure” are equally problematic. Do we demand accounting to determine a studies indie status? Is Braid not indie because Jonathan Blow made developing it his day job? Does he suddenly stop being an indie developer once he made enough money?

          • krellen says:

            We have to ask ourselves – do Fox Searchlight (and whatever UA’s version is, as I know they have one) films count as “indie”? Is the important thing whether or not the publisher has creative input?

            Once we can pin down a good definition of “indie”, only then can we start to criticise based on it.

        • Shamus says:

          I admit I was being unfairly snarky. Those games were DEVELOPED in indie circumstances, which is what really matters.

          I think the EA bundle backlash wasn’t so much about the games, as about EA trying to cop some indie cred. As the most cynical, single-minded, un-creative, and cutthroat players in the business, it doesn’t sit well to have them try and pretend to be hip and indie and cool like this. It’s like having Wal-Mart claim to be a “Farmer’s Market” or Coka-Cola claim to be “home brewed”.

          It’s more to do with the company’s past behavior than with the games they’re offering right now. Still unfair of me, but there it is.

          • ccesarano says:

            I’m glad Jordan came around and said just about everything I was going to say. Hell, everything I had blogged about Friday, considering Indie has just become this nebulous term on the Internet like Hipster or Emo. It means whatever is most convenient at the time.

            I also do not believe EA to be the most evil company ever, or the most damaging. Day-One DLC can be iffy, and Activation Codes are currently bullshit (my brother couldn’t borrow my copy of Mass Effect 2 without having to pay for an activation code, or so I think. I need to double check for myself, but he said there was no way he could play the game without paying $10 for it in a game that…I mean…what does online really do in that game?) But at least I got Brutal Legend, Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge out of them. Not everything EA touches turns to a gangrenous limb of leprosy that needs to be amputated.

            I think that EA is willing to help out smaller developers is part of what sets them apart. Activision doesn’t really do any such thing themselves, and I’d say they’re a Hell of a lot more evil than EA is. I really do believe that if the EA Indie Bundle didn’t have EA’s logo on it people wouldn’t be bitching, and instead everyone really just wants to hate on EA.

            As for whether these studios are “indie” anymore or not, again, how do you define indie? Does it mean that you self-fund your project without a publisher funding it for you? Does having a big publisher distribute it completely invalidate if you can self-fund it? Does the fact that you can actually afford to self-fund suddenly make you not-an-indie? Then wouldn’t every AAA developer that needs a publisher to help fund it (such as the whole Free Radical-LucasArts debacle recently breaking the news) make those larger studios indie?

            Before we criticize EA, why don’t we figure out what Indie really is? Not to mention that just because those smaller studios have made enough money to regularly pay their employees, it doesn’t mean that money will always be there.

          • JPH says:

            “As the most cynical, single-minded, un-creative, and cutthroat players in the business”

            You mean the SECOND most cynical, single-minded, un-creative, and cutthroat players in the business. Don’t forget about Activision.

            And yes, I’m sure EA, Activision and/or Ubisoft will jump on the Kickstarter thing sooner or later. And when they do it will be hilarious.

      • Chargone says:

        ‘it would be a brave and foolish studio who turned down the opportunity to be published by someone with the reach of EA’

        with the Reach of EA, sure.

        EA itself?

        i’d rate it as a studio with a survival instinct which doesn’t hate it’s customers…

  13. HiEv says:

    For those of you in the far flung future of, let’s say Monday, the relevant Penny Arcade comic can be found here:
    Incredibility – 5/4/’12

  14. Amarsir says:

    Good column today, couldn’t have said it better myself.

  15. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Part of the issue is that Kickstarter is really good at raising a couple thousand dollars. Maybe as much as ten thousand. But it’s kind of a challenge for the low millions market because *most people* just don’t have more than maybe $100-200 to throw at something like this. Which means two millsion is 10,000 people away. And 10,000 people is a LOT unless you’re like … Felicia Day or something. Maybe 1% of an average audience will kick in. They’re maybe good for $50-100, because that’s what average people have to burn on something that might be nifty. Those are some pretty simple, straightforward numbers. Based on how many people pay attention to me, in the various places I haunt, I could probably raise $1000 for a project. A friend’s running a kickstarter right now to fund another album, and has gotten pledges for almost $8000. Incidentally, that’s three times his target and he’s offering some really wacky fun premiums for large pledges, like offering to come to your house to play an acoustic set (of industrial music, no less), write you your own EP with 250 discs to give to your friends, or include your voiceover clip saying how much his band sucks in one of the tracks on the album. But raising fiddy cents, on average, per person that you can reach, times the number of people that read you blog, or might, raising $2 million for a game means needing to have maybe 5 million people potentially paying attention to what you do. That’s … a lot of people. That’s “you’re on national television weekly” levels of fame, not “you designed a game that sold a million copies several years ago” levels of fame.

  16. mewse says:

    Liked the article, had one comment: RE: “The people green-lighting projects at EA and Activision don’t know how to tell a good game from a bad one.”

    After fifteen years in the industry, I can quite confidently state that nobody — publisher or developer — knows how to tell a good game from a bad one before the game has been built. There are just too many factors that go into crafting the game which profoundly affect the game’s good/badness. Honestly, the initial pitch has very little effect on the eventual quality of the final product, no matter how awesome the pitch might initially sound.

    • JPH says:

      It is possible to tell a good prototype from a bad one, though.

      For example, the only reason the designers of Portal got their job was because Gabe Newell recognized the merit and the innovation behind their DigiPen game Narbacular Drop, which was basically the precursor to Portal.

    • Thomas says:

      That’s one of those things they always say on Extra Credits isn’t it? That developers have tons of ideas, literally the last thing they need is a good idea, but instead game making is about the slog and polish needed to produce one.

      Still I’d say ‘not another bog standard shooter’ would be some good sense. Although even there, the thing is, these games don’t sell and a lot of people genuinely want another shooter. If publishers don’t produce what people want then they go out of business *coughTHQcough*

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        The “bog-standard shooter” is part of the “slog and polish” process, though. There are, for the sake of argument, some better ways to do things in a standard shooter than other ways, but the mechanism of playing a shooter is pretty well understood by a lot of people, those that are used to shooters can easily adjust to anything within a certain performance envelope and be happy with it, the whole deal is pretty well-refined now. Platforming is pretty close to in the same boat; doing almost the same thing again is pretty easy and the whole core concept is generally acknowledged as “fun”. Some other mechanism, like free-running, sailplaning, etc, might be fun as well, but the practice isn’t there making games based on that, so they might not be fun. And if you’re investing millions and millions of dollars, having the game fail because it depends heavily on a mechanic that turns out to not be fun is too much to risk.

      • Sumanai says:

        A company could, you know, make a game that has it’s main point to sell well and then a game that is interesting/new/whatever. And then again one that sells well.

        The problem is that a lot of companies see it as a “profit must at all time be as high as possible”, which doesn’t work in long term.

  17. harborpirate says:

    I wish we could say that everyone on kickstarter understands what they’re getting in to, but I doubt it. So far, I’ve only committed funds in small amounts. I frankly don’t care whether I get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of giving promising developers a chance to chase their dreams. If that results in some great games then we all win.

    I’ve already stayed away from a couple projects because they looked to be trying things that I just didn’t think they could pull off. Games that want to release for PC and consoles, for instance, are a red flag for me. The result is going to probably be a complete garbage pile on at least one of the platforms; assuming it releases on any platform at all.

    • Sumanai says:

      Also trying to get your game on a console without a large publisher backing you can mean making drastic changes to the game in order for Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo to allow it.

  18. SleepingDragon says:

    At the risk of sounding very negative I just know kickstarter will eventually cause a lot of stink. Barring exceptional cases investments on kickstarter, especially for something in the early phase, or before the start, of development are going to be high risk, period. Sooner or later some failed kick will either blow into a face of someone who has enough pull or, more likely, fill in some newstime gap or manage to fall into a media trend like “dangers of spending money on the internet” or something like that and the whole thing will come crashing down since I don’t think this kind of business has enough weight to defend itself from “good intentions.”

    My real hope is that before this happens there are at least a few projects pushed out that become successful enough to make somebody big in the industry (possibly one of the “business” people) notice there is something to the whole mid range budget thing. (Okay, in all fairness I do think things are better than a few years back, but I still wouldn’t call the situtaion good)

  19. arron says:

    The likes of EA are probably bricking the idea of crowdsourced games as this can affect their bottom line. They need people to keep buying games through the same distribution channel so they have a predictable revenue stream to push their products in. Gamer empowerment and a threat to their bottom line is not what they want right now, given that game development costs are continuously increasing, and they’re trying to combat piracy through DRM and second hand games resale market.

    This are probably hoping for a number of high-profile failures through Kickstarter that will kill the public’s enthusiasm for this initiative. Thus then it will die on the branch. Given that a lot of these indies may not have business/project management skills or enough money to complete their project, then this seems likely. I’m sure the games press will milk any failures that arise like they do any piece of rumour or gossip.

    The other tactic that I think they will use is to use this channel to raise money for projects which they can easily turn a profit on given their established resources and pay off a pittance to “investors”. This will in turn will take money out of the pot which might go on projects run by ‘proper indies’. This will in turn defund any developers who might become successful and threaten their current position.

    • Thomas says:

      I doubt EA and Activision are bricking it. Total value of games industry $65 billion

      Total value taken in by Modern Warefare 3 in 5 days $750 million.
      Annual income of World of Warcraft $1.7 billion (estimate)

      They could basically buy out the whole of the indie world if they wanted to, and indie games will not really affect their bottom line. Hopefully though they’ll begin seeing the value of that area and start putting some money in

      • X2Eliah says:

        If they start putting some money in, then those games are by defnition (it seems – check the whole “ea indie bundle” dissing-fest that’s been going on) no longer indie games.

        Honestly, the absolute best way for companies like EA and actiblizzard to completely annihilate indie games is to give their developers money. People absolutely hate that.

        • arron says:

          Good point X2Eliah – buyouts are something I missed. Someone like EA would be desperate to get their hands on new IP they can turn into cash cows. Kickstarter would be an ideal place to get in early and in cheap to own it, given that they could pick it up at a fraction of the cost of a developer who has a track record in the industry. The public interest in the project will probably indicate to the buyer that such a concept will make a lot of money if it easily recoups development costs, and then the IP will be a free gift basically.

          The developer will probably not refuse if it makes them very rich after one project and gives them more resources, even if they’ve got some kind of deal that they have to now jump at the publishers behest afterwards.

          The loser in this sort of a deal will be the future investors, where they might be able to sponsor further projects before, now the best talent is in the pocket of a publisher. Is that a success? I’m not sure myself if you value creative freedom over earning (some) money.

          • Piflik says:

            Why should they sign a contract with a publisher, if their Kickstarter is successful? Only projects that are not popular would be in danger, and publishers wouldn’t have interest in those.

            • arron says:

              Could be many reasons. How long would it take for your average developer starting out to hit the point where they’re making a big chunk of cash to set them up for a few years?

              I imagine the motivation for some developers is to get themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder with a popular published product which makes them attractive to a larger company. Some companies build a technology with the desire to by bought by the likes of Apple, Google or Microsoft because it lets them cash in quickly after a couple of years of effort, plus they can still work on it despite being rich enough to retire.

              Take these two games. Both were good self-funded, award winning independent efforts and Value snapped them up quickly as they were a creative lynch pin in a completely new game style genre. This sort of project is what I would expect a Kickstarter project to produce with modest funding and a small talented team.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narbacular_drop
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag:_The_Power_of_Paint

              Even if they want to remain independent, it’s attractive having the money to build a product which then could use a publisher to get onto consoles and other platforms with some professional marketing behind it. It’s much easier to get to that point if other people are paying the bills in exchange for a modest return on your efforts.

      • arron says:

        The large industry players are in a strong position at the moment, but things can so easily change. An example of this is Sega, who were one of the big three in console gaming once upon a time, but thanks to the Dreamcast (and in part to Microsoft who used Sega as a springboard to the XBox 1 being a success) they were almost destroyed. They exist now by focusing on domestic markets in producing Japanese Pachinko gaming machines and specialist games, as well as licencing their IP to other developers. They’re making money now, but it could have so easily been the end of Sega. I see worrying signs that Nintendo are following Sega given their 3DS and Wii U consoles with gimmickry over innovation. Mobile is hurting their handheld market, and they’re behind with tablet/console gaming. In addition, they only put their IP on their own machines, which means that their games will fail if their hardware doesn’t sell.

        Apple are another potential games industry wrecker with the mobile/phone/tablet market. If they built iOS into televisions such that your television became a internet capable console, then you’ve got content and gaming already there. Google already have a eye on that market too. Buying a special box to do gaming then seems redundant. It all comes down to the old adage if you can’t own the house, own the ground the house stands on. You’ll still control what happens to the house.

        In summary, no position is safe whilst something can eat you out from underneath. Companies may have a lot of money, but you can blow that very quickly trying to maintain your position in a market you do not control..

        • X2Eliah says:

          True, but all of those examples are hardware companies, mainly. Actiblizzard & EA exist solely for the software they make.

          • arron says:

            True, and if the people who owned the console platforms decided (for some reason) that they didn’t want EA Games on their closed content delivery pipe (be it console games in shops or via on-line sales) or were going to make it much more expensive..then what would EA do?

            They’d only have PC left as a platform that isn’t controlled by someone else. That’s what I mean by a rapid change of fortunes as someone owns the ground your house stands on.

            In practice, this is unlikely as EA make Microsoft et al a lot of money. But it’s a potential game-changer for any company that relies on other people to reach their customers..

            • Nick Bell says:

              But I think you misunderstand the power dynamic. The console producers are not the ones in power here. It is the EA/Activisions that have power.

              Part of what killed the Dreamcast was the lack of EA sports games early on. The reason EA has really strange multiplayer on consoles (and have the ability to kill the servers of old games) is entirely a concession of Microsoft to EA, knowing they needed Madden to succeed. Now you see Microsoft throwing huge sums of money to get exclusive DLC windows from Activision and Bethesda. Games are king, and EA & Activision have them.

              • arron says:

                I think it’s both. It’s probably what management types called Synergy. Publishers like EA have a vested interest in a friction free distribution network to sell product, and a hardware channel like Microsoft can do their own games, but need a spread of developers in their portfolio to meet the varied demand of consumers. Both would fail if they didn’t work together.

                As to has the most power, it comes down to potential audience. If the hardware supplier has a large audience, then the publisher is missing out by not partnering. And vice versa.

                Hardware manufacturers did have the upper hand for a long while given the exclusivity of certain releases on console platforms. It’s not in a publishers interest to offer that sort of a deal given the spread of platform..unless the money was good and they didn’t want the hassle of developing for more than one. Since mobile apps have been added to the mix, I think power is moving back to publisher given the larger range of ways of selling games at the moment. No one platform can really lock in a publisher in an exclusive-only deal.

                It’s a situation that’s always changing and I’m not an expert. I do physics. Best I can do basically :)

  20. Thomas says:

    My biggest hope is that companies only need to be kickstartered once and it’ll give them enough revenue to continue to produce games.

    As far as thing going sour, we’ve already had one case where someone raised $60 000 and realised he only had $4000 left to actually develop the game

  21. Ranneko says:

    I do have faith that the internet will out most of the intentional kickstarter scams. Especially the ones that get greedy. I think a scam that is aiming for somewhere in the order of $5-10 thousand is probably the kind that is most likely to slip through.

    I think the biggest risk is not scams, it is a bunch of crappy games being released. Either released in a really buggy and unfinished state because they ran out of money or just not very good games because the developers made a bad game or even a merely okay game.

    One thing that we have just embarked on is effectively a test of some fairly big name developers. We are going to see just how much of their past failures and successes can be truly attributed to them and how much can be attributed to publisher interference. I think that is going to be very interesting. Seeing how the Doublefine Adventure, Wasteland 2, the Banner Saga and Shadowrun Returns do will be worth the money just for that in my opinion.

  22. arron says:

    Interesting article from Shamus:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/7951-The-Litigation-Hammer

    I’m so glad I don’t work in the games industry. Nearly did, glad I didn’t. Having games development as a bit of a hobby is good enough for me as I don’t have to deal with this rubbish. Also another good reason why crowdsourcing is something to encourage coupled with realistic project/financial management to ensure that sponsored projects are completed with high quality results. If something like Kickstarter proved an effective conveyor belt for getting stuff out the door such that most people where happy with the result, then it would help break the grip of litigious publishers using their position to screw the developer by any means possible. It’s much harder to bankrupt a company and steal the jewels when you don’t have total power over them.

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