Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kickstarter and why I'm a skeptic

This started as a Facebook response to a friend who works at another major game studio but I decide it rantworthy enough for a blog post. I've found in general, that other devs are excited about Kickstarter. I want to to be too and in some ways I am.

For Tim Schafer and Double Fine, I get it and am happy for them: he's an industry rockstar who's studio hasn't been as commercially successful as it is critically and creatively successful. He leads a team that I know makes games I like. It's a perfect candidate for Kickstarter and I am down.

Brian Fargo and "Wasteland 2" also appeals to my game idealism. I LOVED turn based RPGs and much preferred the Fallout 1&2 gameplay to Baldur's Gate's semi-turn based model. His games bring back good memories but neither Interplay or inExile's track record isn't as solid as Double Fine's. That's probably not Brian Fargo's fault and he thrived with small teams in the 90s but it's fair to say his horse is less safe to bet on.

And these two are the safest bets to getting a good game out of Kickstarter, in my mind. Because so far, all I've seen is funny videos or clever pitches. Maybe buried in this gold rush is some team that had the discipline to self-fund a vertical slice or playable proof-of-concept but I've yet to see one.

So to answer my friend's assertion, yes, I am absolutely a skeptic and I'll explain why:

Like most developers, I'm not a fan of the model of the way publisher/3rd party developer relationships typically work. Games are held back by the current money/carrot on a string model and publishers are clearly more risk averse than hey used to be so Kickstarter is *potentially* enabling some cool stuff.

My real problem is that I feel Kickstarter has opened the doors to a massive credit line of gamer equity and trust, begging to be raped and pillaged by unscrupulous scoundrels and idealists alike. Now people can twist words to puff up their resumes ("I was THE animator on Battlefield 3!") to sound credible to the public, who are convinced that conventional game distribution is the devil and that without a pub/producer to crack the whip and stick their fingers in the pie, the game will be unhindered in it's vision because the idea was great. But even some great dev teams need someone to crack the whip and a great inspiration is nothing without the 99% perspiration it takes to make it a reality.

Publishers are why games are hard to *fund* but even at their very worst, they are just one of many, many reasons why they are hard to *finish" and *make good*. The idealism of B-list Kickstarter projects is ignoring that elephant in the room.

It also ignores that a good resume doesn't automatically make YOU good; something even seasoned developers who should know better still fall into so naturally the public is going to. "You did facial animation on GTA3! I loved that game!" But... GTA3 has 2-3 frames of facial animation! Chances are there was at least one shitty animator on "Avatar" and maybe one shitty designer on whatever your favorite AAA game is.

Some of these games are going to come out and be disappointments and others aren't going to come out at all and I fear this is going to max out Kickstarter/the public's credit line of good will and gamers could wind up bigger cynics than they were at the start. There is no such thing as a magic bullet and easy solutions aren't as common as people want to think.

I'm sure my cynicism flavors my judgement but I see Kickstarter less as the democratization of game publishing and more as the early days of a debt crisis, where all the equity is trust and goodwill. Games are hard to make and I've seen a lot of smart people fail at it.

In the words of the Eagles, an ex-girlfriend's least favorite band in the world: "Call somewhere paradise? Kiss it goodbye."

I forgot I had this thing...

...but I realized today that I was wasting good rants on Facebook replies or not fully expressing myself through 140 character tweets since my manner of speaking tends to the the opposite of terse.

And I don't want to bogart the Reanimators Podcast blog with my own musings so I'm going to semi-revive this blog.

Quick update for any of my handful of readers who aren't also on my Facebook or Twitter (which is probably no one): I spent another year on the road and in 2011 worked in New Mexico on my first film "Green Lantern", then took off some time and went to Texas to work on my car before heading back to Europe to animate first person weapons on "Battlefield 3". Now I'm back in the US; Los Angeles in particular and have taken a full time job at EA, working on the next Medal of Honor game. Now that we're all caught up, I'll post my first rant seperately.