Is Kickstarter Fatigue starting to kick in?

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For this article, guest blogger Luke offers some deep insight into sociology and how it can apply to Kickstarter projects. His comments will be in italics

I’m currently a backer for Precinct, a Kickstarter project by Jim Walls who was the creator of the Police Quest series. Jim is a bit late to the Kickstarter party when compared to projects by his old Sierra workmates, namely Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (Al Lowe), Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption (Lori and Corey Cole), SpaceVenture (Two Guys from Andromeda) and Pinkerton Road Studio (Jane Jensen) already developing games. One of them has even already been released for sale (LSL: Reloaded).

One thing that has concerned me about the recent Precinct project is that it's only managed to raise a bit over $50,000 so far a few days in. Traditionally, Kickstarter projects get a lot of their funding in the first few days and then it tapers off for the rest of the project, usually with a big push in the final days of the project (usually straight after reminder emails are sent out to backers holding off on pledging). The previous "Sierra Kickstarters" were all successful with similar or more modest goals than the $500,000 that Jim Walls is seeking. However, I do recall that Hero-U only got through by the skin of their teeth and that was the last of the Sierra Kickstarters to be successfully funded. So what are the cold, hard numbers? I did some quick research using Kicktraq data and this is the picture it paints:

I've purposely ordered the projects with the earliest project on the left (Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded) and the most recent project on the right (Precinct). As you can see, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded received the lion’s share in terms of pledges, managing to secure half of their goal in the first few days. They also managed to get almost 6,000 backers by then.

Subsequent Sierra Kickstarters raised less money and lured less backers. Pinkerton Road is an anomaly in that it is the lowest of the ones successfully funded although this might be explained by the fact they only asked for $300,000 and that the funds were not going towards a game but funding the studio for a year and receiving any products as a result (a more abstract idea than a tangible product that might have caused early backers to hesitate). Eventually the project exceeded its goal though with $435,316 raised (or about 145% funded).

Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded had a similarly high percentage of 131% ($655,182 raised) although SpaceVenture (108% or $539,767) and Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption (102% or $409,150) only barely made it over.

So how does Precinct compare? Well it currently has just over $55,000 or about 11% of its goal funded. This doesn't compare favourably to Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded (50%), Pinkerton Road (33%), SpaceVenture (32%) or Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption (33%) at around the same time.

So why is this not receiving the support? Jim Walls even seemingly did the prudent thing and waited to start the project much later than the other Sierra Kickstarers (probably to give a chance for fans to replenish their funds)! Jim Walls is an accomplished Sierra adventure game designer, just like the other guys and the Police Quest series was as good as any of the others. I’ve had some discussions and read some thoughts on the matter and they’re basically summarised below:

Luke: This pattern of crowd investment is intriguing insomuch as that it is not a single individual or pool of individuals we're analysing. Anybody on the internet can tell you that focusing the spectrum of the community in a single direction is like hand wrestling greased cats doped up on catnip and laser-pointers; and yet there is a definite pattern of initial enthusiasm which quickly drops away

Not enough information about the game

This is probably partially true for this project but it's really not that bad. There's a pitch video, some test footage, concept art and a little spiel about the game. Pinkerton Road didn't have much either when they first started out but then again, it didn't matter too much for them since their goal was $200,000 less. So I don't believe this is a major reason.

The game is too different to the original Police Quest games

I don't believe this is a valid reason. The other Kickstarters, with the exception of Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, are creating new IP. Not only that buy Hero-U even proposed a totally different style different to their Quest for Glory games. Provided there is strong storytelling (which I'm sure Jim Walls can accomplish) and there's enough of a challenge, I don't think people will mind if there's a first-person view to the game.

The high starting price for the game has ruined the early rush

I was only made aware of this one recently and this might have a bit of traction. Originally I tend to pledge at the game + soundtrack tier which is usually around $30 - so in this case, I didn't notice that initially you could only get the game of Precinct if you pledged $30. With other adventure game Kickstarters, the entry fee was between $15-20. This has since been rectified (It's now $19 for a limited number of backers) but the damage might already be done. However, $10 isn't really a stumbling block for hardcore fans or even adventure game fans in general. I can only see it potentially discouraging players who don't usually play adventure games or who have never heard of Sierra and Jim Walls.

Competition for funds from sales and other Kickstarters

As some of you may know, the Steam Summer Sale was on recently although again I don't believe this is a valid reason for the adventure gaming fans as sales are happening all the time and Steam sales don't break the bank (unless you go overboard like I did ;)). There are also other Kickstarters, such as Star Citizen, where they're still selling in-game items way after the initial Kickstarter project has ended. While this may have some impact, again the ones who are backing Star Citizen are probably not fans of the adventure gaming genre (check out my 8 Gamer Stereotypes article for a humourous take on that :)).

Could it be "Kickstarter Fatigue"?

Then we have what I like to call "Kickstarter Fatigue" - people becoming weary (or should that be wary) of the onslaught of Kickstarter projects and not getting much for their money. Many Kickstarters haven't delivered anything yet with many pushing their release dates further back. This isn't too much of a problem in itself though as even big name developers and publishers do the same thing. What does become an issue is something akin to an often mentioned phrase in software engineering: "you've built the product right but have you built the right product?"

Notwithstanding the trend of declining funds as shown in the charts, people are becoming more cynical of Kickstarter projects - maybe because it's become too mainstream or popular? Or it's because there are critical articles about Kickstarters such as this article on GamaSutra which suggests Leisure Suit Larry should never have been remade in the first place.

Luke: The pattern that can be discerned from above is something I've only seen replicated in one other concept: The Issue Attention Cycle. This model has historically only been applied to environmental issues in the context of hypoactivism of the 70s through 90s yet despite that, may be applicable here.

The Issue Attention Cycle

Luke: Applying the above model would go something like this:

Facing increasing costs and overheads, necessitating increased sales from publishers and developers, Stage 1 sees the video game industry chasing the safety of the lowest common denominator. Creative and artistic flair stagnates under the auspices of 'safe' single bottom lines such as Call of War: Battle of Honour 15.

Stage 2, under this model, could represent the moment Kickstarter begins to go 'viral' and enter our psyche with all the promise of a return to the mythical city on the hill. Subsequently, apathy then sits in when the realisation is made that pledging money does not instantly create a product and delivery is entirely in the hands of the developer (whilst keeping the pledger, but not his or her money, at arms reach).

Stage 3 & 4 are largely self explanatory but it is important to note that attaining Stage 5 is not necessarily arriving at a solution to a 'problem'; rather it represents an unwillingness to accept the problem as a problem anymore.

While I can agree with some of what Leigh Alexander says, I think she's potentially painting all Kickstarter backers with the same brush. Not all of us are just blinded by nostalgia and throwing money at the likes of Al Lowe. Some of us actually like the guy or the company he used to work for and want to give them a chance to make a new game. That's definitely the case with the other Sierra Kickstarters where they've been unable to secure their original IP. Although she does touch on a sentiment probably shared by contemporary critics: Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded received a mixed response and it was probably because the game worked in the 80s. Two decades later, it just feels a bit out of place, despite the better graphics and more forgiving gameplay. However, this is exactly what the fans wanted: a HD remake of the original with some new puzzles thrown in. This goes back to the phrase I mentioned earlier. Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded was built right - the project fulfilled it's promise to the fans and delivered. However, it's probably not the right product for the general gaming public. Not at this time or in this manner. Some potential backers are probably now wary that of their feelings of nostalgia elevating the games of their youth too highly.

This potential problem doesn't just apply to resurrected franchises or genres either - it applies to any gaming Kickstarter since what you promise in a Kickstarter can be seen as a walking a tightrope. Follow what you promise to the letter, and you might deliver a game that's simply not fun or doesn't work - but hey at least you kept your promise. On the other hand, you have the likes of projects like GODUS where Peter Molyneux thought it'd be fun to suggest the game will always be online or planting the Curiosity winner, Bryan Henderson, as a God of Gods. He might think he's making a better game as a result but it angered quite a few backers since it's not what they originally signed up for (or at least so they thought).

Then there are other potential pitfalls, like poor project management: Broken Age's release has been delayed and it's now being released in an episodic format because it seems Tim Schafer has blown his budget. Add to that fact the early adventure game Kickstarters may have been successful for political reasons (i.e. adventure gamers wanting to prove that there is still a market for their kind of games) and you can see why I believe that maybe Kickstarter Fever is over and Kickstarter Fatigue has begun.

So what do you think? Why is Precinct not getting the numbers? Do you believe there is such thing as Kickstarter Fatigue?

Luke: It's hard not to feel a little nihilistic for my generation. Those in generations before agitated for things like the civil rights movement and social safety-net reforms; when agitating meant more than clicking a Paypal button.