Kickstarters and Crowdfunders: How it’s changing video game development.

With crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter giving developers direct access to fans and Steam’s “Early Access” …thing (what is it, anyway?) allowing people to test their games on the fly, it’s a pretty sure fact that gaming has gone through some dramatic changes. Except, I’m not entirely convinced it’s for the better.

Let’s talk about Yogscast; some great evidence about what I’m talking about.

For those who don’t know, Yogscast is a YouTube channel who gained thousands (if not, millions) of fans by doing Minecraft videos, backed on the success of their podcast. They had the idea of creating a new videogame; inspired by Minecraft’s design. By all accounts, this should have been a pretty simple Kickstarter and everyone walked away into the sunset.

But it wasn’t, and they didn’t.

The Kickstarter itself was successful. Yogscast and developer Winterkewl Games raised double than the original goal of $250,000, but money isn’t everything when it comes to developing a game.

Winterkewl Games was new to the development world and it started to show almost immediately. Rumours of people making ridiculous amounts of money for little work circulated like wildfire, their December 2012 release date was broken with the alpha release of Yogscast game being released in March 2013.

Winterkewl addressed their lack of experience and nearly impossible goals in the official Yogscast forums, citing that the project was too big and their team (only consisting of 6 people) was too small. By 2014, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Backers (some of which donated $10,000 for high-tier rewards) were denied refunds after the project failed but promised free games in compensation. Yogscast incorrectly stated they were under no obligation to return the money to the backers, which directly conflicts with Kickstarters Terms and Conditions.

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfil the promises of their project?
Yes. Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfil all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfil. (This is what creators see before they launch.) This information can serve as a basis for legal recourse if a creator doesn’t fulfil their promises. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfil.

Everything went to Hell in a flaming hand basket.

Finger pointing was rampant and no one really knows what happened. I doubt even those involved in this mess actually understand how it all went so horribly wrong.

The story of Yogscast and Winterkewl is a prime example of why I’m weary of video games being backed through crowd-funding. Ambitious projects can be easily spun to impress fans and no one ever considers the risks. Once all the money that was so generously given is gone, there’s very little people can do about getting it back. People are left in the lurch with very little legal recourse.

The same goes for Early Access on Steam. The idea is that you pay a smaller fee for the game now (while it’s still being developed) and get access to the game through its various stages of completion until it’s finally ready for release. It’s a pretty alright idea, as long as it’s executed properly.

People who buy into Early Access games are promised frequent updates in exchange for their continued support of the game. These games are being purchased by people with massive parts missing. Some games, like Don’t Starve for example, were still worth their price when they were in Early Access. I was impressed with how it was reviewing and purchased it. But this isn’t always the case. You can go through the pages and pages of Early Access games and see how people who have purchased these unfinished games and see the scathing reviews they’re getting. Games aren’t being updated and are still unplayable.

I’ve got genuine concerns for this trend of games boasting finished game price tags, but are only sending out half a game. Most developers stay true to their promise of completing a game, and it gives gamers a better understanding of how games are actually developed, however there are a lot of developers in the Early Access section who has little experience in development and publishing, setting themselves unattainable goals and inevitably tricking their customers into buying a game which will never be finished.

Maybe I’m too cynical about these practices and I’m entirely wrong, but the evidence seems to point in my favour. It’s interesting to see how gamers investing their money into games has changed the industry and I can only hope that it continues in a positive fashion.


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