After reading several articles about the current state of crowdfunding indie games, I've come to a conclusion. We need to put the blame for failed projects where that blame is due.
I spent part of this weekend following the coverage of the current 22cans/Peter Molyneux debacle, and it made me think long and hard about the current problems with crowdfunding games. I wrote an article about that subject, and proposed something I thought might help. It's probably a good idea to start with that article first so you have the proper context for what I'm about to say. It's OK, I'll wait...
Like I said, I read a lot of articles on this subject over the weekend. Every article about a failed Kickstarter inevitably attracts comments of the form: "Well, I didn't back X, and it's obvious X was going to fail, and there's risk inherent in backing things, so people who backed X should have known better."
I call bullshit. This is classic victim blaming - these people spent their money and have nothing to show for it, and we're making them feel like there was some way to predict this outcome.
It's true that there is a lot of ignorance surrounding crowdfunding. There are undoubtedly people backing projects who think of it more like a creative way to preorder than a situation where they could lose money.
However, can you blame people for thinking this? Kickstarter campaigns read more like product catalogs than risky endeavours. The section of the pitch dedicated to risks is tiny.
Meanwhile, one study showed that roughly half of all game Kickstarters fail to deliver on their goals within a reasonable timeframe, even if we count partial successes. Half. Basically, when you back a game, you're flipping a coin to see whether or not that "investment" pays off.
Even people who are intimately familiar with the process of game design can't seem to get the money and time requirements for game development right. Both Peter Molyneux and Tim Schafer have admitted that their Kickstarter goals and promises were woefully out of sync with reality.
(I cited both of these articles in my piece above, here's the link again if you missed it)
So how can we expect normal, everyday gamers to adequately judge the risks when it comes to backing crowdfunded games? The crowdfunding platforms are selling investments like products on a shelf, the studios are incented to lie or aren't held accountable, and the whole system has so many failures it's absurd.
I want to assume good faith when it comes to studios and crowdfunding platforms - I do. It's an innovative, great way to create interesting new games. If a project fails, it might be that it's completely out of the studio's or the crowdfunding platform's control.
But let's get this straight. Gamers are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to crowdfunding. We make an "investment" - one that is heavily biased towards risk compared to the investment a publisher would make - and we're left holding the bag when things go wrong.
The next time someone says "I backed this project, and I'm disappointed with the results. I feel like I've been lied to and my money misspent" I think we should empathize rather than blame.