THE PCG Q&A
Even before Kickstarter announced it was hopping on the blockchain bandwagon, people seemed to have fallen out of love with the crowdfunding platform. Videogame projects have been hitting lower targets in recent times, with all the biggest earners (like the Ouya, Shenmue 3, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night) now seven or more years behind us.
Meanwhile, Kickstarters for tabletop game continue to do well, raising $272 million in 2021, versus the more modest $24 million raised by videogames according to consultant Thomas Bidaux’s study. Yet more and more of those board games are projects that probably didn’t need to come round with their hands out—the Marvel Zombies board game, which raised $9,032,583, for instance.
And among both groups of backers, there’s a lot of cynicism. If you’ve ever made the mistake of reading the comments on a Kickstarter’s updates page, you’ll have seen people start to complain about having to wait for their rewards approximately five minutes after the pledging period ended.
Still, hundreds of games are funded on Kickstarter each year (the number of annual funded videogame projects has been hovering around 400 since 2013, according to the study referenced above), and it remains the place to go for interesting hardware like XR glasses you can plug into a Steam Deck.
When’s the last time you were excited about a Kickstarter?
Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.
Nat Clayton, Features Producer: I tend to only back Kickstarters when it was games my friends made (Jack King-Spooner’s Sluggish Morss: Pattern Circus, Humble Grove’s No Longer Home, etc), the reasoning being that even if they pull a Kickstarter and fizzled into nothing, at least I was supporting people I care about.
The one exception to the rule was last year’s Unbeatable, the coolest goddamn thing I’ve seen in my life. Unbeatable’s Kickstarter trailer is a masterclass in telling me what the hell your game is about—no dry developer commentary or elaborate backstory, just heavy guitar riffs and a no-frills explainer on why you should give a shit about this sun-bleached adrenaline rush.
It helps that Unbeatable’s Kickstarter launched with a free Arcade Mix demo, with the promise of a bigger, better White Label demo soon to come. White Label took a hot minute to finally arrive, but when it did it put Kickstarter demos everywhere to shame—a full game in its own right, updating with new tracks and new features months after the campaign ended. When I say the coolest game of 2021 was a Kickstarter demo, I goddamn meant it.
Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: Like Nat, I’m most psyched for Kickstarters by friends, but that’s for lovely enamel pins, not games. I haven’t actually backed a game Kickstarter in a long time, but I’ve kept an eye on plenty over the years. I think the last time I was excited for a Kickstarter was in my early days as a freelance writer, back when PC Gamer’s Indie channel existed (rest in pixels), when I wanted to add My Time at Portia to our list of games like Stardew Valley.
Wes rightfully cautioned to the effect of “it’s still mid-Kickstarter, so let’s see if it actually launches”. To which I said OK, but if it succeeds, I’m going to gloat by pitching Jody to write about it. So I backed it. And it did manage to clear its $100,000 funding goal. And Jody did let me write about it. And now I’ve finally bragged about it.
Imogen Mellor, Features Producer: The most excited I’ve been about a Kickstarter in recent memory was for the second edition of A Profound Waste of Time. There are now two editions of the videogame magazine and I own the standard and special edition copies of both. It’s a videogame magazine like no other, in that you don’t find screenshots of games within its pages. Art from a variety of creators, words from a variety of backgrounds in between delicious covers. I keep them on my shelves looking pretty, taking one down occasionally to take to a park or quiet corner of a pub to indulge in. And look cool. The ‘look cool’ part is important.
Robin Valentine, Print Editor: When it comes to videogames, I feel like I got burned on almost every game I backed during the heyday of it all. Either the game came out and just wasn’t good or as advertised (I still nurse a grudge about Broken Age), or it was fine but just took so long to arrive that I’d lost interest by the time it did (Wasteland 2, Defence Grid). I made myself a rule to stop backing them, though they don’t seem to really happen much these days anyway.
I do still back quite a lot of tabletop stuff. I’m pretty cynical about where it is these days as a business practice—especially for massive companies like CMON, who are behind the aforementioned Marvel Zombies—but the reality is if you’re into tabletop games, it’s hard to avoid it, particularly when it comes to board games.
As much as possible I like to at least avoid big corporate Kickstarters, and primarily take chances on cool little things from smaller teams. A lot of the time it ends up being like a little gift for myself. I don’t really follow the progress of a lot of things I back, so when they arrive out of the blue it’s a nice surprise. Forgotten Depths is my most recent example. Just look at that lovely art!
But that delay between essentially preordering and finally getting the product does still bite me in the ass a lot. When a huge box arrives full of stuff I no longer care about, it’s a burden rather than a gift given the limited storage space of my flat. Anyone want to buy the Hellboy RPG off me?
I have been a bit exhausted as well by the huge rise in Kickstarter drama. Thanks to the global shipping crisis, Brexit, and other factors, a lot of projects have suffered disruption and extra costs, which just leads to, as you say, these incredibly toxic communities that just endlessly rage about not getting what they ordered. It’s a big disincentive to get more involved in projects, for me.
Fraser Brown, Online Editor: Never. There are games I’ve been excited about that have had Kickstarters, but that’s despite the Kickstarters. I appreciate that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of games that may not have existed without crowdfunding, but I find the whole process unappealing. The pitches are often a jumble, I hate how stretch goals have become the norm, and the whole thing is just a weird gamble. I wince whenever I hear about a new game and find out it’s going down the Kickstarter route. Given this, I’ve never pledged any cash to any game crowdfunding campaign. I don’t prepurchase games either. If I’m going to put some cash up for something, it’ll be for something people can actually play, not promises and concept art.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: Double Fine Adventure. The gaming project that put Kickstarter on the map was Double Fine’s historic (at the time) $3 million campaign for what eventually became Broken Age. I was excited and intrigued that it was apparently possible for devs to self-fund cool games. Then a few years in, Double Fine realized the Kickstarter money wouldn’t actually cover the bill and decided to release it in two parts instead. That campaign was illustrative of how impossibly expensive it can be to make a relatively small game and a reminder that there are no promises on Kickstarter.
After the initial wave of gaming Kickstarters in 2012, the shine definitely wore off a bit. There were enough stories of cancelled projects or underwhelming finished products that I adopted the common attitude of waiting until a project was actually out before getting excited.
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: Very recently. This isn’t Kickstarter but another crowdfunding platform called Kiss Kiss Bank Bank (which I’d never heard of before). But an adorable-looking game called Aka where you play as a red panda was crowdfunding there in April (and reached its goal) and I was very excited to see that.
I mean, just take a look at Aka’s Steam page. You’re a red panda. You take naps. You feed baby dragons. You take more naps. You farm. You explore. You nap. Sometimes you take a nap on top of a giant capybara that is also taking a nap. It’s the cutest. It’s due out this year and I am going to play it and take naps in it. I have some experience with red pandas, you know, and plenty with napping.
Andy Chalk, NA News Lead: I’ve backed a dozen or so Kickstarters since 2012, but it’s been a couple years since the most recent one, and the “magic” was gone long before that. I think the last must-have Kickstarter I backed was the System Shock reboot in 2016; there have been some since, but only a couple I feel any real enthusiasm for.
I think Kickstarter became a victim of its own success: Instead of genuinely interesting projects that needed support from a dedicated fan base to come to fruition, suddenly everyone was doing them, from enthusiastic fans with no idea how much game development actually costs to major studios launching new projects in well-established game series, and yeah, I’m looking at you, CD Projekt. I’d faded on Kickstarter long before that happened, but it was still a bummer to see. An uncurated preorder channel is pretty much what Kickstarter is now, though.
I used and enjoyed Kickstarter for a long time, and every project but one that I backed delivered in spades. I got great games and sweet collector boxes that never would have seen the light of day without crowdfunding. And I’d happily back projects on it again, if I ever ran across any that were sufficiently interesting and from a reasonably reputable developer. But that just doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: The only videogame I ever backed was pick-a-path card game/Arkham brawler Hand of Fate, which turned out quite well. Though I didn’t put money on them, I guess I have ended up playing a lot of games that were funded or at least helped over the finish line by Kickstarter. The last decade’s worth of retro CRPGs, for instance.
There are now so many revivalist games that exist because of crowdfunding I don’t have time to try all of the interesting ones. Still haven’t got round to Battletech, Phoenix Point, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, or a bunch of others. I’ll definitely make time for the System Shock remake, though. Which is, at long last, nearly finished.
Pifanjr: I’m excited for Frosthaven, the sequel to Gloomhaven. The Kickstarter ended 2 years ago (I think?), but because of Covid it has taken a lot longer to get the game on the shelves. One of my friends actually asked if I wanted it as a birthday present, but I assume he was joking because it’s €200 and we probably have at least a year of content in Gloomhaven left.
Ryzengang: Somewhat recently I backed Monomyth which looks quite interesting (Monomyth has a steam page as well if you’re interested). The Kickstarter has been over for a bit now, and I’ve been getting consistent updates about the development via email. It looks like its coming along well and could be a really cool dungeon crawler. I’ll get a copy of the game when it releases since I backed it, so I’m looking forward to checking it out. But this is a fairly isolated case, and I don’t really frequent Kickstarter.
WoodenSaucer: About 6 years ago, the original devs that created Giants: Citizen Kabuto were working on a spiritual successor, called First Wonder. I was a huge fan of Giants, so I was really stoked about it. I backed the Kickstarter, and even did a little promotion for them. Unfortunately, they didn’t reach their goal and had to abandon the project. It was looking like it was going to be awesome, too.
Frindis: Funny you mentioned Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Jody, because that is the last Kickstarter I was really excited for. I’ve never been a big fan of platforming games, but this just had the charm to suck me in. Beautiful scenery, insane level layout with tons of hidden items to find, and the best: Cool weapons, skills, and for the most parts unique and fun bosses. Honorable mention to Michiru Yamane who was the lead composer for the awesome soundtrack.
Here is the review from PC Gamer for anyone interested.
mainer: The last one I can remember is the Kickstarter campaign for the System Shock Remake, and that was back in 2016 I believe. And it still hasn’t released. It’s gone through a protracted development hell that includes one complete scrapping of all work and starting over as well as several release time frames getting bumped, the last being summer of 2021. It’s now got the dreaded “coming soon” tag on Steam, which could mean anything.
Back in the 1990s, the original System Shock was one of the most immersive games I’d ever played, so I’m still hopeful that the developer, Nightdive Studios, will be able to finish development. The demo that was released was pretty good, so that’s a positive, but Nightdive hasn’t done themselves any favors by maintaining radio silence for months at a time.
Sarafan: I have to point two examples. The most recent one was Crossroads Inn Kickstarter campaign. There’s a fantastic and very original idea behind the game and I absolutely loved the whole concept. Decided to back the game almost right away. It turned out to be good, but not fantastic. I don’t regret the money I’ve spent on it however. It’s satisfying to know that I helped to make the game possible.
Even more excitement brought me crowdfunding of Pillars of Eternity. I still remember like it was yesterday. One of the brightest moments in PC gaming. Great comeback of isometric RPG’s and a great comeback of Obsidian. The atmosphere of the Kickstarter campaign was marvelous. Counting the numbers of players that backed the game, counting the Endless Paths dungeon levels (their number was proportional to the number of backers!), watching developer updates, sharing all this with friends… It was a true festivity in gaming and I’m afraid that we won’t get anything that’s even close to this event in the near future.
DXCHASE: The last and only one I ever invested in was for Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem but back then it was called “Umbra”. It looked promising at one point and then completely changed gears and came out a mediocre hack and slash imo.
Zloth: For games? Battletech! I had 400 tons of fun with it, too!
ZedClampet: The last game I was excited about from Kickstarter was Agony, and that ended up a cluster f***. But, then again, there were so many clusters on Kickstarter that I quit backing games.
I was designated a “Super Backer” and had a special symbol by my name. I tossed my support to about 100 different games. Out of those games, only about 35 met their goal. Out of those 35, 10 have never released, and it’s been over 5 years for all of them. That’s a horrible track record, and I’m just not dealing with it anymore. If one or two games had failed, I would have shrugged it off.
The average response of these developers is “I’m having real life problems and have had to take a break from development.” Bullshit. You made a commitment and people gave you money. Get your **** together or get a second job and give the money back.