When Peter Molyneux – gaming legend responsible for Populous, Black & White, Fable, Curiosity, etc., – stepped up to ask gamers to fund his already-in-production god game Godus, I was taken aback. Here was this legendary developer, one who could move the Earth and channel the seas, asking gamers for the funds to produce his game. His Kickstarter went over just fine, so now Ultima creator Richard Garriott, known to many through his avatar Lord British, has followed up with his own Kickstarter for his already-in-production Ultima-like Shroud of the Avatar. But why?
It seems a little more than coincidental that both Molyneux and Garriott both developed their franchises independently and sold them to Electronic Arts, who then did terrible things to their fiefdoms, Bullfrog and Origin respectively. (You could technically add Wing Commander mastermind Chris Roberts to this list, but he hasn’t been involved in gaming since the nineties.) It seems as though the most successful Kickstarters at the moment involve some large element of nostalgia and both titans qualify hardcore, their projects perhaps too big to fail. It seems through crowdfunding, they’re not making any dreams come true, they’re merely mitigating loss, which is a valid approach, but it seems cheap.
When I think of a good Kickstarter campaign, I think of the underdog who couldn’t get the funding without it. The fate of Gas Powered Games was uncertain before they launched their Wildman Kickstarter, leaving studio head Chris Taylor to plead with gamers to fund his game or the company would go under. (Taylor cancelled the Kickstarter and Wargaming, Inc purchased the company, so happy ending.) While not as desperate, many people with great ideas have just wanted to get out of their day jobs to bring their creations to life, like Sauropod Studios, the guys behind the incredibly inventive Castle Story.
It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition, but watching these big dog pioneers of the gaming industry soak up the limelight, potentially from smaller startups who don’t have any money to speak of, doesn’t seem like a fair game.