When Tim Schafer went before potential backers and announced how much their proposed Double Fine Adventure would cost, he delivered the $300,000 game ask (with a $100,000 documentary ask) in a kind of apologetic tone – although with a note that it was still a small amount to fund a game. Months later, after the campaign raised more than ten times that amount, Schafer admitted that a $200,000-$300,000 game would’ve been something closer to a Flash game than something you’d buy for your console or on Steam. When I got the Kickstarter update last night from Tim and the Double Fine crew that in expanding their $300,000 game to a $3 million game, they aimed too high, it reminded me of a story I’d written last September wondering much the same thing that was rolling through my head right then: are people too optimistic in asking for such small amounts to make their games?
Months after the Double Fine Adventure campaign ended, Obsidian Entertainment approached Kickstarter much the same way, but with a much larger game with a $1.1 million ask. Project Eternity was to be a very large and realized old-school RPG that reflected its alumni’s track record: Fallout, Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate and more. I wondered how it was even remotely possible to build such a big and sophisticated game for only $1.1 million when Tim Schafer had already admitted that a simpler game like Costume Quest cost between $2-$3 million. The campaign wound up winning nearly $4 million, but that may have been to the relief of Obsidian who now had breathing room to make the game they wanted to.
In December, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek wrote up a story on a game called Alpha Colony that fell short of its $50,000 goal by a mere $28, a ridiculously miniscule amount. It wasn’t their first campaign, though, which, as Klepek exposed, highlights a terrible trend. You see, in Alpha Colony‘s first Kickstarter, they asked for $500,000 and received $100,000. Developer DreamQuest games then decided they would game the system by setting their goal way too low in hopes of a Double Fine-like blowout and by being more appealing with a smaller ask. The truth is that even if they had won their $50,000 ask, it wouldn’t have been nearly enough to complete the game anyway and both DreamQuest and Alpha Colony‘s backers would’ve been screwed. It seems that in trying to be humble, they shot themselves in the foot either way. It appears that these bigger Kickstarter game asks may have done the same thing, but even in blowing out their goals, they’re still under the pressure of how much a game traditionally costs.
Even games that eventually arrivedon’t come out unscathed in the Kickstarter process. While FTL: Faster Than Light won $200,000 on a $10,000 ask and wound up a great game, most of their project was already done; they just needed to polish it up. Meanwhile, iOS space ship manager game Star Command won $37,000 on a $20,000 ask, the developers explained that there was no way they could’ve made the game with the amount they raised, ultimately accumulating more than $50,000 in debt to make it across the finish line.
The reality is that there may be some invisible glass ceiling on Kickstarter gaming projects and just like any Kickstarter author, asking for too much, while absolutely more realistic, doesn’t work when other projects are reaching that ceiling with cushions of money rather than by the skin of their teeth.