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FRONTBURNR | September 21, 2014

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Crowdfunding is Seriously Getting out of Hand

| On 08, May 2013

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Crowd-funding” at least two hundred times this year, given how Kickstarter has pretty much become a household name.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, crowd-funding is simply asking a collective group of people to pay for a project up front, usually with a promise to receive something in return for their donation.

Kickstarter pages offer “reward tier” levels, which grant things like posters, stickers, t-shirts for low level donation; while copies of the final product are offered at a donation level closer to what the developer of the IP being “kickstarted” is worth. On top of that, there are higher level (often obscenely overpriced) tiers that offer personal time with the creator or development studio and lunch or something equally ubiquitous.

While I don’t have a problem with people asking for money, it’s a sad time in games development when doing a Kickstarter or an Indiegogo to get funding for your game is more attractive than financing your game with publishers for distribution. As games media, I get somewhere between one to five emails per day from PR firms informing me that someone making a game has a Kickstarter that’s live and asking me if I’d mind running the news to let readers know about it. The first few times it happened, I was fine with it. In fact, I’d often tweet links on Twitter and mention that I saw a Kickstarter for a new idea.

Can we please knock this off already?

I know games aren’t cheap to make, but if you’re looking for a Kickstarter goal of tens of thousands or even millions of dollars to make what is essentially a clone of an old game with a few new ideas, perhaps you’re thinking a little bit too large. Most of us have seen Indie Game the Movie, there’s not a single word about Kickstarter anywhere in the chronicles of Braid, Super Meat Boy, or Fez and that’s terribly refreshing.

Developers are starting to realize just how sick we are of Kickstarter and the like as well, and now they’ve turned to a new trend that’s perhaps even more insidious: They’re asking people to purchase early builds of games that are STILL IN DEVELOPMENT. What?

There was a shooter released a few months back called Forge. The game was “released” at $20 and it also came with a free copy to gift to a friend, so you’re essentially buying it twice for $10 a pop. Jumping into the game, it was unique, had a lot of promise but it was very basic and offered very few of the things it touted that it would have. In fact, exiting the game would show you a “coming soon” page that had a laundry list of features promised that weren’t yet implemented.

To me, crowd-funding was a great idea that has been terribly exploited. It’s like saying “Hey, I have 4 tires, so please give me $65,000 so I can build a car to put them on”.

Forge isn’t the only game guilty of this. If you open Steam, there are a bunch of games promising immediate access to their closed beta if you purchase the game now. In the case of one of the biggest offenders, popular military shooter ARMA (known for the Day-Z zombie mod) actually has the nerve to ask for $32.99 for access to ARMA III’s Alpha. Are you kidding me? You want me to buy your game for a mostly retail price to play the ALPHA build that probably won’t be at a retail state for six months or better?

What do you think? Should developers be allowed to ask people to essentially pay them to create a product? Is backing a Kickstarter rewarding creativity, or is this people taking advantage of the kindness of strangers?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go create a Kickstarter for “Gangnam Style: The Video Game”.



  1. Charlie

    This article kind of comes across as a crotchety old man shaking his fist at something newfangled he doesn’t understand. It completely brushes positive examples of crowdfunding (Stardrive, FTL, Strikesuit Zero, etc..) under the rug and fails to engage with what is actually problematic with the practice. Instead, most of the article is spent complaining about two games that were not even Kickstarter funded (Forge may have had a Kickstarter, but it failed to reach its goal –meaning it got no money).

    tldr: Games selling access to their beta is not the same thing as crowdfunding. And it seems the article’s real issue lies with developers using faux-crowdfunding tactics to sell their games, not crowdfunding in general (which is implied by the title and opening paragraphs). That’s a pretty big difference.

    • Direct access to the community to support a project or even information gleaning comes with a great deal of responsibility. I am not sure if it is the systems or infrastructure itself that is the issue that is rearing its head but the public exploitation of certain projects without necessary controls is definitely apparent. There are great examples of success like you mentioned, hopefully they do not become the exceptions to the rule.

  2. I like the idea of Kickstarter but it’s the people who abuse it that turn me away from it all together. Ever since some dude got money to go hunt dinosaurs in Africa I’ve refused to back anything using that service. Is that fair to the people who use it correctly? Probably not but that’s how I choose to deal with my issue with it.