Kickstarter Report Card, Part 2 (of 4)

Hard as it is to overstate the effect Kickstarter had on the gaming scene in 2012, it’s still to early to know what the final result is going to be. Yes, it sent shockwaves racing through the industry, causing developers to throw pet projects onto the service as quick as they could, but long-term? I hate to say it’s too early to say, but it really is. Too few games have been released, and the breakdown of numbers between those who backed the project and those who’ll buy it once it’s for sale the usual way is nonexistent.

We’ve got a long way to go before we can tell whether this is a fun little flash in the pan or if crowdfunding is around for a while, but while waiting for that to happen, here’s a rundown of the Kickstarter projects of 2012 that caught my eye. The purpose of this is both for a look at the game itself as well as post-Kickstarter followup to see how the game has come along. Chapter 1 went live last week, with a prologue covering pre-2012 and then starting properly with Double Fine, and then through the end of May. Chapter 2 is June through mid-August, which was packed full with a nice variety of genres. Strangely heavy on the go-anywhere space shooters, though.

Chapter 2: The Start of Summer

Drifter- An open-galaxy game where you have a ship and thousands of star systems waiting to play around in. You can fight, trade, take on missions, explore, see the sights, follow the storyline, or just poke around and see what kind of trouble you can stir up. One of the more interesting design elements of Drifter is that the whole thing happens on a 2D plane, despite the behind-the-ship viewpoint. At the time Kickstarter hadn’t exploded with open-universe space games, but I like to think even if it had Drifter would have stood out due to its stripped-down take on the genre. It’s currently still under development, and while the creator is relatively quiet about it, updates do come out now and then.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation- I hate to admit it but I never played the original games in the series. It was good to hear about the original developers retrieving the rights from Square-Enix, who’d gotten them due to a chain reaction of various rights holders being bought by one company after another. A bit under a year after the news broke, Stainless Games launched their Carmageddon Kickstarter, and while project details were relatively scarce there was enough good faith from the community to earn 150% of the funding goal. Since then there have been a couple of updates plus a free copy of the original game on iOS for the backers, but the game itself has grown in scope and is now looking like the tail end of 2013 at the earliest

Cloudberry Kingdom- I’ve already written twice about this procedural platformer, thanks specifically to the Steam key that got all backers access to the beta. Updates have been basically nonexistent but that’s forgivable when you can just load up the game and see what’s new. Cloudberry Kingdom was supposed to be released when the Wii U launched, and while that would have been nice, it’s just not quite done yet. It shouldn’t be too much longer, though. In theory.

Pinball Arcade: The Twilight Zone- Pinball is awesome, and The Pinball Arcade is a bit glitchy but also awesome. This Kickstarter, however, was a bit of a mess. The initial pitch was solid, and I even kicked in for the shiny exclusive ball, but the console versions still haven’t launched despite the iOS version being available for months, and the PC version might finally show up in January, maybe? This wouldn’t be a problem if FarSight had someone in charge of communications, but their primary method of communication appears to be feeling bad about things rather than actually saying anything. Fans will grumble a bit at delays and unexpected issues, but for god’s sake talk to us! I swear it’s not as hard as it looks.

Kinetic Void- Another Elite-style go anywhere, shoot anything type of space game. The procedurally generated universe will be loaded with factions going about their business with or without your help. You’ll take missions and form alliances, design your own ship from component parts, play with physics as much as guns, and try to get along in a constantly changing galaxy. There have only been a few updates since Kickstarter’s completion, but one of the big ones was Kinetic Void completing the Steam Greenlight process. The developer was aiming for the alpha to be available in December, but that hasn’t happened yet. Still, screens are looking prettier every time a new one is posted, and optimism remains high.

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Skyjacker- This one got an official recommendation from me, thanks to a demo that was both pretty and a lot of fun, but sadly didn’t meet its funding goal. The current plan is to fund Skyjacker piecemeal, and while the Starship Constructor is moving slower than I’d like to see, it’s still looking pretty good for at least clearing the basic goal. The initial pitch may not have gotten the loving I’d have expected, but you can’t fault the developers for their lack of determination.

Clang- I think I backed this one more due to Neal Stephenson’s involvement than anything else. Clang is a game about real swordfighting, rather than anything you’ll ever see in a video game, and uses a motion controller to simulate the movements you’d need to learn to wield a long, sharp piece of metal in such a way as to not get dead after five seconds of ineffective flailing. Post-project updates have been few and far between. And by “few”, I mean a total of two having anything to do with the game itself, and a couple involving general post-Kickstarter information gathering. I’m sure it’s coming along nicely, but both the Kickstarter page and the developer’s web site could use an update now and then.  -UPDATE-  And wouldn’t you know it, a new update shows up a few hours after this article goes live.  There should be some kind of demo (video of the game, I’m guessing) in a couple of weeks.

Crystal Catacombs- I mentioned this one in the prologue of the first article, and here it is again. The developer kept on working on the game and took a second shot, and this time not only cleared the goal but easily blew past the original funding target as well. Crystal Catacombs will be a procedurally-generated side-scrolling action platformer with randomized loot, basically Metroid/Castlevania meets Binding of Isaac. This is another project where the developer has basically “gone dark”, with three updates since July. The game itself isn’t out until August 2013, so it’s probably just a load of development work happening now, but an update from the land of the dead now and then wouldn’t be amiss.

Two Guys SpaceVenture- A new adventure game from the team that created the entire Space Quest series? Oh yes, that’s a no-brainer. Since the Kickstarter’s successful completion they’ve updated regularly and even posted a “living concept art”, which is basically a playable snippet of the game. This is promising to be Space Quest in all but name, and that’s plenty of reason to get excited.

Tex Murphy: Project Fedora- Like Carmegeddon before it, Tex Murphy is another series that I just never had time for, back in the day. Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive, Overseer, or the first two non-FMV games, I missed them all. That seems like a terrible gap in gaming knowledge, and only backing of Project Fedora could correct this terrible oversight. There’s not a lot of games that can successfully pull off the FMV style, but Tex Murphy’s fan-base was enthusiastic enough to easily blow past the Kickstarter goal. Since then there have been a steady stream of updates going over reward tiers and development status. There’s still a long way to go and a lot of film to shoot and edit into a game before the unspecific Fall 2013 release, but Tex Murphy will live again.

Retrovirus- Six degrees of freedom is tough to do in a corridor shooter, only ever having reached any popularity with the excellent Descent and, to a lesser extent, Forsaken. Retrovirus tried to Kickstart its way to success but, even with its impressive demo (and a recommendation to check it out from us), made barely a third of its funding goal. Despite the failure, though, Retrovirus went on to find funding via Gamestop’s digital distribution portal. A few months later it got an official Steam announcement, although for some reason the Greenlight page seems to be completely eradicated. The original Kickstarter plan may not have come through, but it’s great to see Retrovirus attain success anyway.  Official release of the final game on all distribution partners is January 31.

Volgarr the Viking- This is a 2D arcade-style action-platformer about a viking who hits things really damn hard with a sword. Volgarr’s secondary weapon is a spear, good for distance attacks and lodging into walls to use as an extra platform to explore higher areas. It looks like the awesomest version of Rastan the Genesis could have ever hoped to see, and the Collector’s Edition even comes on a USB drive inside a reskinned Genesis case. Since the Kickstarter’s completion the alpha has been made available to backers and videos have started popping up on Youtube, and they really aren’t doing much towards making the wait for final release any easier.

Conclusion

While the games themselves are every bit as exciting in Part 2 as they were in Part 1, this particular group has a problem with post-Kickstarter communication. Game development is, as has been noted, a long process, but when there’s a couple thousand people personally invested in a project’s success, it’s just good manners to pull one’s head from the gaming code and say “Hi” now and then, even if it’s just a monthly status report.

As for the numbers on this lot- 0 complete, 1 partial completion with an iOS release, 2 in beta, 2 that failed to reach funding, and 7 still with nothing to show yet. Seeing as the last game in the list completed its Kickstarter near the end of August, those are actually some pretty good numbers overall. Next up, the end of August through mid-October.

  • ziophaelin

    Bwah?! Volgarr devs communicate daily via multiple means :P

  • http://HardcoreGamer.com Steve Hannley

    Seriously awesome retrospective. Still stoked for Retrovirus.

  • James

    Volgarr got no complaints on the communications front at all. They’ve been really good about it, it’s just the videos that are making me excited. :)

  • ziophaelin

    Oh whew… I thought I was doing a lousy job! ( I want to know when I am!)

  • James

    Nope, you’ve done a pretty great job in that regard. Take a look at Crystal Catacombs, though. Nothing linked off any of the project updates has been updated in over two months. levelsorlives.com has a youtube video and nothing else, the web site linked in the developer profile has been abandoned, and http://levelsorlives.blogspot.com/ has been quiet for well over two months. Maybe he’d got a Facebook page that’s a bit busier? It’s not linked anywhere off the Kickstarter if it exists.

    I honestly believe the developer is brain-deep in code right now, working away on the game, and time has probably just gotten away. One of the points I’m hoping to convey with the Report Card is that Kickstarter is a closer partnership between developer and consumer than normal, and while it doesn’t take much post-project work to make people happy (or at least to make me happy) it’s best not to let it fall by the wayside.

    Of course, I’m telling this to someone with an active developer Facebook page, who interacts with the fan-base regularly. I’m thinking I’m preaching to the choir on this one. :)

  • http://www.crazyvikingstudios.com ziophaelin

    Interesting that you bring that up. Taron and I are used to dealing with license holders and publishers prior to breaking out on our own. We are very aware that say, when someone gives you a 1.5 million development fee, that you need to be held accountable for deliveries and at the very least communication! We feel that Kickstarter is just that, an investment tool and the people who took a risk on us deserve to know what we are up to and how the product is turning out. I can (and do) see many developers starting out in the indie area are a few things: 1. Not used to having someone invest in the development of their game, therefore making them accountable in the same way larger companies are held accountable to share holders in a way. 2. Not taking advantage of full social media outlets in addition to Kickstarter. 3. Since they (in most cases) are indie and have not worked on a few rounds of professional AAA development or 3rd Party Publisher (work for hire) development do not really know how long, how many people, or how really big a real budget needs to be to complete a video game. Because of this, it is inevitable on Kickstarter that some of these games will never get completed and investments into some companies will likely be lost. Volgarr will have cost about 250k when it is all said and done (including the Kickstarter help).

    Kickstarter is a bit of a weird creature, when some of these projects aren’t fulfilled, some people will think, aahhh it was only $100. Whatever. Others will raise holy hell they didn’t get a wallpaper they posted $5 for and try to bring class action lawsuits. It will be an interesting time for that website by the end of the year as it matures and people start to see when the real winners and stinkers get separated.

  • http://www.crazyvikingstudios.com ziophaelin

    BTW if I haven’t said so, this is a really slick website. :)

  • James

    Awesome, thanks. :D