Tag: Tim Schafer

Crowd Funding

I became aware of Kickstarter a few years ago when hacker historian Jason Scott of textfiles.com tried to raise $25,000 to fund “The Jason Scott Sabbatical“, a year off from work to be devoted to a documentary project that ended up being Get Lamp. For $50 I would get a DVD copy of the documentary after it was finished, if he finished it. This was a big If, but I had seen Jason’s excellent BBS documentary and that was enough to sell me on the project.

To me, it was clear: I wanted to see a documentary about text adventure games. Here was someone who’d probably find a way to do it anyway even if he couldn’t raise the money, but it might end up taking years longer for it to happen without funding. I’d never spent even $20 on a major DVD release from a big studio film that already existed before, but I was happy to give $50 to Jason in order to have a chance at seeing what he could do with it.

Then I waited. And waited. Meanwhile, Jason worked his ass off and made a kick-ass documentary, produced a DVD, and I got it. Along the way I got many updates from him describing what he was going through, sometimes a video clip. The whole time I felt completely confident that his project would succeed, barring a plane crash or heart attack or something. And successful it was. I was so happy when I received my copy in the mail. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a couple years now. It retrospect it feels like it happened so quickly.

When Jason came around again saying he’d produce three more documentaries for $100k, I gladly put up $250 to get a copy of each of them. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be sad, but not for the $250. I’ll be sad because we won’t have our culture enriched by three amazing documentaries, and because it’ll mean that Jason’s been incapacitated somehow, and both of those things are worth being sad about.

Today, Kickstarter has become an increasingly popular way of raising money for various projects. It’s a beautiful thing, the internet making it possible for someone with an idea and drive to find a way to make a dream happen, for someone with vision to share that vision with people and find individuals willing to put their faith in it, and allow that person the means to work on achieving their vision without the undue compromise and loss of control that can accompany venture capital.

A few months ago, a major Kickstarter success created headlines when Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure project went viral, raising over $3.3 million, or about 8 times their original goal. Double Fine’s success came due to Schafer’s reputation and track record (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle), and the fact that he wanted to do a game project in an underserved genre that once was really popular, and apparently still is after all, despite the so-called “triple-A” industry choosing to ignore it for many years.

One way of looking at Kickstarter, at least for certain projects, is as a way of dressing up “pre-sales” and getting good marketing for a product that would have existed anyway. I avoid anything that looks like this, which is why I didn’t put any money into the Double Fine Adventure project. If and when it comes out, if it looks good, I’ll just buy it. If it sucks, I won’t. I prefer to put my money into projects that may not happen without my $10 or $50. But a lot of people didn’t feel that way, or their love for Tim Schafer’s work was enough for them. I’m sure a lot of them simply got caught up in the excitement and wanted to see how high they could push the total, too, because people are like that.

So it’s a time of exuberance and good feeling for Kickstarter. A time of irrationality, as well. There’s a manic party atmosphere surrounding successful fundraising drives, jubilance and celebration.

But what we normally think of as success isn’t just the raising the money part. It’s the doing it part. This takes months and years. And it’s never guaranteed to be successful, or be everything that everyone hoped.

It seems inevitable that at some point, there will be a high profile failure. Imagine Duke Nukem Forever as a Kickstarter project. Imagine a Bernie Madoff Kickstarter. Oh noes! So I’ve begun to notice a few people have begun to express concerns and doubts about Kickstarter, a creeping negativity. A dose of realism is a good thing, but I still think Kickstarter is a great thing and I would rather see many projects attempted and a good number of them fail than no projects attempted.

It should be obvious, but with all the exuberance it’s good to remember that there’s always risk in life, and Kickstarter projects are no different. But the possibility of failure shouldn’t dissuade you from taking a risk. You should normally only take risks that you can survive if the risk pans out and there’s failure.

Most if not all Kickstarters have backing levels that allow you to support a project at a tiny amount of risk. How much you’re willing to donate is a personal choice, and if you’re comfortable with donating the amount money, it should be with the understanding that it’s possible the project could fail. Is it still worth it to you for the chance to see it succeed? Then go for it.

Another obvious point: It’s a good idea to evaluate the Kickstarter proposal to get a sense of how likely it is that the proposal will result in a successfully completed project. Do research on the people behind the project and find out what they’ve done. If they have a track record that suggests that they can do it, it’s probably a safer bet that they will.

But a big part of the beauty of Kickstarter is that it allows people who have no track record, but who do have a dream and some ability, to get a chance to try to realize that dream, instead of getting sucked into a low-level peon position and soulless corporate slavery. If the person has no track record, but still presents themselves well, and somehow demonstrates that they are prepared and understand what they’re getting into, and if the project idea means something to you, it’s worth taking a chance on, at least a small one.

Kickstarter doesn’t take just anyone’s proposal, and they do a number of things to make sure the ones they do take on have a better chance of success. Kickstarter doesn’t just allow people to market their fundraising efforts for worthy projects, they provide guidance. I believe Kickstarter understands that in order to remain successful at funding projects, they need to guard their reputation and ensure that as many of the projects that get funded through Kickstarter do end up being completed, and have a realistic chance of it from the beginning. Still, there’s always that risk… so, no one’s throwing money they need in order to live on Kickstarters, right? If you’re comfortable parting with the amount, and you think the project would make the world a better place, then take the risk, I say.

Double Fine Kickstarter, wild success, and getting there first.

The Indie Game Developer scene is abuzz today with the massive success of the Double Fine Adventure project kickstarter, which met its goal of $400,000 in less than a day, and last I checked was heading over $650,000, with no sign of slowing down.

They still have 33 days of fundraising to go.

Holy crap!

To be fair, I’d say it’s somewhat debatable whether the Double Fine Adventure team can be called Indie. I suppose they are, in that they’re not EA, Nintendo, or Capcom, or another major player in the industry.

On the other hand, they’re definitely established people who have a track record, at least as individuals. Team lead Tim Schafer is a 20 year industry veteran, whos first game project leading ended up producing Day of the Tentacle. It’s not like this fundraising success is coming out of a vaccuum.

The question everyone wants to know is: Can I do this?

How repeatable is this? If I could do this, I could quit my job and spend the rest of my life making games, and things would be awesome. So would everyone. Which is why it won’t work. It’ll work for a few, the first few who make it, and who were prepared all along because they worked really hard to be where they were at the right time.

I know right now there’s no way I can do this. If I set up a “me, too” kickstarter, to fund my own game making aspirations, I’d probably raise a nice family of moths in a couple of months. They could fly out of my wallet when I took it out to show people how much money I’d raised.

Maybe I’d be surprised, but I doubt it — I just haven’t produced much of anything yet. It’s unrealistic to have expectations that people would get behind an unknown. I have to work to change that, and it will take time.

The upshot is, if you have already made a name for yourself, and have a lot of friends and contacts in your social networks, and a lot of fans, I’d say it’s probably reasonably repeatable. It’s like having your own personal mini-IPO.

It’s just that there are not a lot of people who can repeat this. There may also be a limited amount of money and fans to go around which will cap the amount of kickstarter success a project can expect to have.

I expect that in the next couple days, anyone who thinks they can pull off the same will try to do so, faster than you can say “meet me at Sutter’s Mill”. The ensuing gold rush will ensure that a lot of projects that haven’t had as much cultivation will be thrown up for the funding public to vote on, and a good number of them will fail to meet expectations. If too much of this happens, public faith in kickstarters could suffer, as projects fail to deliver or churn out Daikatana-level flops. For this reason, I hope that Kickstarter continues to be selective about projects that it backs, and only lets in people who really have their act together.

What it does indicate to me is that the writing is on the wall for publishers and producers. I see this as a good thing, as it should empower creative people to be free to create more and become more diverse in what they produce. On the other hand, there still needs to be some kind of filter on the market to enable the truly good products to be visible in the crowd. Producers and publishers did that, after a fashion, although mainly as a side effect of trying to maximize profits. What will take their place? The social web? Something else?

It will be interesting to see.