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Archives for : April2014

Games: Pre-Purchase, Early Access and Crowd-funding

The games industry is changing the way games are funded and released. There are not loads of new options for how you can get hold of the newest games, ensure the games you want to play are made and even take part in the development.

I’d like to talk about three of these and how I view them and what experiences I’ve had with them.

The first is Crowd-Funding

I’ve funded a number of things using Kickstarter. There’s Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous and Godus to name some examples, not entirely at random. These examples are not at random because they highlight the differences between dangerously over-hyped, delivering as promised and failing miserably respectively. SC and ED have both done right by the community that supports and funds them; they provide regular updates, they deliver what they promised and they talk and engage with their community continuously and above all openly. Both SC and ED are running late and yet their communities still support them. Why is that? It’s because they were open and honest about what they were doing and why and in the end the sponsors want the game they were promised, and given they’ve already waited many years, a few more months won’t bother them.

Godus is a miserable failure. It’s delivered very little and what it has delivered is nothing like what was promised. Their communication with the community is attrocious and they have zero ability to set expectations correctly. They call their last release a “beta”, despite it being nowhere near feature complete and something a lot more akin to an alpha. What’s worse is the total lack of engagement and communication with the community. At the end of last year the company just went silent, for months. People started wondering if they’d gone under. In fairness to 22cans, they are now trying to salvage this, but it’s probably too little too late.

I like crowd-funding as a mechanism for getting things made. I’m not a fool though and realise that it’s basically just a new form of venture capital, and as most venture capitalists will tell you, most of the things you fund will fail. I’ve been really lucky in that of the six or so things I’ve funded, only one so far seems to be in danger of failing or strongly disappointing me. The others are doing well. The other thing to keep in mind is that as a crowd funder I have even less control and oversight of the project than a venture capitalist might. I’m at the mercy of the person I funded, and have no way of compelling them to do anything. Most projects take their sponsors seriously and give them as much oversight as they might a traditional publisher some, like Godus, don’t.

The next is Early-Access

This is a strange one. There are potential benefits here all round. The developer can get extra funding during the development cycle. The developer can start getting feedback and incorporating it into their work. This is pretty much the essence of SCRUM and Agile development. Get feedback from stakeholders early and often and act on it. The other good thing is that players can get their hands on something early and most importantly, for me at least, the chance to shape the direction of a game to help it become all it can be. It’s also an opportunity for people to start providing feedback on the game and reviews and this allows a game to be judged early and allows those potentially interested to start seeing game footage, player comments and even reviews for a game. The danger here are those games that don’t seem to have a clear end date for their early access, and you start wondering if they’ll ever release. Then there’s developers that listen too much to the crowd and end up doing development by committee, which is never a good thing. Finally there’s people getting access to the game and expecting that what they see will be playable and fun, when actually it might be nothing of the kind.

The final one is pre-order

This is one which I have done myself a number of times and I’ve been burnt enough times now that I refuse to do it any more. What makes this nasty is the industry practice of embargoing reviews until a games has been released. Therefore if you buy a game based on trailers, or marketing material, it might end up being totally crap (X-Rebirth, Colonial Marines) and there’s no way to get your money back. There’s also the nasty habit developers have of slicing up their content and offering zero-day DLC or different areas/benefits depending on which retailer you pre-order from. Aside form splitting up developer resources, it means that us poor blighters that want to play the game will never be able to see all of it, unless we buy the same game from lots of different retailers on pre-order. It’s a nasty practice and one I refuse to take part in any more.

Conclusion

How then is pre-purchase different from crowd-funding? I suppose, in reality, it’s not different. In some ways crowd-funding is almost worse than pre-order, as all you have are promises. Where the two differ for me is that with crowd-funding I know I’m buying into a promise, into a dream, I’m providing the opportunity for something to be made which might otherwise never even exist. With pre-orderĀ I’m buying a supposedly finished game, which is so good that they had to prevent all the reviews from being released before I buy it.