Kickstarter Madness!

So I got to sit down with Steven Dengler, one of the two men involved in starting the Double Fine Kickstarter madness with Tim Schafer and Notch. For those of you who don’t know who Steve is, there are a few articles circulating about that give some background on him, but the most recent one is probably this one at Giant Bomb. That being said, many people refer to him as a “super fan” and other sort of cool monikers. We both agreed he’s somewhat akin to the “Mysterious Stranger”in Fallout.

Introductions aside, Dengler is a businessman with a fan’s heart and soul, which made him the perfect person to talk to about the Kickstarter campaign and where he thinks this will take the gaming industry. He mentioned speaking to some of the people over at Loading Ready Run and their question to him was “Does this prove that anybody can make over a million dollars on Kickstarter?”

His response, “No, it says that Time Schafer and Ron Gilbert, with a track record of doing what they’ve done over the years and a company behind them…” could. That’s honestly the best way to put what has happened over the last week or so. Schafer and Gilbert didn’t say that they’d start over with fan donations, that they’d create a risky project with new techniques they’d never tried. They pitched fans the idea that Double Fine, a company with a great record, would make a type of game that they are experts at making.

That’s just good advertising. It’s like saying a burgerjoint would come up with a new burger using fan support to test and create it.I’m sure that’s overly simplified but you get the idea. To quote Dengler again,“It changes the industry and it doesn’t change the industry. It changes it for people that have sufficient clout andsufficient established mind-space and brand loyalty and adoring fans and things like that. Yeah, it means that you can go out and possibly get money in a much more direct way than before.”

Hey, who doesn’t want companies and developers we know andlove to cut out the middle-man and not have to get backing from big publishers like EA and Activision to make games we want? I’d pay good money to have Obsidian Entertainment make me AlphaProtocol 2 or THQ to make some headway on Homefront 2 (which may or may not be in the works depending on whoyou ask).

“On the other hand,” said Dengler, shifting gears. “Go on to Kickstarter and you can find any number of games with fully formed business models and game development documents and cool videos and stuff getting barely any financing or, in many cases, sitting at zero!” Ah, the sad truth of the independent industry.

Honestly, this is why I wanted to talk to Dengler for the Vault. Many of our fans and followers are working on their own projects and wondering why no one is giving to them via Kickstarter, or why no company will back them. When we got down to the nitty gritty of it, Dengler and I both agreed that it’s just bad business for anyone to put money into anything that has no guaranteed return or guarantee of quality.

Think about it, would you give money to anybody who just walked up to you and said, “Hey! I got this great idea for a game and this is how it’s going to look and play and it’ll be great!” We’ve had well known and established companies say that and we’ve gotten games that were complete and utter crap. It’s no different for independents.

If you remember our interview with Jim Rivers  (hiring manager at Obsidian Entertainment), he talked about what it would take to get hired. Things like previous work and having good references are important to someone who will hire you. They are equally important when someone is going to invest in your project.

It’s that stupid idea that “you have to do some work for free before you get paid for it.” Sad, but totally true. So Dengler isn’t saying you can’t get funded if you’re an independent. You just have to do a little bit more work before you get tothe point where a publishing company will pick you up. Get a reputation going and you’ll be a good bet.

Back to Double Fine and Kickstarter. Dengler agreed that this was the start of something very exciting for the industry. It would change things if it worked out correctly. What does working correctly mean? Well, Dengler said that if a number of well-known companies were to successfully use this business model over the next couple of years, then it will show the industry that this isn’t just a one-hit-wonder fad sort of thing. If this can become a successful and viable business model, then we’re in for a whole new video game industry.

Of course there are people who are worried about this. Some people are skeptical in thinking that by giving money up front, we’re telling the company we don’t care how good the product is, or if it works correctly. Dengler disagrees. He feels that so many people wouldn’t have put their money in the project if they didn’t think the product would be good.

So the crux of this interview? Things are changing for the better if this works out well. But, you should also take this as a living history and business lesson if you’re looking to do a project like this of your own. Learn from someone else’s experience and work on your own project. To quote my friend Adam, “What a time to be alive!!”

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