Buying mixed bags
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 July 2013, 3:26 am
I never liked buying mixed bags in games, with one purchase having several different purposes at the same time. For example the WoW charity pets, where half of the money spent went to charity, to me always felt like either I was paying double for the pet, or I was giving only half for charity. But the worst offender in selling mixed bags must be Kickstarter. If you give money for a game on Kickstarter, what exactly is it for? Are you pre-ordering a game that hasn't been made yet? Are you donating money to your favorite game developer? Is it a mini-investment sort of deal? Or are you signalling your preference for a certain genre? In fact it is a bit of all of that. But everybody has a different priority in that mixed bag. And when Kickstarter projects go wrong, how negatively you react will depend on what you thought you were buying.

If you are a backer of an ongoing Kickstarter project, chances are that you got an update this week which basically said: "Hey guys, we might not be on schedule, but it isn't quite as bad as Double Fine Adventure". I've already seen several versions of such updates, and received one myself from Banner Saga. Double Fine Adventure is the third-most funded game in the history of Kickstarter, and this week's news that the game would be a) late and b) split into episodes the sales of which were needed to finish the game didn't go down well with everybody. But of course again, if you basically just wanted to donate money or express a preference you probably are less angry than if you thought you pre-ordered a game.

In the Banner Saga update the devs said that themselves:
"We thought now we could do everything we ever wanted for the game, and got too ambitious. We thought we could make the game in six months, and I'm still not sure what we were thinking. That was stupid. I wish I could take that back, all we needed to do was put a different date there and nobody would be complaining. Whoops. We ARE still doing everything we want, and it's taking a long time. I don't feel bad about that. That was the POINT, right? To dream as big as we could?

It's interesting to think of it from someone else's point of view. For many people, letting a dev shoot for the moon is NOT the point. For a lot of people the point is I BOUGHT A GAME, WHERE IS IT?"
I think the problem is that "all we needed to do was put a different date there and nobody would be complaining" wouldn't actually work. Or rather it would work a lot less well. If the description of a Kickstarter project says "give us money and we will deliver you a great game in six months", a lot of people will give money to that project because they want that great game in six months. But as the Banner Saga update says:
"If nothing else, I think the gaming community is finally getting a good picture about real game development. What would really shock people is that there is nothing unusual about any of this, except that you are finally seeing it. This is every game development story that has ever existed, except instead of the publisher dealing with it, YOU are."
So if either the Kickstarter project descriptions were honest, or once people wisen up to the fact that they aren't, those of us who just wanted to pre-order that game will stop backing those Kickstarter projects. "Give us money, and we'll develop a game in our own time, change the content from what we promised, and add new monetization schemes to it, and then maybe at some later date deliver a game to you which you'll barely recognize" is a lot less attractive as Kickstarter pitch. A few people will still back it, because they actually want "let a dev shoot for the moon". But it is safe to say that Double Fine Adventure wouldn't have gotten $3.3 million in funding if the pitch had given the real delivery date and format of the product.

If you are selling a mixed bag, you can't claim afterwards of one component of it "That was the POINT? right?". Because it was the point only for a part of the backers. Other backers bought the same mixed bag for a completely different reason. And if your Kickstarter pitch made certain promises about how the game would be and when it would be delivered, you can't be surprised that some people are furious when those promises are broken. And if those promises are broken on high-profile projects like Double Fine Adventure, people will learn to be more skeptical about any promise on Kickstarter. The older Kickstarter gets, and the more people have an experience of not receiving what they thought they paid for, the less successful will future projects be.
Tobold's Blog

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