Disclaimers and Crowd Funding
Posted by Player Versus Developer [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 January 2014, 5:08 pm
We are a highly experienced team of AAA developers and that's what we aim to deliver. So far the project has been funded solely from our own pockets and that is why we are reaching out to you now. With enough support we feel we can provide a AAA experience, but without the proper funding, some of that experience may be limited at launch.
- The entire Kickstarter-required "risks and challenges section" from Pantheon's $800,000 campaign page
I will leave the in-depth coverage of the MMO Kickstarter du jour to people who are actually following it, such as Wilhelm.  Personally, my exposure to the project is limited primarily to articles like this one at Massively, which discusses one of the game's planned classes as described in a Kickstarter update.  If I didn't already know that this is a game that may launch in 2017 if it can raise another $600,000 in the next month and if its creators can actually implement the promised product for that much money, I would not have known that this wasn't a new patch for a game that I can download and play today.  

(Not to pick on Syp in particular here, it's just the most recent post about this particular game on Massively at this particular moment, and he's much more famous than me so I think he can handle the abuse, such that it is.  Camelot Unchained got similar coverage during its campaign.) 

Unsubject has published detailed analysis of video game Kickstarter campaigns that ended between 2009-2012 and concluded that less than half of these projects have delivered even partially on their promises.  The harsh reality is that multi-million-dollar projects by major publishers who fund games for a living - Titan and EQ Next along with countless unnamed canceled titles by studios like EA - fail to reach the finish line for any number of reasons.  I wouldn't expect a five-sentence short post about the game to dwell on this fact.  But what is the appropriate level of caution? 

My concern is that the incentives of Kickstarter inherently put both creators and especially backers in a bad position.  The game doesn't get funded at all unless people get really excited about it, so the creators have to promise the Best Game Ever.  More to the point, they have to promise something that is so much better than real products developed with significantly larger budgets that potential customers will be motivated to pay now for something they might get in the future instead of something real that they can have today. 

Everything about the system encourages the creator to over-promise in a way that will actually make the already-tough job of doing a difficult project on a tight budget even more difficult.  Kickstarter certainly isn't going to object - they get their cut if the project is funded and get nothing if the project is not, and thus you're free to ask for the better part of a million dollars and say that the only risk whatsoever to your project is that it might be "limited" "at launch" compared to AAA titles.  If the project doesn't launch at all or isn't worth playing due to untenable scope, there's no one looking out for the people who paid hundreds of dollars two or more years in advance for unrealistic promises and hype. 

Thus, a question: To what extent should discussions of MMO's that are in the process of seeking crowd funding include a disclaimer about the odds that the product actually delivers? 

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