Who is publishing what and why? Profits go where? Separate deal with investor and publishers? How does all that affect the final product backers get? Who is harversting what for which silo from what field at what time and with what yields? How about some anwsers? And why do I have to ask these questions in the first place?
Crowdfunding will soon be celebrating the five year anniversary of its first success, The Double Fine Adventure. The initial idea was a simple one - developers have a project proposal that publishers don't want to risk funding, fans fund it instead, game gets made, everyone is happy. Except for the publishers that is, they get excluded.
One of the things this sort of approach to funding didn't actually change is the fact that old school publishers are still sitting on piles of money and are in possession of powerful marketing machinery. The view from this lofty position is a marvellous one, and at some point publishers obviously realised there was a potentially profitable scuffle going on somewhere at the foot of Mt. Success.
While publishers generally disagree with the wisdom of Wesley Snipes, they do like a safe bet and there is no safer bet that backing a project that has already been partly funded by money that didn't come out of their pocket. The public is aware of the project since it already managed to fund itself independently - so that's a chunk of marketing budget saved. The lion's share of the development work is already paid for by the crowdfunding efforts, so that's dev time they don't need to bankroll. All in all, significantly safer than most gambles publishers tend to make.
Consider the cultural and psychological implications of crowdfunding for a moment. The proceedings always had an air of sticking it to the man about them. A romantic idea of studios gone rogue, doing their own thing, answerable only to the patrons of the art they produce and having the freedom to do what they do best without the suits ruining the fun.
Things are about to change. inXile has signed a publishing deal with Techland for Torment: Tiedes of Numenera, Double Fine got Pyschonauts 2 signed with Starbreeze , and Mega Man fans will have fond memories of what happened when Mighty No. 9 received a guardian angel in the form of Deep Silver. Currently the independent backer to formal investment ratio for Wasteland 3 is roughly 5:2 and inXile most likely won't be shying away from signing another publishing deal.
Star Citizen is the outlier here with over $140 million in backer funds but will even its creators be able to avoid some more formal tie-ups in the medium-to-long term?
Techland, Starbreeze and Deep Silver aren't EA, UbiSoft or Activision but I'm fairly certain that on some level they would very much like to be. If rising risk aversion and the way it scales to the amount of money involved with a business is anything to go by, they definitely will become quite similar to their bigger counterparts as they grow.
Why flirt with the devil? A major driving force behind the crowdfunding phenomenon was a sense of liberation from publisher control. Market analysts will claim it was just proof that you can fill a niche as long as you know how to find it - but most gamers will disagree. When I last checked, games are made to please, entertain and provide some measure of catharsis to the consumers of art, not for the benefit of patrons or publishers. While I understand that the aid of a publisher, with the guarantee of freedom and retention of IP rights, is good for getting a game onto as many screens as possible, it might be prudent to stop and think where that road is heading , as a community and as individual informed customers in equal measure.
Mr. Fargo, Mr. Schafer, Mr. Urquhart, dear Fig advisory board , please let us know what you are doing and why? You have spent more time in the games industry than some of us have spent on this planet and I want to believe that you know what you are doing and that the road ahead is safe. You managed to achieve a minor miracle, by turning the way games are made and published on its head just a few short years ago and there was much rejoicing. At that time, things were nice and neat and transparent. There were videos explaining what you were doing and why, lengthy blog posts infusing trust and creating a strangely intimate bond between artists and audience. There is no reason that should stop, especially now - when it seems that there was a course change and nobody bothered to inform the engine room.