You’d be forgiven for thinking that 2013 was the year the Kickstarter bubble burst. There were a number of high-profile hopefuls that missed modest funding goals, a couple of developers that spent all their crowdsourced money before finishing up their games, and some underwhelming Kickstarter-funded titles released. It certainly seemed that the early, heady crowdfunding days of 2012 were over.
However, the numbers tell a different story. Not only is the gaming public still enamoured with the Kickstarter proposition, this year it spent more money and funded more games than it did in the platform’s breakout year. Although the rate at which games were funded held steady at the 2012 rate of about one in five, there were a third more games funded this year (161 vs 215). The biggest jump was within the US$30k–50k range, which saw a 154 per cent increase on 2012 (13 vs 33 games funded). Projects with a goal between US$50k and US$100k saw a 63 per cent increase (27 vs 44).
The biggest crowdfunding success story of 2013 was without doubt Star Citizen. The game’s 2012 Kickstarter heralded the return of legendary but long-absent game designer Chris Roberts (Wing Commander) and raised a handy couple of million for the project. However, Roberts’ own site attracted huge numbers of donations throughout 2013, and the game’s current total – an astonishing US$36 million – makes Star Citizen the most successful crowdfunded project ever.
As incredibly as Star Citizen did overall, it was only the sixth most-funded game on Kickstarter for 2013, and eleventh overall. Just looking at the Kickstarter numbers, the most-funded video game of 2013 (and all-time, actually) was Torment: Tides of Numenera, which attracted a whopping US$4,188,927 in pledges. A spiritual successor to one of the best-regarded RPGs of all time, Tides of Numenera took just six hours to break Kickstarter’s fastest-to-a-million record, and slipped past Double Fine’s Broken Age with a little over a day to go. The success of the project reignited publisher interest in the old-school RPG genre, said Obsidian Entertainment creative director Chris Avellone.
There have been near-constant calls for a new Mega Man title since the franchise was last seen in 2010, so the popularity of Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter (US$3,845,170) was no surprise. Being crafted by “an all-star team of veteran Mega Man devs”, the suspiciously Mega Man-like side-scroller was the second-highest funded Kickstarter game of 2013, and thus the second highest funded of all-time as well.
The original Elite was a groundbreaking 1984 space trading release that is a mainstay on “Best Games of All-Time” lists, and rightfully so. It’s also an IP that hasn’t been thoroughly plundered, with the third of the series (Frontier: First Encounters) released all the way back in 1995. That meant appetite was big among veteran gamers for another follow-up, and that hunger propelled Elite: Dangerous (US$2,601,191) to third most-funded game of 2013 and sixth most-funded overall.
Elsewhere, trading card game Hex: Shards of Fate raised US$2,278,255, MMO Camelot Unchained garnered US$2,232,933, and Syndicate Wars creator Mike Diskett raised US$760,036 for spiritual successor Satellite Reign.
Very late in the year, Kickstarter began accepting submissions from New Zealand and Australia, and Scraps was the local project that caught our eye. It scooped up NZ$29,639, allowing creator Bill Borman to continue full-time work on the vehicle construction and combat title for another few months.
The most high-profile Kickstarter failure of the year was actually a double flop. Looking to crowdfund a sequel to beloved GameCube survival horror Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem called Shadow of the Eternals, Precursor Games set up a donation system through its own website. However, the studio was criticised for taking backer money without setting a funding goal, and or not guaranteeing that a game would even be produced. (Kickstarter only allows project creators access to money once a funding goal has been reached, and creators are legally obligated to complete projects.)
There were also concerns that Precursor, which sprang from the ashes of Eternal Darkness developer Silicon Knights, was still tied to that stricken studio.
After all, it had purchased many of Silicon’s assets (including art assets, office supplies, and computers), and was made up almost exclusively of its staff.
Later, Precursor Games employee Ken McCulloch was arrested on charges of child pornography, further sullying the studio’s already murky reputation.
To its credit, Precursor put the game on Kickstarter in May, hoping to collect at least US$1,350,000. However, the campaign languished, with many blaming the involvement of infamous Precursor Games chief creative officer Denis Dyack for the wariness of backers.
In a fascinating bid to save the Kickstarter campaign, Dyack took to YouTube to address concerns about his past, but the needle barely moved. With 14 days to go and the game is less than 10 per cent funded, the first Shadows Kickstarter was cancelled.
Six weeks later it was back on the crowdfunding platform, this time seeking half its initial goal. Less than half that amount was raised, but despite that failure, Precursor managed to get Shadow of the Eternals Greenlit on Steam. However, shortly thereafter Dyack announced that development on the project had come to a halt and that Precursor’s development team had disbanded.
Shadow of the Eternals wasn’t the only Kickstarter of 2013 that destroyed a studio. In January, Gas Powered Games CEO Chris Taylor announced that he was “betting the company” on its Wildman Kickstarter, and that failure would mean bankruptcy.
However, layoffs hit Gas Powered less than a week later, and with four days remaining and more than half a million dollars required for Wildman to become a reality, Taylor finally admitted he had lost the high-stakes wager.
There was a happy ending for Taylor though; World of Tanks developer Wargaming acquired Gas Powered Games the very next month, and put Taylor to work on an as-yet unannounced a free-to-play triple-A MMO.
Shadow of the Eternals also wasn’t the only game to come up short on Kickstarter more than once. God Factory: Wingmen, a competitive 4-on-4 space combat simulator for PC finished its mid-year Kickstarter 47 per cent funded. A second effort in October managed 74 per cent of its CAD$70,000 target – a shame, given developer Nine Dots’ admirable stance regarding the much-maligned crunch practices so prevalent in the industry.
Spicy Horse’s OZombie, a narrative-driven action-adventure set within an alternate version of the Oz universe, got off to a rough start. A name change and American McGee’s admission that there had been mistakes with its campaign couldn’t save it, although its cancellation allowed the studio to make a play for the rights to the Alice IP.
A name change didn’t save car combat project Motorgun (formerly Autoduel) either, nor could the presence of Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe and Interstate ’76 creator Zack Norman. Its campaign conked out at just under 10 per cent of its US$650,000 goal.
The inclusion of Christopher Lee couldn’t drum up interest in Deus Ex Machina 2, the reimagination of a 1984 title that was one of the first multimedia games ever made.
A remake of Sega Genesis RTS General Chaos by that game’s principal designer made just 12 per cent of its US$125,000 goal.
Commander Keen creator Tom Hall pitched a spiritual successor to that game bundled with a platform game creation tool, but the public was largely disinterested.
The release of Anita Sarkeesian’s first four Tropes vs. Women in Video Games videos (US$158,922) garnered the most headlines, but there were a handful of quality video games funded via Kickstarter released in 2013.
Race the Sun (US$21,579) is a gorgeous endless runner, Cloudberry Kingdom’s (US$23,582) procedurally-generated 2D platforming was met with praise, and Kentucky Route Zero’s (US$8,583) first two episodes were a weird point-and-click delight.
Fantasy action game Forced, cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun Returns (US$1,836,447), point-and-click adventure game Lilly Looking Through (US$33,516), and adventure game Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse (US$771,560) also impressed critics.
Of course, there were also several big-name Kickstarter-funded releases that ultimately disappointed as well. The Ouya (funded in August 2012 to the tune of US$8,596,474) was never going to live up to its hype, but despite a poor controller and initially wonky interface, it gradually improved and is getting a second go-around next year. Ouya competitor the GameStick (US$647,658) fared worse, with crashes and UI problems delaying its release. However, its niche appeal is undoubtedly its biggest hurdle.
Game-wise, sleazy adventure title Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (US$655,182) was a limp reimagining of a game that was a product of its time and pretty bad in the first place, and the bare-bones systems of pretty ARPG Akaneiro: Demon Hunters (US$204,680) were met with indifference.
Clang was to use Razer's Hydra motion controller, although developer Subutai Corporation hoped to eventually release its own proprietary controller. Unfortunately by September the Kickstarter money had been spent, and by Subutai’s own admission, Clang’s prototype was “underwhelming”.
The current state of the game industry and risk-averse investors were to blame for a lack of extra funding, it said, and the game became an ‘evenings and weekends’ project which seems unlikely to ever see the light of day.
Other games saw substantial delays. The Banner Saga, initially expected in late 2012, was finally confirmed for January 2014. However, the interim release of a free-to-play multiplayer tie-in angered some supporters, who thought they had had only backed a game with a singleplayer campaign.
After a communications blackout that had dragged on for months, creator of beleaguered Kickstarter game Code Hero Alex Peake insisted the game was on the way, then promptly went back into hiding.
Later, a December 24 update announced that backer T-shirts were on the way, and Peake asked for volunteers to help development of the game.
Also in July, Double Fine announced that the game that began the Kickstarter gold rush, Broken Age, would be split in two, with the first half sold on Steam Early Access to fund development of the second half.
Calculations by the developer projected that the first half of the game would be ready in July 2014, with the full product not available to ship until 2015. “I designed too much game,” wrote studio founder Tim Schafer.
The following month, it was announced that Grim Dawn – which was funded in May 2012 and originally projected for August 2013 – would suffer a “significant” delay.