So, I have a whole other set of issues with Kickstarter and I’m not entirely sure that I like the idea of the service at all, but for the sake of this debate I’ll set those issues aside for the moment and deal strictly with the topic at hand; should Kickstarter only be for indie developers. For reasons I’ll get into in a moment, I believe that larger developers and publishers have no business asking consumers for money up front.
First and foremost, let’s deal with exactly how Kickstarter works. When you “pledge” on Kickstarter, you’re not buying anything, there is no clear-cut guarantee that the product you funded will turn out the way you expected, or that will turn out at all. I have a couple of major problems with this when it’s applied to large developers/publishers. For one, assuming that the creator is pretty responsible and you feel comfortable that the product has a 100% chance to be released, then all you’re really doing is pre-ordering it. I hate pre-ordering things. If Harmonix wants to do an Amplitude sequel that’s great, but to me, Harmonix is a big enough company they shouldn’t need my money up front to do that. On some level, these kind of Kickstarters are nothing more than marketing campaigns for bigger companies. If a large dev isn’t sure they should resurrect and old franchise they can just do a Kickstarter and measure the interest based on how much gets pledged. That’s not what Kickstarter was meant for. The other thing that bugs me about the way the pledging system works is that you as the consumer are not guaranteed anything. The Kickstarter might get backed, but then the project could fall to pieces and you might never see a product. I know that this seems unlikely, but can you imagine how angry you would be if you backed a Kickstarter project from Nintendo or Sega only to have it completely fail and your money to be gone? These are large companies, companies that make more money that the average person will ever see in their lives, so to give them even a dime only to have it squandered is absolutely unacceptable to me. If you, as an average person, can be responsible enough to pay your rent, get your groceries, etc… then these companies should be expected to be just as responsible.
There is a larger problem here than just the flaws in the Kickstarter pledge system though. Mainly, when you back a project from a large studio, it means that you have less money left over to back a truly independent developer. Kickstarter was created for independents; people who wanted to create something outside of the norm. When you give Nintendo, Sega, or even Harmonix your money, you’re giving it to them instead of giving it to a small developer who might actually need the money to keep the lights on in their office or house. Your pledge to a truly independent developer is far more crucial to the success of the project you’re backing than your pledge to a large studio.
Lastly — and this is part of my overall issue with Kickstarter, not just with large devs — Kickstarter’s format seems as though it can sometimes encourage the creation of lame or unfinished junk. Assuming a project gets backed, the creator has essentially already gotten what it wants, not it just has to produce something, anything really. Now, I realize that this is far too black and white of a statement to make for all Kickstarter creators, and I know that most companies, large and small, want to create quality things. That said, it’s a lot easier to release a project that’s 80% done when you know that you’ve already made your money and if it’s not received well, it’s not going to break your bank. This seems far more likely to happen with large studios than with small ones. If a small team is making a game and it’s not as great as backers hoped it would be then there is a very real concern that people might not back a second project. On the other hand, if the Amplitude sequel is crap does that mean that Harmonix won’t ever make another Rock Band, or that you wouldn’t still be interested in it?
To be clear, if a developer doesn’t have the means to complete a project because they legitimately do not have the money, then I’m alright with the idea of backing them. This goes for the Tim Shafer’s andKeiji Inafune’s of the world as much as it does for the no-name 3-man team working from their garage. If you’re new, or you’re leaving the safety of a big company to venture out and do something new, I’m ok with that. I don’t lump those people in with the Harmonix’s of the world. If however, you are a large developer with successful titles under your belt and coffers full of cash, get off Kickstarter and just take the damn risk on your own. Stop forcing the consumer to finance things that you should be financing.