If you don't know your history, Marillion actually invented crowdfunding (which, for a while there, was known as "The Marillion Model").
In short, back in 1997, Marillion couldn't afford to tour America. Without any prompting, a group of US fans raised $60,000 to pay for the tour - a gesture which took the band by surprise, but gave them a viable and sustainable way of continuing at a time when they were reluctant to sign to a record company.
Every Marillion album since has been paid for this way - with backers getting their name in the credits. The model soon became adopted by other bands, before being leapt upon by creative people around the globe. And now here I am writing this on a semi-crowdfunded blog (I thank you all for funding my semi).
But anyway. Crowdfunding, see... despite using it to keep Digi2000 going for now... is something I actually have mixed feelings about.
I appreciate the democracy of crowdfunding, that people can love something enough to quite literally put their money where their mouth is.
And it's the reason there's now a legitimate sort of 'heritage' market in games, why the ZX Spectrum Vega - dubious and pointless as it is - exists. Why there are new games on the way starring Toejam and Earl, Leisure Suit Larry and Banjo-Kazooie (sort of).
It's why Elite and Broken Sword are still around as franchises. Crowdfunding is a way to make a reality of things that have an existing, passionate, audience, but which would otherwise have no chance of happening, because they'd be considered too niche, quirky or old hat. Again, I'm pointing the finger at myself here.
Also, what I love about crowdfunding is that, when it works, it feels like you're all in it together. That there's a sense of community with it - everyone is pulling in the same direction to make it work. It's not a passive relationship, but one with a sense of engagement. Speaking as a semi-crowdfunded creator, it's lovely to have that two-way communication, and that sense that we're building something together.
It's actually a big part of what I now love about being a Marillion fan. The music is great and all that - SHUT UP - but you get to feel like you're part of something bigger. At the risk of sounding like an old hippy, there's something almost a bit spiritual about it.
However, as we've seen all too often... the relationship between the crowdfunded and their funders can sour, and part of that is the fundamental problem at the heart of crowdfunding itself.
I managed to watch that PewDiePie video I mentioned yesterday, in which he slags off Bear Simulator.
PewDiePie had pulled it from his YouTube channel, but enterprising types have since managed to put it back up again.
Initially it had seemed that PewDiePie had taken down the video out of consideration for John Farjay the creator of Bear Simulator - who has decided to stop supporting his game due to "stigma" - but subsequent tweets to his 7.1 million followers would suggest that there was nothing charitable behind his decision.
He told them: "If you ask the internet for $100k, then put out a bad product, then what do you expect? Finish the game, some people obviously liked it."
Let's ignore his terrible English (he's Swedish) and consider this: having watched the video - the first time I've sat through the entirety of a PewDiePie presentation - I can't say I see the appeal of the idiot. Sure, the kids like him, and I'm hardly the target audience... but I've seen people younger than PewDiePie create more inventive, funnier, or more insightful stuff. It just felt a bit desperate and every bit as dumb and ill-informed as I expected it to be.
PewDiePie admitted that the video wasn't very interesting, but, in a startling insight into the YouTube icon's lack of self-awareness, laid the blame for his profound lack of wit on the "unfinished" game.
What's more, the focus of his ire, like so much ire that gets targeted at crowdfunded projects, is just how much money the game managed to raise.
With Digitiser2000, 149 backers are currently giving me $920 a month - roughly about £650 in real money (we also get the very occasional one-off donation via PayPal).
Note: that's before what I have to pay in tax and VAT, and doesn't take into account money I pay for the running of this site. Oh - and yes... I also buy all our review copies out of that fund.
We've made a small profit from t-shirt sales, but it has surprised me just how much money Digitiser2000 costs to run. And that's before you even consider that you're also paying me for my time; I currently do around 5 times the number of updates as promised, which all takes away from hours I have to do my day job (which I could do much more easily if I just stopped doing Digi2000).
Admittedly, I also do this site out of love - and in the hopes that we can grow it into something more permanent - but I'm also keen to reward the faith of everyone who has invested in it. Thus, I put in the extra effort.
Given that this is just a relatively simple site for writing about video games and publishing galleries of sloths in toilets, and given how much this costs... I can't imagine the costs of producing a game.
START TO FINISH
Bear Simulator took two years from the start of its Kickstarter fund to being released.
So, let's lop that $100,000 in two, and say that Farjay Studios got $50,000 a year. That's about £35,000. Not a bad salary admittedly, but also coming out of that were development costs - don't ask me what those might've been, as I really don't have a clue, but probably sizeable - and the backer rewards. These included t-shirts, prints, tote bags, books, a "pointless game case", posters and stickers. All of that cost money, and that would've also come out of Farjay's £35,000 a year.
Farjay initially asked for less than $30,000, but exceeded that by a long way. Consequently, the stretch goals - which included hiring someone to work on an OSX version of the game, a team to produce a Linux port, and other sundry items - would also have come out of the $100,000.
Knowing all of this, 3,871 people still decided to pay between $5 and $1,000 to ensure Bear Simulator got made. And it was, by all accounts, finished... and released, barring a few final updates. I've not played the game, but looking at backer reviews and comments, the vast majority of them seem fairly pleased with the end result.
Where the grief seems to come from - certainly in PewDiePie's case - is the belief that if you're given $100,000 (or £70,000-ish) you should be able to produce a "finished" game, and not use it to go swanning around on a yacht. I suspect, when you add up the above, John Farjay made very little money from the Kickstarter fund.
Once again, when dealing with gamers, it feels like it smacks of jealousy, and perceived privilege. While I wouldn't necessarily defend Peter Molyneux over the Godus debacle, you could certainly see some of that coming into play there with at least some of the criticism that 22Cans received. You also saw it with Broken Age and others.
And this gets to the heart of where crowdfunding goes wrong: too few people who go into it seem to understand that it's a gamble.
Video game development is a gamble at the best of times, but even more so when you're someone who is relatively untested and inexperienced.
Creating a game is an enormous amount of work without also having to juggle finances, a team, and keep backers happy. No wonder John Farjay snapped.
I mean, even with Digitiser2000 I have to get my other half to help me with day-to-day admin, answering emails and the like, because otherwise I just wouldn't get anything done.
When you crowd fund you're paying for something, but you're paying for the chance to take a leap into the unknown, and to be part of something. I mean, when you have kids, you start out dreaming that they'll be these perfect little angels who'll grow up to be little versions of you... but along the way all sorts of unexpected life things happen; to you and to them. And this is why my children are all horrible drug addicts now. You have to learn to separate the expectation from the reality.
The facts are that video game development is expensive. £70,000 is a tiny budget for a video game. And when you're crowdfunding there's no guarantee that you're going to get the exact thing you pay for.
That's where we're at with it right now. Crowdfunding isn't the same as going into a shop and buying a thing. Crowdfunding is, as much as anything else, more ethereal. You're taking a punt on a hope. You're not buying the creator, you're paying for the privilege of being able to help.
Maybe there needs to be some sort of legislation, or insurance consideration going forward, so that - in the event of a project not being fulfilled - backers get some sort of refund. But at the moment the crowdfunding industry is still in its infancy. Nobody is quite sure whether the backers are investors (another word for "gamblers"), or customers who are pre-ordering.
Clearly, there are kinks yet to be ironed out. But crowdfunding, as with everything in life, lacks guarantees. Treat it like that, and enjoy the privilege of being part of the journey towards making something you love become a reality. If it doesn't work out - or doesn't work out the way you wanted - then at least you went into it with your eyes open.
And with that in mind, people need to stop treating every successfully crowdfunded game as if the creators just won the lottery, and that a big chunk of money automatically results in someone creating the exact thing you had in your head.
If the game you wanted to play grows up to be a drug-addled lunatic... well... that's being a parent. Another word for "gambler".
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