Life lessons learned through video games: Kickstarter and funding game projects

Peter Molyneux Interview: “I haven’t got a reputation in this industry any more” – Original interview

Peter Molyneux has had a really rough week. After the infamous BRUTAL interview with popular video game review site, Rock Paper Shotgun I’m sure that the company, 22cans are still reeling from the shock.

I’ve never spent any money on Mr. Molyneux’s products so I really don’t have a strong opinion on whether he’s a good game designer or not. I’m not personally invested, as it were. I have played Black & White and all of the Fable games with my fiance though. I thought they were, ok. We decided not to pledge money towards “Godus” though, and we largely ignored all the “Curiosity” hype.

I won’t really go into the details of the interview because it was so horrific. I have never seen such unprofessional conduct from both interviewer and interviewee on a mainstream news platform before in my life. As somebody who has worked in marketing and PR, this is my idea of a nightmare situation for a client. How on earth can one spring back from that?

A lot of people on the comments section are arguing whether the questioning was fair or whether Molyneux deserved the treatment that he got. Your guess is as good as mine. It seems to me that a lot of the bad press that has been generated around the topic of 22cans, Lionhead studios and Peter himself was largely due to bad business practice, lack of respect for customers and their money.

However, to open any conversation with: “are you a pathological liar?” is definitely rude and emotionally charged from the interviewer’s stand point. Personally, I think a calm and collected approach would still have yielded interesting results. It was all very unprofessional but, to be brutally honest, any sane person would have just slammed the phone down or refused to talk?

In my honest opinion, being able to earn a living from creating video games is a bloody privilege. Having worked for just above minimum wage in retail jobs pretty much all of my working life, I have a real problem with people that don’t think it is a big deal messing around with your money. I am juggling work, uni and making video games in order to support myself. I do not sympathise with people who don’t respect the value of money, no matter how small the amount. I would be angry if someone was messing around with my tenner let alone having all my hopes dashed.

Literally, we have no money. We have minus money and we are still managing to get a game together.

I have a problem with Kickstarter because it isn’t a pre-order platform, it’s a donation platform. I think the reason why there is so much controversy surrounding the service is that the returns and refunds policy is so shaky. You may or may not see your money back if the project fails or runs into difficulty.

The thing that people don’t understand about this kind of crowd-funding is that you are giving permission to these companies to spend your money. I mean, the whole point is, they need your money to create the products that you have paid for. It is not the same as pre-ordering something that is currently in development with a firm release date. It’s like you and I are all angel investors to these companies, except that we’re not. These companies know we’re poor as shit and can’t afford to risk losing money all over the place like REAL billionaire angel investors can. Therefore, these customers should be treated with more care and most importantly, you NEED to deliver your products. It’s career suicide not to.

The way I see it, it is inherently risky because there are examples of projects with tiers up to thousands of pounds which may not see their promised pledge rewards met. I think the fury in that case would be justified. But why not just wait until the game is out, watch some reviews and then decide whether to buy into the product, like you do with your toaster, mobile phone and everything else you choose to purchase?

I think the reward system is a little bit weak anyway. If people want to buy stuff, they’ll ask you for the stuff and there will be a provable demand. This is what you learn when you work in retail for nearly a decade. I don’t think it’s fair to promise customers a limited edition art book, for example, for a game that hasn’t secured funding or isn’t currently in production. These things cost money to design, manufacture and post. A book is a whole other project, entirely. People seriously underestimate the time it takes to get things done. Worst of all, I’m sure that rewards can cripple a company financially and are probably the most annoying, stupid job to do right at the very end, when you are stressing about the release. Seems like ALOT of extra hassle to me – for no real gain. I’m sure people would just like the game that they paid for, at the very least.

Double Fine is a good example of a show case Kickstarter project but even they ran into trouble. They got away with it, but only just. I used to admire Tim Schafer a lot, actually. His original point and click adventures are among my favourite games of all time. I don’t think that his strength is project management either, though. He’s just a more likeable person and he has hired good people around him that aren’t afraid to call him out on things, on camera if they have to. The communication itself was just handled a lot better, thanks to the wonderful indie documentary film team 2 Player productions that produced the video blog updates for Double Fine. It certainly helped the credibility of the company when things started to look a bit sour.

Having always worked from a DIY perspective from everything I do: start-up companies, independent family run businesses, bedroom music producing…etc, I think I have some experience with you know, risking my own money and spending lots of my own free time to projects. I have spent a fair bit of time playing gigs on the London toilet circuit with various bands. In my opinion, to pursue a creative career, you need to earn your stripes and do it the hard way by keeping your shit tight and learning to become an ethical business person by default.

I can see why many creative projects fail but I think that this is often down to the strength of the leadership, how many liabilities the company has and passion for the project. No WAY should Kickstarter be looked at as a short cut to doing the real hard work of running a business.

In conclusion, I think Kickstarter gives over confident individuals or businesses an easy way to convince people to hand over their money. It should be more of a platform for more established individuals or small businesses that have a proven track record, such as the incredible Amanda Palmer. This isn’t to say that every Kickstart projects are money-grubbing scam artists – a lot of cool and innovative projects would not be possible without the initial funding. All pledgers should be aware, though, that they are contributing to completely new ideas. While it is exciting to be part of the development process, be aware that the results may be disappointing.

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2 thoughts on “Life lessons learned through video games: Kickstarter and funding game projects

  1. Your thoughts on Kickstarter are dead on. People who don’t have experience managing large projects should not be asking people for money. They see Kickstarter as a substitute for a traditional publisher/developer relationship and the truth of the matter is that without someone managing the project and pushing deadlines, most of these “projects” will just fail. Molyneux is not the first, although he is certainly the poster boy.

    • Hey Scott! Thanks for reading. It’s odd how everyone has forgotten that pre-ordering has existed for years! It is a blow for the British gaming industry that one of the giants (molyneux) has fallen into disrepute but it does leave a gap for young blood. There are only really 5 big companies over here – it’ll be interesting to see if anything bubbles to the surface over the next few months!

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