I love crowdfunding. Sure, I’ve had a few duds among the projects I’ve backed, but for the most part, it’s been a positive experience. There’s nothing quite like knowing you were part of the creative process of some wonderful new project or seeing your name listed in the “special thanks” section in a game’s end credits.
But backing these projects is about more than personal satisfaction. Crowdfunding video games helps ensure that risky titles—those that push against mainstream ideas about what games are or can be—keep the industry thriving and innovative. Without crowdfunding, we wouldn’t have the Oculus Rift, Shovel Knight, or FTL, three of the most exciting creations of the past few years.
It’s not just about getting games funded, either. Crowdfunding is also a barometer for consumer interest, and high popularity can spur publishers to pick a game up and bring it to the attention of an even broader audience. There are few things more inspiring than a good rags-to-riches (or indie-to-classic) success story, and sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer fertile ground where the first seeds of such stories can take root.
Crowdfunding Supports Experimentation and Innovation
Many games turn to crowdfunding simply because they just don’t fit into the mainstream. Whether it’s because their stories deviate from the usual narrative arcs or because they rely on never-before-seen mechanics, the risk inherent in their uniqueness may deter big-name publishers, making it difficult to for projects to find support for the large budget they may require—and that’s where crowdfunding comes in.
Bringing visionary gaming technology to life is exactly why Oculus Rift turned to crowdfunding. They wanted to create their own technology, and the monetary investment required was enormous. Crowdfunding allowed its creators to attract attention from consumers, investors, and developers alike in order to gain traction. Providing early access to the tech helped generate interest and, ultimately, fund the project. Final funding reached over 900% of the original goal, making one thing crystal clear—people wanted it, and they wanted it bad.
The same is true of Loading Human, an early-adopter virtual reality game that aimed to do more than many early tech demos and minigames seemed to achieve. By infusing the experience with a story only possible in VR, Loading Human attracted attention both for its incredible potential and its creative use of modern technology. Though the campaign began before VR had really hit the consumer market, crowdfunding helped make the futuristic dreams fueling the project a reality.
Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns Attract Publisher Attention
Getting a project crowdfunded is only part of the equation. A game still needs to be made, after all, which is where many projects flounder. Estimating the time investment, technology costs, and other aspects of development can leave a lot of room for error, which is why some crowdfunding games never actually reach players. But when done right, a crowdfunding campaign can help a game catch the eye of the perfect publisher for the project.
Loading Human is one such example. While Flavio Parenti and the team at Untold Games originally intended to self-publish the game using the funds from the Kickstarter, the success and the uniqueness of his creation attracted the attention of boutique publisher Maximum Games. Through this partnership, Loading Human’s first chapter was released for the three major virtual reality platformers with more polish, detail, and depth than would have been possible without that support.
The complete length of the game’s first chapter alone, which takes several hours to play through, is unmatched in any other VR launch title. That kind of development, especially in brand-new technology, would likely never have been possible without publisher support. While the game might have succeeded without the backing of Maximum Games, the publisher connected Untold Games with a wider audience and continues to help them gain the recognition they, and their project, deserve.
Crowdfunding Resurrects Long-Dead Series
There are many reasons old franchises die out—lack of sales, licensing issues, or developer disinterest are just a few of the possibilities. But passionate fans drive crowdfunding—with support, long-forgotten games can see the light of day again.
Take, for instance, Yooka-Laylee—a spiritual successor to Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie franchise—which reached over 1,000 percent of its goal. Though the game isn’t out yet, Playtonic’s transparency, regular updates, and experience in the industry have encouraged support and enthusiasm from backers, as well as those just waiting for the game’s release.
The same is true of Shenmue 3, a franchise which had been thought dead since the release of Shenmue 2 in 2001. At the time of its original release, Shenmue was the most expensive game ever produced. It was also a big commercial flop. For the third game, creator Yu Suzuki turned to Kickstarter—he wanted to make a game for the fans by incorporating their opinions into its development, and crowdfunding helped him do that.
With the license from Sega and marketing, production, and publishing support from Sony and Shibuya Productions, Shenmue 3 is set to be an excellent hybrid between crowdfunding and traditional publication. Fan-raised funds helped Suzuki achieve his ambitious vision, while publisher support will ensure the game ultimately makes its way into the hands of all who wish to play.
A Successful Alternative to Tradition
Crowdfunding isn’t right for every video game, nor is it likely to replace the traditional publishing model anytime soon. But what it does do—and does well—is foster a growing community of gamers and developers who are looking to support and create games outside of the often restrictive mainstream sphere. Whether that means going it alone with fan backing or using crowdfunding as a springboard for access to publisher support, there’s a lot of potential in this funding model that’s ripe for the picking.
Though there may have been a few stumbles and setbacks along the way, overall, crowdfunding remains an excellent means of helping imaginative new games reach eager players, and it’s reinvigorating the industry with the same spirit of innovation that made early video games so exciting in the first place.
Loading Human explores the powerful storytelling potential of virtual reality. Order your copy of the first chapter today!