The Turmoil and Failures of Early Access and Crowdfunded Games (Originally written in 2015)

Please note, this was initially written as part of a University class in 2015.

Early Access and crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter are two new modern means of allowing consumers to purchase video games.

Crowdfunded titles more often than not come out of the Kickstarter website, which launched In April 2009. Companies that use crowdfunding websites are looking to secure funds up front to continue working on their game or in some cases, begin working on the game from scratch. Kickstarter blew up in 2012 and has since been the forefront of crowdfunded games projects.

Steam introduced the Early Access Program in 2013 after many broken and non-functioning games hit the platform that were being sold as fully complete products. Early Access allows developers to sell their title in an Alpha or Beta stage to consumers in return for early access to the game. The program has seen many titles enter and exit Early Access since its initiation – Many of which have been under the spotlight for failing to adhere to Early Access rules and ethics.

After securing funding, many developers wind up going the route of the Early Access model, allowing them to secure both crowdsourced and Early Access funds during the development process.

What is crowdfunding in games?

Kickstarter was launched in April 2009 with the mission of bringing creative projects to life through crowd based funding. Since 2009 Kickstarter has received upwards of £975 million in pledged funds from around 8 million individual backers, funding over 200,000 projects.

Kickstarter is now the go-to website for some games developers to secure funding for their latest projects.  This allows many developers to stay independent without securing funding from large publishers.

Video Game kickstarters offer different backers status’ in an attempt to obtain more money from individuals, for example; pledge £10 or more to receive a copy of the game when it is released or pledge £20 or more to receive a copy of the game when it is released and access to all beta builds. Each Kickstarter has to have a goal amount of money they are aiming for – This goal must be met, otherwise the project will receive none of the funds from their kickstarter campaign. Each kickstarter page must provide an estimated delivery date and is generally a good idea to include information as such as game details and development roadmap, concept art and a risk analysis.

gjgj.png

Several high profile developers and game personalities have utilized Kickstarters’ uniqueness to receive help in bringing their creations to life. Peter Molyneux of Lionhead (Now of 22Cans), Double Fine (Brutal legend, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango), Obsidian Entertainment (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout: New Vegas) and Keiji Inafune (Megaman) have all engaged in predominantly large crowdfunding campaigns.

Due to the nature of Kickstarter and the Internet, projects can be started and developed anywhere on the planet and equally receive funding from anyone with access to the Kickstarter service and a bank account.

It has to be noted that Kickstarting projects can be both rewarding and frustrating.  Although many projects complete a successful campaign – Others have a horrendous time and are subject to backlash and ridicule.

Early Access and what is its allure?

Valve introduced the Early Access program on to the Steam Client in March 2013.  Early Access allows developers to launch their game in an Alpha or Beta state on to the Steam storefront where consumers can purchase the title if they wish to support the continued development of the game.

Valve (2013) describes the service: the goal of Early Access is to provide gamers with the chance to ‘go behind the scenes’ and experience the development cycle firsthand and, more importantly, have a chance to interact with the developers by providing them feedback while the title is still being created.

The development and release of the Steam Early Access program was in response to several developers taking advantage of Valve’s Steam Client and consumers trust. Several games had been releasing on to the store that were buggy, broken and in some cases; completely non-functional.  Gamers were being sold software that did not work on the most popular digital distribution platform for games.

Despite the Early Access tag, several games have come and gone on the service for trying to manipulate users in to buying broken games, developers having no communication with consumers and a lack of updates. Early Access is far from the safe haven that Valve was hoping it would be.

steamea.png

The Curious Case of Godus

Peter Molyneux has been regarded as one of the greatest games designers in the industry after helping to create such masterpieces as Theme Park World, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper and Populous.  It is believed that he fully brought the God Game genre to light.

After development of Fable III had wrapped, Molyneux announced that he would be parting ways with Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, the studio he founded 15 years ago to found a new studio: 22Cans.

Molyneux cited his reason for leaving on the Eurogamer forums: I just felt compelled to become an indie developer again.

After the creation and end of 22Cans first title, Curiosity, the studio leaped on to the Kickstarter bandwagon to launch their campaign for the reinvention of the God Game genre, backed by Peter Molyneux himself. This caused a large stir in the industry with many clamouring to see the development of a brand new game in the dying genre.

Godus amassed £526,563 via 17,184 backers, from their very promising Kickstarter page, to where the studio described the title as: GODUS is a delightful reinvention of the god game from 22cans and Peter Molyneux, who created the genre. Mac, PC, Mobile iOS & Android. Additional campaigns, Social Features, a BAFTA award winning writer to create the story, Multiplayer and CO-OP mode, Possessions mode and a Linux version of Godus were promised.

godussteam.jpg

Godus for mobile launched during August of 2014, with the same gem currency as the PC version – With full on microtransactions. The launch of the mobile title was the last straw, thousands of players began to boycott the game and give up on the reinvention of the God genre. The rumours and players largest fears over the development of the game had come true: The money from the kickstarter was being pushed to the mobile version, where they hoped to recoup funds via microtransactions.

If we fast forward to February 2015, it is safe to say that 22Cans are up a creek without a paddle.  This studio is lucky it has two feet to stand on, considering it recently laid off many of its employees.  Godus now has two developers, and Peter Molyneux is not one of them – A intern that was hired because he wanted to help improve the game and another member of staff are the sole staff left to fix the mess that is Godus, while Molyneux creates his new mobile game The Trail.

Molyneux has since backed away from the Godus community and has effectively washed his hands of the game, while mentioning that he will never speak to the press again.

22Cans took to YouTube to post a 17 minute long video titled Godus Community Update.  The video has been horrifically received as Molyneux looks completely out of touch with the entire situation, while engaging in several random conversations during this update.

During the video, intern Konrad Naszynski appears to be extremely uncomfortable after previously stating he wanted to work at 22Cans because he wanted to help fix the broken monstrosity that Godus became.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun sat down with Molyneux during an interview where they were not afraid to throw several punches and hard hitting questions towards the developer.

Issues and Risks of Early Access and Crowdfunding

If we take Godus as the platform in which we discuss Early Access and Crowdfunded games, we can analyse several different issues that can occur when accepting money for an unfinished product.

Crowdfunding can be a great way for consumers to put money towards a product they are passionate in, something that without this funding would not be able to exist. It provides a platform from which developers and gamers alike can band together to create art.

A certain trust has to be in place, the consumer is handing over money to a project that may not even have begun yet.  It is possible to back a Kickstarter page that only showcases some flashy concept art and a developer diary – At this point, the consumer is practically handing money over to someone that has come up with an idea.  No one has any idea if the developers behind the project will ever be able to fulfil any of the promises of their crowdfunding campaign. We can see this with Godus, none of the promised features have been implemented nearly 3 years after the Kickstarter campaign ended and no one will be able to tell you if these features will ever see the light of day.

It is clear for all to see that 22Cans and Godus have been mismanaged from start to finish. The development of Godus has been a mess from the beginning with a severe lack of updates to bad communication to no word on promised features and the shoehorning of a mobile port before the PC version was anywhere close to the finish line. This was reflected when the team was effectively shrunk to two employees. Backers will have to be wondering what has become of their money and just where exactly it has been spent. Mismanagement can destroy even the best of projects and experienced teams.

A failure to adapt can be devastating. Peter Molyneux has admitted that he has never enforced a crowdfunded project before Godus and stated that if he could, he would do it all differently. Game developers are in an ever expanding and evolving technologically based medium; new technological advances are in abundance which brings along with it fresh new hardware and software.  Developers have a very difficult job of keeping up with all industry standards, when everything is always changing. This failure to adapt and learn can damage your game’s development.

Some developers are known to over-promise, thus creating expectations that their game will just never reach.  The game can aspire to be something it likes all it wants, but it will never be what it can be when backers and potential consumers are let down from the get-go with features that will never be presented in the final game build.

The relationship between Kickstarter, Early Access and Godus is a curious one and is just one of the many examples of a failed crowdfunded project.  Several games have failed to deliver on the promises set during their funding drive, but I wholeheartedly believe that Godus is the most miraculous of them all. Even if Godus manages to pull itself out from the black abyss that it is currently swirling, it will forever be tainted with the involvement of Peter Molyneux and his favourite past time: over-promising and under-delivering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s