Monday, March 19, 2012

Kickstarter and Fanvestor-Oriented Game Design

I'm really happy to see game developers like Double Fine and inXile making high profile Kickstarter-funded projects.  I think these are great opportunities to give smaller groups of motivated fans niche products that would have difficulty finding publisher or venture capital funding.  Great.  This is why every fan loves it, really.

A semi-rhetorical problem I've seen folks propose is, "How do you deal with fans when they're direct investors in the product's development?  Fans don't know what they want."  Should forum posters define the parameters of a game's systems?  Its story?  Should fans be allowed to design a new ending for a game via crowd-sourcing if a bunch of people are mad about it?  How do you reconcile fans' conflicting interests?

This seems like an odd problem to propose, as though now, suddenly, the wants and needs of a diverse paying audience become problematic because they're kickstarting the game's development.  They're still the endusers; that hasn't changed.  What's removed are random staff members -- production, marketing, PR -- at the publisher shifting the project around in the pitch phase, pre-production, and during development.  Even though we're in the defining moments of this nascent trend, I have to forecast this as purely beneficial for everyone directly involved.

I started my career as a web developer for Black Isle Studios.  I was the moderator for a number of high-traffic message boards.  Facilitating interaction between the developers and community has always been important to me.  You can't make everyone happy, certainly, but you can help the community understand what you're doing -- and why.  When the community gains this understanding, their expectations can be framed in a way that appreciates the process the developers go through.  Not everyone will agree with the decisions developers make, but that's fine -- you can't make everyone happy, whether you're being funded by a publisher or the endusers.  We shouldn't try to.  But we should all try to engage our audience in the spirit of genuine interest, listen to what they have to say, give honest feedback, and formulate an experience that they will enjoy.

Design isn't about asking a client what he or she wants and then doing it, verbatim.  It's not about trying to make everyone happy.  It's about understanding the myriad, often conflicting wants and needs of a defined, diverse audience and developing a product that brings them satisfaction.  Satisfaction can come after shock, after frustration, after disappointment.  These moments of pain and fear don't detract, but add to the richness and enjoyment of the final product.  Like anything worth our love and devotion, the process to achieve it is often a struggle.  The worst we can do is disappoint our fans -- but that's always been the case.  For crowd-funded games, it's just gamers and game-makers.  It may not be the way all games can be (or even should be) made, but I'm so glad it's an option, and I hope that everyone involved embraces the potential for sincere collaboration and feedback it presents to us.


Anonymous said...

Developers should state it clearly in crowdfunded projects, that the people are funding an idea, not specific requests from the individuals that funded it. Otherwise the game would end in chaos, since opinions vary greatly from person to person.
That is in my opinion what Ixile did and what is right, they said: "We're making a rpg, top down view, tactical combat, old school oriented, if you agree with this fund it"
and that's about the extent the users should be allowed to decide, if you go into details too much, you're going to end up doing a shit.

Somebody in the US goverment said it already, that if you try to please every person that asks something for you, you're going to alienate millions of people or something like that

Nathan Robinson said...

True, but I think this should almost go without saying...Me personally, I like surprises, as long as they're within the spirit of the original pitch.

Unknown said...

"Fans don't know what they want."

Is this an actual quote from inside the industry? Or just the opinion of a random Internet dweller?