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With Kickstarter, gamers take control

Ben Bergman Nov 21, 2012

With Kickstarter, gamers take control

Ben Bergman Nov 21, 2012

In the ’80s, Brian Fargo created a post-apocalyptic role-playing game called Wasteland.  The game charmed critics and became a cult hit.

“‘What about Wasteland?’ They were always asking about it,” says Fargo. “But I would tell publishers that but they didn’t want to hear it. So I tried to get a sequel and I pretty much had given up. But then I heard about Kickstarter and thought, this could be it.”

Fargo says publishers weren’t interested in role-playing games. They were looking for the next billion-dollar franchise. The video game he wanted to make was more like an indie movie.

“We were a bit of an endangered species,” he says. “Oftentimes, there would be people that wanted to make the games and there were people who wanted to buy the games yet there was a retailer or money issue between you and them. So with Kickstarter, which is money, and with digital, which replaces retail, we can now open up that direct relationship.”

The  majority of funders pledged the minimum amount: $15. That lets them download the game when it’s scheduled to come out in a year. If you wait until then, Fargo says you’ll be paying at least $30. He initially set out to raise $1 million — that’s how much he said it would cost to produce the game he wanted.

“And we blew through that in 48 hours,” Fargo says.

Nearly $3 million poured in.

And he’s not the only designer who’s seeing Kickstarter gold. A few weeks ago, a game called Project Eternity raised almost $4 million, according to executive producer Adam Brennecke.

“We were very surprised,” says Brennecke. “We did not expect that at all.”

Though most backers give the minimum amount, there are plenty more pledging $500, $1,000, even $10,000. They’re enticed by premiums. Project director Josh Sawyer the more you give, the better your gift.

Sound familiar?

“The whole Kickstarter process is similar to a public radio funding drive,” says Sawyer. “We really want to keep people enthusiasm and feeling like ‘We’re not done.’ We still have another goal to meet, another pledge to attain.”

No tote bags here, though. And those donors who give $10,000? They get their own portrait within the game, and the chance to meet the game designers in person.

What no one gets on Kickstarter is a guarantee projects will be completed as promised. There have been scams on the site.  Some projects took people’s money and disappeared.

There’s also the fact that these Kickstarter “donations” are going to for-profit companies; you take all the risks of an investor, without any of the upside.

Project Eternity’s Adam Brennecke says that all the money goes into the game.

“We have a reputation,” he says. “We are an established company. We’ve made these games in our history. I think that’s a level of trust we have with our fans, that we’ll follow through on our pitch and deliver a good game at the end of the day.”

To keep funders in the loop, companies post frequent updates about their progress. When we visited Brian Fargo, he was seeing what his backers thought of some of the video game’s new theme music.

“We’ve had 86 comments here already. And it’s been unbelievably positive,” Fargo sats. “With Kickstarter, a lot of the top talent is saying, ‘Hey, I could do this myself.’ Because this is a fun existence. We’re having a blast here. There’s no politics, no BS, it’s fantastic.”

The tens of thousands who funded Wasteland 2 trust he’s onto something. Fargo says with Kickstarter it almost feels like 1983 again — at the dawn of the video game industry before big money and big publishers came along: Video games are about the gamers again.

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