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Is Kickstarter the best place for independent video-game developers? We think yes.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

Is Kickstarter the best place for independent video-game developers? We think yes.

The Ouya console, which is the most-funded gaming project on Kickstarter to date. (Credit: Ouya)

One of the best things about Kickstarter is that it cuts out the middle man — the backer, the publisher, the corporation that could alter the content beyond recognition because the product as proposed "won't sell", or place restrictions on what the content delivers because the company has no idea how to market it, or veto the whole project because it's not "what the audience wants".

It's a silly mindset — as Kickstarter is rapidly proving — and it demonstrates how devastatingly out of touch these publishers can be about "what the audience wants", as video-game developers both established and new are turning to the crowd-funding site to get their titles on the market.

Project Eternity, which launched on the weekend, is the perfect example. It's an old-school isometric RPG in the style of Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights — something that we can't see AAA developers touching with a 10-foot pole. But in its first day, it crushed its US$1.1 million base goal, demonstrating that a portion of gamers want more than the endless stream of shooters and action titles coming from the major video-game publishing houses.

The developer, Obsidian Entertainment (which happens to have some seriously awesome names in its roster), made a very good point in its Kickstarter pitch:

It's been almost impossible to get funding through traditional methods for a game like this. The great thing about Kickstarter is that we can go directly to the people who love to play RPGs as much as we love to make them. Plus, we don't have to make compromises with a publisher. We make the development decisions, we market the game, and we don't have to answer to anyone but you — our fans.

One could argue that it's the names behind Project Eternity that vaulted it into the spotlight (and it's probably true), but not having the resume won't necessarily kill a gaming Kickstarter. Ouya, which is the second most-funded project on Kickstarter to date at US$8,596,474 (coming in after the Pebble watch, which netted US$10,266,845), had no obvious console-development experience.

A stroll through the most-funded video-game Kickstarter projects reveals a mix — and while it helps to have something under your belt before you hit the website up for funding, since people are more likely to trust a pitch with a proven track record, it doesn't seem to be a prerequisite.

And, as previously noted, the titles themselves, which gamers have read about and then decided whether they've liked them enough to provide funding, are those that you are unlikely to see coming out of Electronic Arts or Ubisoft.

We know that Kickstarter is for all kinds of projects, from art prints to tech gadgets to documentaries, but the curious thing is that the video-game section seems to have received far more funding than any other. And among the top-funded products in other categories, you'll find stuff that relates to gaming: the Oculus Rift in technology, independent comedy film The Gamers: Hands of Fate in film and video and The Order of the Stick, a comic about fantasy and RPG conventions, in comics.

There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn here: that gamers are more passionate, more Kickstarter savvy or have more disposable income than other demographics. However, given the noises we see around the web about increasing consumer dissatisfaction with AAA publishing houses, we think that it has more to do with an ignored section of the gamer demographic gravitating toward developers that are actually providing an experience they want — and listening to their voices.

Which is not to say that AAA is going away anytime soon, and nor should it; a massive number of gamers will love and buy those games no matter what. But it's a big world out there, and tastes vary — and Kickstarter is allowing developers to add variety to the market in a way that would not be sustainable under the AAA model.

At any rate, one thing is clear: Kickstarter is rapidly starting to shape how developers communicate with and deliver content to their audiences — and we absolutely believe that the shift toward a user-oriented experience can only bring positive change to the video-game industry.