More and more indie developers are turning to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites to help get their games off the ground. It’s not a surprise when many smaller studios are often run on a part time basis with programmers, artists and musicians trying to balance game development alongside full-time employment and in order to dedicate their time completely to their projects they need income to be able to bring their games to market. We’ve already seen some impressive games released this way and promises of more to come – games like Starlight Inception, Broken Sword 5, a wealth of new tables for The Pinball Arcade and forthcoming releases such as Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Red Goddess: Inner World, Moon Hunters and Cosmic Star Heroine have shown the way to what is possible. It’s not all cheer and celebration though as many fundraisers fail to attract the attention and support of Vita owners, but why is that…?
Crowdfunding sites aren’t all loaded with success stories though and more often than not, games fail to reach their funding goals or fail to reach the targets set to bring them to the PS Vita. With Vita owners crying out for more games on a daily basis, surely there should be more than enough support out there amongst the PlayStation community to support all of these developers and bring more titles to the platform, especially as pledging to such projects involves little risk to the backers and once games are complete almost always guarantees a copy of the game so why aren’t more Vita owners supporting them?
Some of the games I mentioned earlier that have been successful are big names or are from major studios and this has no doubt lead to the reason why they have managed to attract the funding that they have needed to reach development. Farsight Studios have now completed four successful campaigns (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Terminator 2, The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone) and will no doubt launch further campaigns in the future to bring the more expensive licenced pinball tables to the home and for the right product thousands of gamers seem to have no hesitation in commiting money to the cause. In fact, Koji Igarashi’s fundraiser for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has now gone down in record as being the most successful video game Kickstarter of all time so they are obviously doing something right.
But that’s just a few of the more well-known Kickstarter campaigns. What of the Vita and what makes a project appeal or is offputting and loses a developer that all-important backing and what could be done to address that?
Looking at many campaigns, a large number have particularly high targets but then devote a large percentage of this funding target towards rewards that are offered to backers. T-shirts, posters, art books, figurines and other “gifts” that – in all honesty, most people aren’t actually going to want. When looking to back a fundraising campaign, the majority of gamers are interested in what the game is, and how much they will have to pledge in order to receive a copy of that game. Having some high-end rewards are all well and good for more established brand names or for projects being run by established developers – certainly exclusive backer-only merchandise relating to Broken Sword would be appealing – but I doubt that it would be to a completely unknown game so why waste resources offering it?
Yes, offering higher reward levels allowing funders to have greater involvement in your projects, personal appearances in your games and the ability to work with you on designing characters / levels etc, but are physical items really essential? Many campaign breakdowns seem to indicate that 10% – 20% of their funds go towards these physical rewards and by removing these or at the very least reducing them could reduce both the initial targets and stretch goals should the campaigns have them, and in turn increasing the appeal to would-be backers.
However, one thing that would be appealing to PS Vita owners as a reward – and this has been proven recently with Retro City Rampage DX – is the promise of a limited edition physical release of a game. Despite costing four times that of its digital release, the 3,300 copy production run of Retro City Rampage DX sold out in a matter of days and the same could happen quite easily with a Kickstarter campaign supporting the Vita and offering a physical copy of a new game.
Talking of stretch goals, this is where I believe that most crowdfunding projects are currently failing to appeal to PS Vita owners. Campaigns that are not confirming a Vita version from day one but hint that it might happen if enough money is raised leaves doubts in a lot of gamers minds. While PC versions are almost always confirmed, not everyone is interested in gaming on their PCs or don’t necessarily want a particular game or type of game for their PC. After asking the question of many PS Vita owners, I had the same response from most who were reluctant to support games that didn’t offer the Vita as an initial platform. For those campaigns that didn’t offer the PS Vita as an option from day one and only did so as a stretch goal, for many gamers these goals were seen to be unreachable leaving them with a game they don’t want should they have decided to take the plunge and backed the game. Unfortunately, right now crowdfunding simply doesn’t offer gamers the opportunity to make conditional backing of projects otherwise it would be easier for Vita owners to be involved.
The reality is that stretch goals are offputting. Even though I have been a Vita owner for a few years, I have only ever backed one Kickstarter project. Most games that have interested me have usually had high stretch goals that have left me unwilling to take a risk or have offered little confidence that a hinted at Vita version would happen in the future. Even then, the only game I have supported was the aforementioned Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and that was only after it had reached its Vita stretch goal.
As a developer, if you know that you are able to port your game to the PS Vita, PS3, PS4, XBox One and other formats, is it so difficult to include these as standard in your campaign and then ask backers what format that they are interested in or to make things even easier at the backer stage simply ask people to choose what version of the game they want. Surely it must be easy enough to set several pledge levels for different platforms so PS3, PS4, XBox One, PC and Vita owners could each choose to back the game separately so the developers could gauge the interest from different platform owners?
Should this type of approach to running a campaign be unsuccesful and it’s clear that console gamers aren’t interested in the game (or certain platform owners aren’t) then by all means, re-start the campaign and drop these unpopular platforms and add them as stretch goals, but if you don’t offer a format, people simply won’t support you. It won’t cost any extra to run a Kickstarter this way and the only real impact is that it will add a short delay to the funding process. The potential benefits however, is that the development could receive a significant funding boost or extra publicity from more gamers talking about the game for their chosen platform. Certainly a risk worth taking.
We’ve talked about Unity a great deal on the site with its use for the Vita natively and for PlayStation Mobile and this is quite possibly the key to crowdfunded titles. Regardless of the intention of developers, if they want to maximise the support they receive for their projects they should really consider Unity as their primary development tool for their games. Regardless of what platform they release their games for initially, using Unity will make porting it to other formats incredibly straightforward. The only real work that will be needed is revisions to the visuals, control methods, user interface and optimisation to ensure that the game runs properly. For those who may have doubts about the relative ease of the process, Richard Ogden, the sole developer of Minutes, managed to port the game from the PS Vita to the PS4 working on his own in just one week. While the game certainly isn’t the most complex of titles, it does serve to show that using a common development tool can speed up the process immensely.
Even if the Vita version is released months after an initial PC release I don’t think that would be an issue for many as long as it was confirmed from the outset that a PS Vita version was happening. If anything, it could potentially draw supporters from other platforms as well that support Unity and that was certainly the case when Unity was introduced for PSM and a large number of iOS and Android developers quickly started to port their own titles across to the Vita.
Porting to the Vita
One final thing I have noticed, especially with several of the more successful Kickstarter campaigns I have seen over the last couple of years is that many of these games have made it across to the PS Vita but in the original fundraiser have made no mention of the Vita. There’s either been no reference to a Vita release, or it was listed as a stretch goal with was subsequently not reached. I know that I am not the only PS Vita owner that uses the handheld as their primary gaming system and would certainly be more likely to back a project were the Vita an option from the start as I said earlier. Broken Sword, for example only mentions consoles as a possibility in the campaign, yet it’s a game I would have willingly supported if the Vita were a standard option. In the end, I purchased the game for the Vita on release.
Can things improve?
It is genuinely positive to see so many Kickstarter campaigns adding the PS Vita as a stretch goal. The Vita’s strength as a console supporting indie developers is something that we should all be proud of and it’s clear that developers do appreciate and understand that releasing their games for the Vita is good for business but many are still apprehensive when it comes to taking the first step. There are publishers such as Curve Digital willing to step in and bring these successful projects to the Vita when the original developers can’t but we are seeing more willing to take the plunge but if more of us do contact these developers running campaigns and ask them to support the Vita then hopefully we’ll see more of these innovative titles coming our way.