Welp, it’s once again been a while since my last post. Sorry. It’s just been a very busy month for me so far, and when I’ve got so much else to do there are two seemingly contradictory factors that get in the way of updating this blog. One is that when I have so much work to do I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be messing around with games, even if it is for a greater purpose instead of just playing or creating games for their own sake. Another is that although I generally enjoy creating games, when I’m doing it for the blog it kind of begins to take on some characteristics of work. Though the former reason is probably the predominant one.
The issue is not that I don’t have enough to write about. I’m still working on the Wander game (albeit not as actively as I’d like, due to the above reasons), and there’ll be more posts about that. And while in my last post on Super Tony Land I wrote that I was unable to complete the levels I was working on because I couldn’t open them in the alpha version of the editor, it turns out that I can open them sometimes; it just takes a few tries; so I want to complete them after all despite the issues (and despite the fact that by now the Kickstarter is ended and I have early access to a newer version of the game).
(Speaking of which, at my Kickstarter backer level I get to help design a block for the game, and I haven’t replied to the backer survey yet because I haven’t decided what kind of block I want. Got to figure that out sometime soon.)
But for today’s post, I’ve made two posts about successful Kickstarter projects for game creation systems, and I said at some point I was going to make a post about unsuccessful Kickstarters, so… I guess now’s as good a time as any.
I’m not writing about these projects with the intent to make fun of them. Some of them I probably would have pledged to had I known about them at the time (and had the money to spare). Some of them despite not meeting their Kickstarter goal went on to be made anyway without the Kickstarter money. Some of them… well, okay, some of them maybe do deserve a bit of ribbing, but we’ll see. Anyway, mainly I’m writing about these projects just because I hope some people might find it interesting to see what systems have been pitched on Kickstarter in the past. And like I said, some of these projects did go on to be made anyway, so maybe some readers will find out about some systems that might interest them.
I’m also going to speculate a little about the possible reasons why these Kickstarters didn’t reach their goals. I am not claiming to be a Kickstarter expert—I’ve never done a Kickstarter of my own, successful or otherwise. I do know people who have, though, including a producer who just got distribution for a science-fiction feature film that he funded through Kickstarter, and I’ve heard enough from them about their experience and advice that I feel like at least I’m not a complete Kickstarter ignoramus.
Of course, there are some major factors going toward a Kickstarter project’s success that can’t really be judged by looking at the Kickstarter page after the fact. Probably the biggest one is: How active were the creators in getting the word out about their project? For a Kickstarter to be successful, people have to know about it. It’s possible some people may just randomly run across it and decide to pledge—I’ve done that myself in the past, at times when I had more money to spare than I do now, just browsed Kickstarter for promising projects and pledged a few that piqued my interest. But it’s not likely enough people will find your project that way to make its funding goal. A lot of people seem to think Kickstarter is just a source of free money, that they can just slap a page up there about something they want to do and wait for the funds to start rolling in. But unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, it doesn’t work that way; running a successful Kickstarter campaign is a lot of work. Either through social media, or through word of mouth, or through endorsements, or all of the above, you have to drum up interest; you have to make sure people know about your project somehow.
So yes, looking back now it’s impossible to tell how much the creators of these projects did that, what measures they took, or didn’t take, to reach out to people and get the word out about their project. But there are some things we can tell from the Kickstarter pages. What kinds of rewards did they offer? How much information did they provide about their projects? Did they make regular updates to keep interest high? These may not be the only factors behind the success or failure of a Kickstarter project, but they may at least contribute, and they may be worth discussing.
In my posts about successful Kickstarters, I discussed three projects per post. In these posts about unsuccessful Kickstarters, I’ll do four per post. This is partly because there are more of them, so putting more in a post will help get through them more quickly, but it’s mostly because the number of unsuccessful Kickstarters I found for game creation systems happened to be divisible by four.
Once again proceeding chronologically…
Launched: April 23, 2012
Amount Raised: $180
8BitBoss Game Creator is, according to its Kickstarter page, “a full featured solution to make a drag and drop RPG game for mobile platforms”. The video shows the map editor in action—using tiles from RPGMaker, which isn’t a great sign, but presumably those are placeholder graphics and the final product was intended to have original graphics. The video also shows a tile graphic being edited in place, directly from the map editor, and the new tile being immediately placed in the map. That’s a neat feature I don’t recall seeing before.
Unfortunately, the project barely made 1% of its goal. Which is a pattern we’ll be seeing a lot of, actually. It seems that most often Kickstarters either get fully funded, or they only make a small fraction of their goal; there are some that come close to being funded but don’t quite make it, but those are the exceptions to the rule.
So what went wrong in this case? Well… let’s start with the video. It shows the system in action, which is good. But there’s no sound, which is bad. It really would have helped to have some narration to discuss the product’s functionality. Also, the video’s resolution is surprisingly low (which is why the screenshot above is so blurry).
Speaking of the product’s functionality, that’s something the page could have gone into more detail about. The list of features on the Kickstarter page include lots about map and sprite editing, but nothing about the actual game. In fact… could it actually create a game? Or was it just a map and graphic editor? On the one hand, if it’s really “a full featured solution to make a drag and drop RPG game for mobile platforms”, well, maps and graphics certainly aren’t the only features of an RPG. On the other hand, in the first paragraph it says only that it “can help you create all of your graphic assets for your next project”… so is that all it does? But, um, halfway between the two hands, the project description says it can be used to “create the code and assets for your next game”… so it does do code? I don’t know. It refers to other development kits it works with (Lime, ImpactJS), so it looks like maybe they’re intended to do the heavy lifting and 8BitBoss is just a map and graphic editor. Maybe. But then the project description says that it can “export complete projects with all of the core coding framework in place to immediately run your game on a mobile phone”, and refers to “code templates”, so… I guess possibly it is actually supposed to produce a playable game, but if so there’s no information about how or whether you can customize enemy stats, create events, or… do pretty much anything else required for an RPG except make maps and graphics. I’m still not sure exactly what it does.
So that’s one strike against it. Another is the lack of updates. Successful Kickstarters usually include a lot of updates to keep interest high; the creator of 8BitBoss made no updates on his Kickstarter page at all. Of course, with only six backers, it doesn’t seem there was ever much interest to keep high in the first place; my guess is that he didn’t do enough to get the word out about the project. Still, the complete lack of communication here can’t have helped.
It also means I can’t check the final update to see what happened with the project post-Kickstarter, since there is no final update. Still, some googling shows that apparently the creator didn’t give up on the project entirely… at least, not right away. Several years later, there was a dedicated website for the project, offering an alpha version of the product for sale. But that seems to be as far as it got. At the time of this writing the 8BitBoss website gives a 403 error… but a whois search shows that the domain was just renewed last month, so maybe the system’s creator still has plans for it and the 403 error is a temporary glitch. On the other hand, the website of the associated company, Think New, doesn’t mention 8BitBoss anywhere, which doesn’t seem like a good sign.
So I don’t know. The current status of and future prospects for this project seem as unclear as the question of just what the heck it was supposed to do in the first place.
Launched: September 18, 2012
Amount Raised: $99
This game is described as “a platform game featuring a level editor that allows players to create new challenges to share with friends.” So far so good. I’m not sure what about it makes it a “tribute to Donkey Kong“, though; nothing about the screenshots, the video, or the description seems to have anything to do with Donkey Kong. Except… I guess maybe the protagonist is supposed to be Italian, like Mario? So is every platformer with an Italian protagonist a tribute to Donkey Kong? That… seems a rather tenuous connection.
Okay, also you jump on enemies’ heads to defeat them. That is also like Donkey Kong. Still not enough to make a strong association.
Well, okay, on further consideration there’s also the overall goal of rescuing a captive from a giant enemy, though it’s the protagonist’s soul instead of his girlfriend, and a giant devil instead of a giant gorilla. So there are I can kind of see what they were going for, I guess, and there are some parallels, but I’m still not sure anyone would look at this game and immediately think “Donkey Kong”.
Notwithstanding the Donkey Kong connection, or lack thereof, it seems from what little is shown of the game that it could be a capable enough platformer. The video shows a bit from the alpha version and the animation is lacking, but it looks like it could have decent gameplay. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing to raise any red flags. The premise is that “Nick, our hero,… must beat the Devil to free his Soul.” Which he apparently does by climbing ladders, jumping gaps, and jumping on or whipping gumdrop-shaped devils. (Presumably there was going to be a wider variety of enemies in the final game.) It looks like it could be a decent game.
So what went wrong this time? Well, there’s one thing that admittedly probably wasn’t a big factor in its failure, but that I found a bit grating. Here are the first two paragraphs of the game’s description:
Nick’s Redemption, a new spin on the 1980’s Donkey Kong add’s something new to platform gaming. “Community Driven Development”.
We want to give the community the thrill of designing new levels, sharing them and watching friends compete for the best time.
That’s not new. That’s not new at all. Level editors in platform gaming go at least back to 1983, in which year both Lode Runner and the much less famous Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory included level editors. Granted, the levels weren’t shared online then, but that’s because the internet wasn’t a thing yet. In the time since the internet has been a thing, many, many games, platformers and otherwise, have included level editors and allowed people to share levels online. (I don’t know how many have specifically tracked the best times for each level… but that seems like a minor detail.) I like the idea of “community driven development”—heck, I basically made a blog about it—but please don’t pretend it’s something unique and innovative that nobody’s ever done before.
This, alas, will be another theme we’ll see again with these unsuccessful Kickstarter projects—the promotion of some standard, widely implemented game feature as if it were a new and visionary feature of the system in question. Please don’t do that.
But as I said, that probably wasn’t really a major contributing factor to the Kickstarter’s failure. So what was? Well, there weren’t many rewards. Just two tiers: $1 gets your name on the game; $25 gets early access. That seems unlikely to have excited many potential pledgers. Probably, though, the biggest factor was again failure to get the word out. Once again, it’s hard to tell after the fact what the creators did at the time to try to spread the word, but the lack of communication during the campaign does suggest that there may not have been much communication before the campaign, either.
Though, then again, even if the creators did get the word out, it’s possible that there just wasn’t enough here to grab people. From what was shown of the game, it didn’t look like there was anything particularly wrong with it, but there was nothing really new or exciting about it either—and that includes the “community driven development” that the creators touted, which, again, really wasn’t anything new.
Launched: October 30, 2012
Amount Raised: £21,834
In my first post on game creation Kickstarter successes, I mentioned that The Game Creators, the company behind the successful Kickstarter for App Game Kit V2, had had three other, unsuccessful Kickstarters. This is one of them.
FPS Creator Reloaded was an expanded version of an existing product by The Game Creators, FPS Creator, which, as you could probably guess from the name, allowed the user to create first-person shooter games. FPS Creator Reloaded would introduce a lot of new features and refinements, including better AI, an advanced graphics engine, a new physics engine, and exterior scenery.
So why didn’t it succeed? Well, first of all, note that it didn’t miss the mark by that much. As I mentioned before, most unsuccessful Kickstarters seem to only make a tiny fraction of their goal. This one got more than a third of the way there. Sure, that’s less than half, but it’s a lot better than most unsuccessful Kickstarters do. (And it had a fairly large goal, too… note that the amount that it got would have met the goals of the two previous projects in this post.)
In this case there really isn’t a smoking gun that makes it clear why the project failed. It was a project by a known company that presumably has people following it; it offered a good spread of rewards; it posted regular updates. My guess is that a refinement of an existing engine just wasn’t exciting enough to attract enough interest from backers. Granted, App Game Kit V2, which did succeed, was also a refinement of an existing engine… but in that case The Game Creators were asking for a lot less money. Maybe they learned their lesson from FPS Creator Reloaded.
After the unsuccessful Kickstarter, The Game Creators went on to put FPS Creator Reloaded on Steam Greenlight, and it later was released as (part of?) GameGuru. Meanwhile, the original FPS Creator has since been released as open source.
Launched: January 2, 2013
Amount Raised: $25,209
Well, I’d say this is definitely the most polished and impressive of these unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns so far. Axis Game Factory looks from the video to be a versatile system with simple and powerful editor tools. The one thing maybe missing from the page is that, once again, it doesn’t say much about the actual gameplay, and pretty much focuses on the map and model editors. In a way, that’s understandable; certainly those are the most visually impressive parts (and this system certainly is visually impressive!) Still, it would be nice to know more about its other aspects. It does say it has “gameplay editing tools”, but what does that mean, exactly? Does it support a form of scripting, or is everything done another way? Or, since it’s built in Unity, is the intent that the user create the game mostly in Axis Game Factory and then do the details in Unity directly?
That aside, it looks good, and I probably would have pledged had I known about it at the time. So why didn’t it succeed?
Well, maybe the lack of gameplay details had something to do with it, but more likely it’s the fact that they were asking for almost half a million dollars. Sure, Kickstarter campaigns for video games have successfully met higher goals than that… but not many, and most if not all of those that did had some serious name recognition. (Of course, many of these highly-funded Kickstarters haven’t actually followed through and produced the goods, but that’s a separate matter.) Axis Game Factory co-creator Matt McDonald describes himself as an “industry veteran”, and that may be true, but he doesn’t have the drawing power of Richard Garriott, or Chris Roberts, or Koji Igarashi, nor has he worked on games with the broad and enthusiastic fanbase of Elite, or Shenmue or Wasteland, or The Bard’s Tale, or the Infinity Engine games. It doesn’t help that nowhere on the Kickstarter page does he list any games he or his company have worked on anyway… the Kickstarter for Planetary Annihilation doesn’t involve any creators with huge name recognition, but they do list some popular games they’ve worked on, and they have testimonials from several luminaries of the video game world, all of which no doubt helped. The Kickstarter for Axis Game Factory doesn’t have any of that, and without it four hundred thousand dollars was probably a bit too high a goal to realistically reach.
Which is a shame, but the good news is that despite not making their Kickstarter goal Matt McDonald and his wife and partner Tammy McDonald went ahead and created Axis Game Factory anyway, and you can find out more and get the system at its website, www.axisgamefactory.com.
Well, that’s four systems, so I’ll stop here for now, and cover the next four in a later post. It may be a while, though, because first I hope to soon have something to show regarding my Wander game… and I’ve still got to finish those Super Tony Land levels…