How to Tell When a PC or Video Game Kickstarter is Bad.

In an industry that continues to grow every year and expand the scope of its horizons, there are very many new interesting technologies and concepts out there. But what scopes and concepts should you absolutely avoid in the context of modern game development? We will cover this in-depth here on TechInGaming.

The Red Flags of a Kickstarter Pitch.

In the video 30 Things I Hate About Your Game Pitch, Brian Upton talks about the different pitfalls game developers fall into when pitching their games. On Kickstarter, a pitch is oftentimes all you’ll have to judge a project and determine whether or not it’s one you should back. While not every instance he talks about here is applicable to games crowdfunded by Kickstarter you’ll find that a lot are relevant and will absolutely help you get an idea of what to look for in a Kickstarter project. We will only discuss some of the points in the video, but it’s well worth watching it all the way through.

Upton’s first point in the video above touches on whether or not a team can actually bring their project to fruition. Are they able to deliver what they’re pitching? After checking out a Kickstarter project one of the first things you should do is take a look at the background of the people pitching you this idea. Questions you want to ask yourself might be “Do they have industry experience?” and “What were their past projects?” Another important question to ask is “What were they doing before this project?” Recent industry experience is important because if the last game they made was from 10 years prior how do you know that their skills are good enough to compete in an industry that will go through several major improvements during that timeframe?

Asking these questions are an important step in researching the developers behind the project.

If They Promise the Moon, They Might Not Even Make it to Space.

A lot of Kickstarter projects are very ambitious. For many developers, it might even be their “dream” game. While ambition is good to have, it can ultimately lead to the downfall of a project if they promise the moon and back. Does a developer on Kickstarter know the obstacles they need to overcome or are they simply pitching you their dream game? Brain Upton points out that if a developer says “Yeah we want to do a thousand person multiplayer game with 1,000 people firefights… then alarm bells go off,” because “if you say something like that that sounds dangerous and hard and then you don’t explain how you’re going to pull that off then that makes people nervous” (Brian Upton [9:14]; GDC 2017).

A lot of people criticize publishers for being to strict and limiting creative freedom. But this is how games are made and published every year. If someone has no oversight and they just add whatever feature they want because it sounds good with no real thought on how to accomplish the task, it’s already destined for failure.

Hype Can Sell More Than the Product Itself.

Pitches are easy, especially in a day and age where you can add cool effects to really enhance your video. You aren’t live-pitching on Kickstarter as you would a publisher so there is a lot of freedom here to do whatever you want… and that includes deceiving people and driving hype. Hype can sell more than the product itself, especially on Kickstarter when pitches really pander to emotions and try to invoke a positive reaction.

In a more general article by Tim Barribeau and published by the NYTimes, How to Spot a Bad Kickstarter (and Why We Don’t Cover Crowdfunding) from 2017, Barribeau says “Is it trying to do a million things at once, like the aforementioned Coolest Cooler (4-in-1 cooler) or BauBax (15-in-1 jacket)? Both were heavily delayed, had major issues, and ended up being more expensive and doing a worse job than buying good versions of all the things it could do separately” (Barribeau; 2016).

While those were for physical goods and not a video game, the points still ring true today, four years after it was written. Think about what the developer is promising. A glaring red flag is when they claim to be making “the best game ever” or throw everything they can possibly think of into the project with no idea on how they will accomplish it.

Basically, think of how many games in the past have been driven by hype alone, but then failed to produce a product that even met expectations… it happens more than you might think. And not just on Kickstarter. Even Fallout 76, a game with publisher oversight, suffered from this problem with their promise of a fancy bag if you bought the $200 preorder, but excited buyers got crappy nylon bags. Though again, that was for a physical product, and being a publisher, they still finished their game. They also gifted people 500 Atoms if they contacted support.

A final thing to look into when it comes to a Kickstarter project, especially when it comes to video games, is whether or not they have a working prototype. How does the prototype stack up to what they promise? How far along are they and does it look like they can reliably deliver their product within the time-frame they’ve specified? Remember, pitches are easy to make, delivering on them is the difficult part, especially if the project is very ambitious.

Communities Are Great Places For Information.

The next thing you can do to further gain insight on the project is take a look at the community surrounding it. What are the general reactions from the public? Are they good or bad? Reddit is a fantastic place for information. Especially if the project is massively successful there will likely be a subreddit dedicated to it.

Stick around the community for a while before making your decision. Do you notice any patterns? What do they often upvote on Reddit and what do they downvote? If criticism of the project is censored heavily that is a red flag. Censoring can happen in the form of downvotes as the parent comment is hidden after getting -5 downvotes or by mods removing comments.

However, do make sure to look at what kind of criticism is getting downvoted. Did the user have good intentions when making the criticism? And by that I don’t mean constructive criticism, not all criticism necessarily needs to be constructive, especially if developers have failed to deliver on their promises… but I mean are they genuine in their criticism or are they a troll? Trolls typically detract from the conversation, but good criticism (even if not constructive) can add to a conversation. That said, if a community is constantly labeling people trolls simply for voicing concerns then that’s a problem.

Now What?

Well, you’ve done a significant amount of research already if you’ve gone through the points discussed above. Certainly, there’s a lot more research you could do that was not discussed in this article, but if you watch the video and read the article above those should provide a good enough foundation to begin your journey. Keep in mind that a lot of pitches on Kickstarter will have bells and whistles. They will do everything they can to get you to back their project.

Feel free to take a look at the Kickstarter Fulfillment Report. It will give you a lot of insight into various statistics regarding projects on the site. Note how Kickstarter says that “Projects that raise less than $1,000 fail the most often.” But don’t let that fool you into thinking bad projects are easy to spot. They aren’t. In fact, the worst projects often end up being the most successful in funding.

If a project has a lot of traction behind it and is just absolutely smashing their funding goals and it’s one you want to back it’s best to get a bird’s eye view of the situation first. Are their goals realistic and who are the people behind the project?

At the end of the day, what you do with your money is up to you. This article is not here to dissuade anyone from backing a project on Kickstarter. On the contrary, this is simply here to help those looking for more information. What you spend is up to you and that is creative freedom no one can take from you.

Relevant Sources:

  1. Brain Upton’s 30 Reasons I Hate Your Game Pitch (GDC 2017)
  2. How to Spot a Bad Kickstarter (and Why We Don’t Cover Crowdfunding) (Tim Barribeau; NYTimes 2016)
  3. Kickstarter Fulfillment Report

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