Are you wondering whether it’s safe to back a game on Kickstarter, Fig, Indigogo, or another crowdfunding platform?
The short answer is “yes and no.” Crowdfunding platforms are legitimate businesses, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the rewards you were promised. In this article, I’ll tell you about my experience with backing games.
What is Crowdfunding?
First of all, what are crowdfunding platforms? They let regular old gamers like you and me help to fund a game in exchange for rewards. The first successful platform to arrive on the scene was Kickstarter. Its mission was to let independent creators and companies (those without a large publisher backing them) go straight to their target market to get funding for a project. The project did not have to be a game.
So let’s say you had a brilliant idea for a game, and you were a game designer, programmer, or graphic artist. You could start a campaign at Kickstarter to raise the funds you’d need to create the game. You might use the funds to hire people to help you, or if you were an individual developer, the funds would pay your bills while you worked on the game.
Over time though, more sophisticated game studios have used Kickstarter. For example, both Divinity: Original Sin games had crowdfunding campaigns on the platform.
If you see a game on a crowdfunding platform that looks cool and you want to support it, you pledge money toward it. Depending on how much money you pledge, you’ll receive a reward. For lower amounts, you might receive a digital copy of the game. For higher amounts, your name could be in the credits for the game, or you might get to design an NPC.
People who have pledged to a game are called backers.
Each crowdfunding campaign has a target amount of money the creator wants to raise by a specific deadline. If the target is met or exceeded, the creator gets the money everyone has pledged. If the target amount isn’t reached, the creator gets nothing.
In other words, you’ll only have to pay your pledge if the campaign reaches its target. If the campaign does not reach its target, you won’t be charged anything, but the game you backed won’t be made, either.
Sounds safe, right? Well, hold on a minute.
The Dangers of Pledging to a Game on a Crowdfunding Platform
There are risks when you back a game. We’ll start with the one you’re probably the most worried about.
You Don’t Get the Game and Other Promised Rewards
The primary danger of pledging to a game is that you never get the rewards you were promised for your pledge. You pledge to a game, the campaign is successful, your credit card is charged, but then game development falls apart and the project is cancelled. You end up with nothing, and you don’t get your money back because the developer has already spent it.
That does occasionally happen, so when you back a game, accept the fact that you might lose your money, especially if the creator has never released a game before.
The bottom line: you can be charged for your pledge and receive nothing in return.
When the Game is Released, It Isn’t as Promised
A second danger is that the game you backed is released, but it sucks. Now, this one will be subjective, though there have been instances where it’s been pretty universally accepted that the game is terrible. Sometimes developers will release a game way earlier than they should because backers are getting antsy for the game’s release. Usually they’ll continue to improve it by releasing updates, but not all the time, and sometimes a game is just too broken to fix.
A game might also fail to live up to expectations because it isn’t what the developers promised. For example, the crowdfunding campaign might have promised day and night cycles, or that you can choose your hair colour during character creation, or that there will be 250 types of guns.
But when the game is released, there isn’t a day and night cycle, you can’t choose your hair colour, and there are only 10 guns. This happens all the time no matter how a game is funded, but it can grate more when you’ve pledged to a game, because you put out money based on those promises.
You Get Scammed
Another danger, though this one is low because the crowdfunding platforms look out for this, is that a scammer could start a campaign with no intention of creating a game. They slap up a great demo video, the campaign is successful, they get all the pledges and disappear into the night. As I said, the danger of this is very low
Kickstarter has a trust and safety page that explains how it operates and how you can protect yourself from making bad pledges.
My Experience with Pledging to Games
I’ve pledged to games on Kickstarter and on a newer platform specific to games called Fig.
On Kickstarter, I backed the following games:
- Divinity: Original Sin
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- The Long Dark
- Underworld Ascendant
All the projects were completed and delivered.
I pledged to the Divinity games because I’d played other games by Larian and enjoyed them. If you’re an RPG fan, you’ll know that the two Divinity games were a success, in fact Divinity: Original Sin 2 was nominated for a ton of awards and made lots of “Best Of” lists.
The Long Dark is a survival game set in the Canadian wilderness. I don’t like survival games, but I backed this one because I’m Canadian and wanted to support the small studio making it. Gamers who enjoy survival games gave it good reviews. Predictably, I wasn’t keen on it, but I expected that to be the case. I’d view this game as a success.
My reason for backing the game shows that gamers back games for all sorts of reasons. In this particular case, I was more interested in supporting the studio than I was in the game it wanted to create.
Underworld Ascendant was a disaster. Yes, it was released, but it was broken, and it wasn’t what backers were expecting. It was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Ultima: Underworld, an RPG that came out in 1992 and was one of the best RPGs of its era. I loved Ultima: Underworld, so I quickly pledged to Underworld Ascendant. Unfortunately the game failed at just about everything it promised.
I waited a while to play it, because the developer kept releasing updates for it. When I finally gave it a whirl, it didn’t hold my interest for long. I found the mechanics clunky.
Some gamers do like the game, but this was definitely a case of a game not living up to what was promised in the crowdfunding campaign.
Late last year, I pledged to a game called Chorus on a platform called Fig. Fig is a newer platform, and it only hosts game campaigns. On Fig, you can also invest in a game, meaning you’ll receive a percentage of the game’s revenues, but you have to pay quite a bit to do that, and it’s a gamble.
I pledged to Chorus because it’s being created by a studio co-founded by David Gaider, the former lead writer at BioWare who wrote many of the characters in the Dragon Age series (and worked on BioWare’s other big games, too).
The game concept for Chorus is also new. It’s a musical adventure game. Yep, you read that right. A musical. The characters sing their dialogue. I couldn’t resist this one.
I’ll find out in late 2021 whether backing the game was a good idea.
A Word About Rewards
Game campaigns offer all sorts of rewards, and some of those rewards are ultra cool. I wish I’d backed Pillars of Eternity. I definitely would have backed it if I’d known about the campaign. I don’t follow the crowdfunding platforms, so unless I hear about a campaign on social media or at a gaming site, I’m oblivious to its existence.
Some backers of Pillars of Eternity created backstories for NPCs, or wrote tombstone epithets, many of which were quite interesting, for the many tombs scattered around the game Those were cool rewards.
Of course, what you receive will depend on how much you pledge. At the lower tiers, you’ll usually receive a digital copy of the game and perhaps get to participate in a beta or early access phase.
Higher tier rewards, which will require a much larger pledge, might mean your name will be in the game’s credits, or you’ll be able to design an NPC, or you’ll be invited to the game’s release party and meet the team.
I usually pledge at the level that gets me a digital copy of the game. Sometimes when the game is released, the game’s retail price is pretty close to what I pledged. In other words, I didn’t get a break on the cost of the game by backing it. But that’s okay. When I back a game, it’s because I want to see it created. I’m not looking for a discount.
The Bottom Line
Backing games on crowdfunding platforms is usually safe. But in some cases, you might not get the rewards you were promised.
I only back games by developers with some type of track record. That goes against what crowdfunding platforms originally wanted to do, which was to give indie developers a way to fund their game ideas. For many of those developers, the game they’re trying to fund would be their first.
But I work hard for my money (as the song goes). Not backing a game doesn’t mean I can never play it. If the game is created and released, I can buy it then. And if I enjoy it and the developer creates a campaign for their second game, that’s when I’ll consider becoming a backer.
You might have different criteria for backing a game. The important thing to know is that backing games on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Fig is usually safe. But as with any time you pay money for something to be delivered in the future, it’s a gamble, so don’t pledge more than you can afford to lose.