The Dream Is Over, Though Not Dead (Gunlord’s Kickstarter Retrospective)

Well, I hadn’t mentioned this in December, but with the release of Phoenix Point, pretty much every project I kickstarted (Over 80%) has been mostly completed, one way or another. Nearly all of them still have stretch goals and DLC to meet, of course, but at this point, with the exception of Xenonauts 2 and Forsaken Castle, the “base game” for all have been released. As you might imagine after reading many of my posts on the subject, I won’t be shelling out for any more crowdfunders. But now that it’s all done with, at least for me, I figured it might be appropriate to take stock of my experiences as a whole, looking back over all of ’em in context and with the benefit of hindsight. I’ll not go over them chronologically–rather, I’ll put them in descending order of how satisfied I was, or am, with the process and what I ended up getting out of it.

1: Battletech (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/webeharebrained/battletech)

Easily the best investment I’ve made in Kickstarter. It had its problems–delays, one promised goal not really making it in (the mech gladiator thing), and some stuff with the publishers, but I put in 250 dollars and got all my physical rewards on time (I’m still wearing my bomber jacket), and the game itself is my 8th most played game on Steam, at 180 hours. Man, I wish all my kickstarters ended up like that…

2: Blasphemous (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/828401966/blasphemous-dark-and-brutal-2d-non-linear-platform/posts)

Very happy with this. While a couple of the stretch goals are still in development (the collaborative boss, and a few other things), and the final game did have a couple of flaws (bad voice acting and occasional frustration), overall I got exactly what I paid for. Though delayed, the digital rewards (artbook, OST, and comic, all for about 60 bucks) were nice and the game itself is very solid, smooth gameplay and satisfying, visceral combat. Definitely a thumbsup from me. However, I haven’t put quite as many hours into it as Battletech, so it’s #2 in my book.

3: Dark Devotion (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1997592363/dark-devotion-a-gloomy-indie-roguelike-rpg/posts)

I paid a nominal amount (just the base game price, about 18 bucks) to this campaign and it came out within a reasonable timeframe (a little under 2 years, so accepting for delays, very reasonable for crowdfunded ventures). However, I didn’t like the game itself so much, several design decisions made it less than the sum of its parts, as I describe here. Still, as I said in that entry, the game despite its flaws was a decent effort from first-timers, and they did do their best to deliver to their backers. So it’s #3, I can’t be too disappointed, in contrast to…

4: Phoenix Point (https://www.fig.co/campaigns/phoenix-point/updates)

Put 95 dollars into this one, and tbh I’m sorta glad I didn’t put anywhere near as much as I thought I would into it. I started off so, so excited for it. Writing fanfiction, participating in the discord, everything. I thought it would absolutely be the greatest planetary defense simulator ever published! But, as I mentioned in a previous entry, it was released last month and…well, it’s not bad on its own, but compared to my expectations, it was super disappointing. Unbalanced, MUCH less content than I expected, and so on. Getting sold out to Epic didn’t help things much either. I think more than anything else this soured me on crowdfunding, because I was so personally invested in the project not just succeeding, but being absolutely incredible. I guess it was my fault for setting my expectations way too high, though. But as I mentioned in the Youtube video I made about crowdfunding, personal/emotional investment is a trap it’s easy to fall into in this scene. Thus the fact that Phoenix Point gave me a particular taste of that bitterness, which is part of why I now advise folks to stay away from the scene as a whole.

5: Bloodstained (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iga/bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night)

This project is probably the one that has had the most direct positive impact on my life, even though the progress of the project itself was…*very* uninspiring, to say the least.

I’ve described it quite a bit before–it’s another Metroidvania from the creator of Symphony of the Night, and I put 500 dollars into the campaign to thank Igarashi for all the hour of joy, and the many friendships, he’s given me. Over the money I gave, I’ve done a pretty decent job as community moderator if I do say so myself. But the Kickstarter itself? SO MANY DELAYS, drama with dropped platforms (Wii U, not so bad since it went to the Switch, but the Linux port was dropped entirely), the Switch version itself not being up to par, the side game being good but so many people didn’t get proper codes for it, the switch from Inti Creates, problems with the release, so many bugs and glitches, little news on the remaining stretch goals, and last but not least the massive wait for physical rewards (my castle map only came recently, and I’m STILL waiting on the Yoshitaka Amano poster), the whole ordeal was (well, is, since it’s still ongoing) exhausting. For most other folks, I wouldn’t say the 500 dollars was worth the inconvenience and drama on its own, but in my case, even so…

For me, I think it was worth 500 dollars, handily. As the old saying goes, the true Bloodstained was the friends we made along the way, I suppose. The friendships I’ve earned with my fellow mods and members of the community are worth a million bucks! And besides, the base game itself was very good–not as good looking as SotN or even Blasphemous, but the gameplay and exploration was solid and the OST excellent. So despite the troubles I can’t complain too much–a recurring theme here, haha!

6: Muv-Luv (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/muvluv/muv-luv-a-pretty-sweet-visual-novel-series/posts/2660056)

Probably the worst one overall. Now, I should make clear this wasn’t a total failure, or even a failure at all, technically–I did get the base game, and the physical and digital rewards came eventually. However, the delays, the delays! Here’s a comparison: Blasphemous was funded in may 2017, and I got the (almost complete, aside from the goals) game and my digital rewards a couple months ago, in mid 2019. For Muv-Luv, on the other hand, it was funded in September 2015 and I only got the last of my rewards (the digital codex) a couple of days ago, just at the end of 2019. So it took twice as long as Blasphemous, though comparable to Bloodstained (and slightly better, given how many stretch goals Bloodstained is still missing). That wouldn’t be the worst thing, though–there was SO much drama attending the project, ranging from an acrimonious departure from the main company’s old collaborators (Degica) to issues with censorship, and so on, and so forth. At least I got my physical rewards ok, but in general, the sheer amount of bad blood generated by this kickstarter (even Bloodstained, which had as many delays and problems, still hasn’t been abandoned by its fans to the same extent this Muv-Luv release has) just left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, the worst of the projects I’ve backed.

Aside from those, here are the miscellaneous leftovers of my crowdfunding experience–projects that either aren’t videogames, or that I paid nothing or close to nothing into:

Xenonauts 2 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/69341191/xenonauts-2-strategic-planetary-defence-simulator)

This hasn’t been released yet, but by all indications it’s going very well. I bought the original Xenonauts on Steam, put 80 hours into it and didn’t regret it. The original Xenonauts was a straight XCOM clone, no more, no less, just with a few quality-of-life improvements like an improved air game. Xenonauts 2 looks to be pretty much the same except with a slightly revamped Cold War setting to add in some new diplomacy stuff previous games didn’t have. The updates are constant (on the forums at least), they’ve been keeping me in the loop, and from the sound of it they haven’t run into any problems. So even though this hasn’t come out yet, I’m confident enough I’m gonna get my money’s worth that I feel I already have. Still, that’s the same thing I said about Phoenix Point, so I just may bump this down several notches. But at least I only put 25 bucks into it rather than 95, along with a lot of time and passion on fanwork (as I’ll mention later), so even if worst comes to worst it won’t be too much of a loss.

Girl Genius: Queens and Pirates:

This one’s going pretty well, it’s a printed volume of my favorite webcomic, Girl Genius. As always, delays, they haven’t printed out the physical book yet, but they sent me digital copies of my stuff so I’m fine with that.

Battletech RPG:

This is the old-school tabletop miniature game that my favorite Battletech game on Steam is based off of! I only put in a dollar to see how things were going with this, but hot damn, that was the best return on any investment I’ve made on Kickstarter, EVER! One dollar and I got a ton of free e-books. The project itself seems to be going very well, it’s not released yet but they’re constantly (and I mean constantly, like more than once a week) giving everyone updates and stuff. Nice!

Indivisible: I didn’t back this, but a friend of mine gave it me. If I donated a reasonable amount (like 30 dollars or so), I’d be feeling meh about it. On the one hand, the art and music are well worth the price of admission. On the other hand, despite the sheer number of characters, the battle system gets very repetitive, the exploration isn’t the best, and the plot isn’t super compelling. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the game, though maybe I will eventually, and they haven’t finished their stretch goals either. But, ah, well, again, the music and art are SO GOOD that I wouldn’t be overly disappointed even if I was a backer.

Near-Complete Loss: Forsaken Castle

I put 12 dollars into this because the creators visited the Bloodstained forums and were very nice. It seemed like a cute Metroidvania appropriate for young folks or those new to the genre, so I gave ’em some support. Unfortunately, it’s been just about 3 years and they’ve made essentially no progress, aside from the first demo they started with! According to them it’s because they keep hitting problems IRL, but it’s been months since they’ve updated the Kickstarter. Well, at least last I checked they were responding to comments, but at this point it’s been so long I’ve just written it off completely.

My general thoughts? Honestly, now that I’ve looked everything over, taken stock of my experience as a whole rather than dealing with each project individually as it came, I have to say I ended up pretty well. Precisely none of the projects I backed, so far, have been complete failures (i.e never even releasing the base product), except for maybe Forsaken Castle. I’ve gotten something from all of them, and even better, I got all the physical rewards/extra things I paid for too, which is very lucky! But even so, I think I’m not gonna give any, or at least much, more to crowdfunders in the future. I got very, very lucky, but even that was pretty taxing, as was the case for Phoenix Point. And there are TONS of people who are MUCH worse off than I am! Backers for That Which Sleeps, Project Phoenix (the Yasumi Matsuno one), Yogsventures, and many other projects have been completely left high and dry. There’s just no accountability in crowdfunding, almost nothing keeping folks just running off with your money in bad faith. Yeah, I know, Kickstarter (and other platforms) say it’s an “investment,” but as I also mentioned, crowdfunding takes all the risks of investment but without the benefit of an actual return–the MOST you can ever get is the joy from the product itself, which is intangible and often whittled away by constant delays. So, absent any form of insurance or any protection against scammers who just take people’s money and flee, I’ve concluded that I at least, and I think most folks, would be best served to stay away from crowdfunding in the future.

But again, in my case, it was a lesson learned without too much pain. And the more I think about it…

The more I’m convinced that it may have been for the best that everything turned out this way.

As I said above, the Kickstarter model is just too vulnerable to abuse for me to recommend it, and I think most folks nowadays feel the same way. But I wonder what would have happened if the current crop of crowdfunders–Phoenix Point, Bloodstained, etc., as well as Mighty No. 9 (which I didn’t back) ended up better. Yeah, that would have been more satisfying in the short term. Of course. However, it would have gotten people much more excited and much less suspicious of crowdfunding in general…which might have opened the door for real scammers and conmen, not just folks who got unlucky as was the case with most of the crowdfunded problems I described above, to take advantage of many. That would have been much worse down the line! So as strange as it sounds, it’s better for the failures of crowdfunding to come to light as early as possible and in very public ways rather than for successes to blind people to the flaws of the system.

Thus, that’s why I say the dream is over rather than dead. I’m not gonna be contributing to any other crowdfunded ventures, except maybe very, very minimally. However, despite souring on the concept of crowdfunding, I have to say I was greatly personally enriched by my involvement in all of the projects I did back. If it had been mostly a complete disappointment, mostly for nothing, I’d say the dream was dead. And if all these projects just opened the door up to new scams, I’d say the dream was worse than dead. However, as it is, I’d say I had a pretty good dream that it’s time to wake up from. All in all, I’d count that as a win. Better to learn a lesson and avoid a dangerous pitfall when you’ve managed to profit from the excessive risk rather than not getting so lucky and lose like most folks do. And as cliched as it may sound, I think a “learning experience” that ends in overall failure for the general body of consumers as a whole is better than one which lasted longer and then crashed much harder.

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