Kickstarter, gold, paper money

Tobold has a few posts on the subject of game funding via crowdsourcing, in other words, Kickstarter projects.

His main argument is that waiting for a game to be sold on Steam for 50% off offers a lot better value than supporting a project on Kickstarter. It’s true that you can get Endless Space for just 10 euro on Steam. You can usually get an AAA games for as little as 30 or 20 euro (recently released and with 80+ on Metacritic).

With Kickstarter you might succumb to the temptation to get some of the exclusive packages, say $5000 for a star system named after you. What’s worse is that you never know if the game will come out, and if it’s going to be any good.

My counter point is simple: crowdsourcing allows for a better alignment of the interests of a game development company and its future customers.

Right now, a corporate executive needs to greenlight a game project in order for it to get funding. What projects get greenlighted? Usually, the safest bets – the latest installment of a franchise, be it Assassin’s Creed 3 or FIFA 2013. Taking huge risks as professional manager is usually not the optimal path for career advancement.

Kickstarter allows game developers to appeal directly to their customers, bypassing corporate decision-making. Is it better? Well, it’s an alternative, and having alternatives is important.

Which leads us to the analogy with paper money. Even as recently as 60 years ago, paper money was a kind of “promisory note”. The bank that issued them promised to give you a certain amount of precious metal in exchange for your paper money. You had to trust the bank that issued them and banks were hard at work to persuade us their vaults are filled with precious metals.

Buying a game from Steam is like taking your gold nugget to the market and exchanging it for a horse. It’s one piece of value for another, ideally, identical piece.

Supporting Kickstarter games is more like taking a promisory note for your gold. You are hoping the game company has gold in its vault and often, they do! It also allows you to carry a lot more value as mentioned above – you get $5000 worth of game, instead of the universal $50.

So what could be done to address the main objection when it comes to Kickstarter projects, i.e. accountability?

Using the analogy, the result would be to have an exchange rate. But we could do better! Why not start a secondary market.

I’m selling my right to name a star system for $3000, even though I bought it for 5000 a week ago. Why? Maybe I don’t believe in the company or maybe my wife saw my credit card statement. Either way, my loss is your gain. It’s also a way to see which projects are going well and which projects are hopeless.

I know I’d be shopping for a deal on those Bones miniatures that sold out before I could get one of the bigger packages!

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