Kickstarter has deemed 2012 the "Year of Gaming," because seven of its eleven projects to top $1 million in pledges were games. More games have been successful at Kickstarter than any other category of product.
At first glance, you might be tempted to think that games on Kickstarter consist of little more than Medieval RPGs and tabletop games. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find it’s the launching platform for a wide spectrum of game genres.
It’s also become a venue where a lot of veteran creators and developers go to revive old franchises and genres that modern publishers aren’t willing to take chances on. Don’t feel too bad for those indie devs, though. A successful Kickstarter campaign gives them the freedom to make their game their way, with no corporate meddling, and reap 100% the profits. It’s a sweet deal. The catch is, your Kickstarter campaign must be successful.
If it is, then you reap the rewards, and can achieve a massive success without the help of traditional publishers. (Which makes me wonder how those publishers will adapt to operating in a world where crowdfunding is a major part of producing games.)
Here are the ten big gaming success stories of 2012.
1. Double Fine Adventure
When the creator of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and The Dig hopped on Kickstarter and asked for funding to go back to the genre he helped build — adventure — he asked for $400,000 and crossed his fingers. Not knowing what to expect but hoping for a modest success to fund this project and the in-depth 2 Player Productions video documentary that would chronicle its making, Schafer and his Double Fine Productions were astonished to see their pledge total reach its goal in just nine hours; after twenty-four hours, it topped $1 million. It was the first Kickstarter project to ever reach that mark. The campaign ended with $3.3 million in pledges from fans hungry for more of Schafer’s adventure gaming magic.
Today, production is well underway on the project that’s been codenamed Reds, and backers are getting almost constant updates on progress and access to artwork, production logs, personal insights, and new chapters of that 2 Player Productions documentary. The game is going old-school, with its reliance on 2D graphics, but Schafer has pledged that it will be “fresh and modern,” and feel as if it were the very next game he’d made after Grim Fandango, fourteen years ago.
Fourteen years is an awfully long time for fans to wait, but the Double Fine Adventure proved that when you make good stuff, fans will follow you anywhere.
2. Star Citizen
After creating some of the defining works of the space shooter genre, including Wing Commander and Freelancer, Chris Roberts took a break. A long break. Around 1998 or ’99, when he wrote and directed a big-screen movie based on Wing Commander, he left gaming behind to go on and make movies. (His producer credits include The Punisher, Lord of War, and Lucky Number Slevin.)
Now, about thirteen years later, Roberts is ready to make his comeback. His new venture, the independently-produced Star Citizen, proves that his fans remember the quality of his work very well indeed. Star Citizen is a space sim for next-gen, high-end PCs, set in a vast new universe. It will feature two of Roberts’ favorite play styles — trading and dogfighting — with a seamless experience that encourages tons of exploration. Making the game unique are its persistent universe that keeps going whether you’re logged on or not, and the payment structure. Simply put, there isn’t one. You’ll pay for your initial copy of the game, but there will be no subscription fees.
On the strength of Roberts’ reputation, Star Citizen raised $2.1 million, well exceeding its $500,000 bare minimum goal. Another $4.8 million was raised at the game’s website, bringing its total up to almost $7 million. (Not the Kickstarter record, but currently the most crowdfunding money ever raised for a single project.) In so doing, Roberts has sent a very loud message to modern publishers: they’re dead wrong. There really is an audience for high-end PC gaming. Money talks.
It’s pretty telling that the first three projects on this list are all works of veteran game creators. Tim Schafer, Chris Roberts, and now, Peter Molyneux.
Much like the devs above, following his exit from Microsoft and Lionhead Studios, Molyneux was disenchanted with the system. In desperate need of breaking free from the chokehold of big-name publishers, he created 22cans, an independent games developer. 22cans is different because they’re making more than just games. They view their creations as “experiments,” from which they will learn how to do bigger and better things. Their end goal is a massive game title/franchise that will build on all of the things they’ve learned from these experiments.
Their first was the cubelet-popping mobile title Curiosity. Their second is something resembling more of an actual game. It’s called Godus, and it’s a modernization of Molyneux’s own work in the “god game” genre on titles like Populous. For Godus, Molyneux has turned to Kickstarter for support, and at the time of this writing, is almost halfway to reaching his funding goal, with more than two weeks still to go. Godus looks like a sandbox blast of a game, fusing the best of yesteryear with modern technology and a fun art style.
4. Project Eternity
Scoring almost four times its $1.1 million goal, Obsidian Entertainment hit it out of the park with their proposal for Project Eternity. The company behind some of your favorite RPG sequels and add-ons (including KOTOR II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas) put their biggest, most ambitious project ever up on Kickstarter and asked for supporters for a game that will not run on television consoles. (Noticing a trend yet?) Instead, Project Eternity is headed to PCs, Macs, and even Linux systems near you.
An original IP, Eternity is an old-school, isometric-view (top-down from an angle) real-time strategy/RPG, with more than a passing resemblance to Baldur’s Gate, along with elements of Planetscape: Torment and Icewind Dale thrown in for good measure. With party-based gameplay, the real-time strategy elements include a pause function, so you can strategically coordinate the attacks and abilities of your party. All the features you remember and hold dear from classic RPGs are here, including exploration quests, dungeon crawling, deep dialogue trees, and loads of choices. Obsidian even hopes to get more financial support from fans in the future to fund new and ongoing story lines.
Project Eternity currently ranks as the highest crowdfunded video game ever to raise its funds exclusively via Kickstarter.
5. Wasteland 2
The year was 1988, and Fallout was not even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. Post-apocalyptic RPGs didn’t even exist yet, but that all changed when Wasteland was born. Today, many gamers aren’t even old enough to remember the original Wasteland, but those who do know that it was celebrated as a breakthrough — and one of the greatest PC games of all time. It stunned players by forcing them to make moral choices, as that had never been done in a video game before. Not only were choices built into the game, but consequences were as well. These two things brought a whole new dimension to gaming, immersing players in its game world like no game had ever achieved before.
Wasteland 2 has been a very long time coming. After acquiring the Wasteland license from Konami nine years ago, inXile Entertainment took its time in dreaming up the highly-anticipated sequel, and was inspired to jump on the Kickstarter bandwagon after Double Fine’s success. One of the standout features of inXile’s proposal is its promise of reuniting as many of the original game’s designers, artists, and programmers as possible. They’ve already got creator Brian Fargo, designer Alan Pavlish, designer Michael Stackpole, and designer Ken St. Andre. The story and music are being crafted by major artists from Fallout. And the pledges more than tripled the $900,000 goal, which gives the developers a great deal of leg room to build a bigger, more expansive and complex world.
If you’ve never heard of Homestuck and know nothing about it, it’s a tough nut to crack. Because there’s really nothing else quite like it. The brainchild of Andrew Hussie, Homestuck is sort of this wild mishmash of interactive storytelling and Internet community building. It’s the story of a group of Internet friends who play an adventure video game together and inadvertently cause a very long, unexpected, and hilarious sequence of events. Hussie began the concept with these bare basics, and then solicited ideas from his fans and readers about where the story should go next. New pages in the story were added in a wide variety of formats, including comic panels and Flash animations.
When the story of Homestuck concluded, Hussie took to Kickstarter with a new idea: build an actual adventure game based on his one-of-a-kind online story. Fans jumped at the chance to help him make it happen, to the tune of $2.5 million. The quirky, bizarre universe Hussie and his millions of fans created will now come to life in a whole new medium. Thankfully, the game now has a budget that will allow for far more impressive production values.
Imagine an arcade car racer set in a Tron-like pseudo-digital world, where you drive a car that can not only go off-road, it can transform to adapt to any terrain — including flight through the air. Distance is a “spiritual successor” to Nitronic Rush, a little indie title that got rave reviews and legions of fans a few years ago. It featured a similar art style and gameplay so polished and finely-tuned, it out-gamed arcade racers released by major publishers. Distance takes everything the developers learned from that experience and builds on it exponentially, with a brand new game engine built from scratch.
Distance looks like a blast, and while its Kickstarter didn’t set any records at a meager $162,000, it topped its goal, and Refract Studios’ proposal was good enough to get endorsements from industry heavyweights like Epic’s Cliff Bleszinski. The game is currently planned for a PC, Mac, and Linux release when its done.
8. Planetary Annihilation
What if the 1997 RTS hit Total Annihilation took place on a planetary scale? What if you had access to multiple star systems with hundreds of dynamic planets that can be conquered or even completely obliterated? And what if you had up to one million units at your command?
That’s the concept behind Planetary Annihilation, which is being made by many of the same craftsmen who worked on Total Annihilation all those years ago. It will support anywhere between two players all the way up to forty — all playing the same game. You can also look for a troop system that puts special emphasis on commanders, so if your commander dies, you lose.
Planetary Annihilation looks like it’s got the stuff to take RTS players back to their roots with intense, complex gaming, along with plenty of modern ideas and design to help bring the genre into the 21st Century.
9. Shadowrun Returns
One of two Shadowrun games listed on Kickstarter (both of which were successful), Shadowrun Returns is an RPG being made by Jordan Weisman, creator of the original tabletop Shadowrun game. This new video game met its funding goal in a little more than 24 hours, eventually rocketing up to more than four times that goal. Weisman’s company Hairbrained Schemes plans to release the game for PC and Mac, and in an unexpected move, iPad and Android-based tablets.
For the uninitiated, Shadowrun is a franchise that marries old-school fantasy elements like dragons and elves with a futuristic/cyberpunk setting. From this intriguing idea has bloomed a sprawling, complex mythology involving conspiracies, magic, megacorporations, dragons, organized crime, a global neural network (called “The Matrix” — Shadowrun was born 10 years before the Wachowski’s blockbuster film), wetwork specialists, and Native Americans who’ve taken over most of North America.
The new game will realize the world of Shadowrun with a 2D, isometric setting, and turn-based, tactical RPG gameplay. Weisman describes the experience as having “deep story interaction, meaningful character development, and highly-contextual tactical combat.”
Bestselling author Neal Stephenson, an expert on swordfighting in all its forms, dreamed of building a video game that would portray swordfighting in a more realistic — and more fun — way. So he decided to kickstart a revolution.
Clang will be Stephenson’s dream come true. It will work with an off-the-shelf motion controller, so that players can truly feel what it’s like to swing, block, and hit with real steel. But the key to Clang is its depth, emphasizing multiple techniques, stances, strikes, feints, parries, grapples, and more. The game is being made for PC only, as a PvP arena fighter, but Stephenson’s ambitious plans include a desire to eventually tie the game in with his Mongoliad fantasy world.
It may have just eked past its Kickstarter goal of $500,000, but that’s a half a million dollars worth of real swordfighting. No other game promises to give you what Clang will.