A large number of reactions emerged from the Double Fine Kickstarter news, but one of the first headlines that started popping up around the Web was whether or not the ability to successfully crowd-fund a major title is a revelation for the future of the industry.
Kickstarter is not going to rewrite the book on game development. Double Fine's success simultaneously shows independent developers a new avenue for advertising and funding their releases while retaining creative control. It should also force publishers to review what the market (read: game players like you and me) really want.
This whole thing reminds me of when Radiohead released their (terrific) album, In Rainbows, back in the halcyon days of 2007. Radiohead fans waited four years for a new album when the band suddenly announced that they were releasing a new collection of music. On top of that, fans could pay whatever they wanted for the music and download it directly to their computers.
In an unprecedented move, Radiohead completely ditched the record labels and trusted their admirers to appreciate the value of music. Some reactions on the Internet called the decision the future of music. Double Fine's announcement triggered the same variety of reactions in the gaming world.
A cursory look at the music industry five years after Radiohead's experiment shows that artists are still making gobs of money while signed to multimedia conglomerates. However, there now exists many more avenues for up-and-coming groups to market their work without needing the approval of another company. Radiohead's experiment wasn't ultimately for their benefit. It was for the little guys.
Let's get back to video games. Independent developers have been successfully avoiding publishers for a long time. Thanks to the rise of digital distribution and the "buy an early version of the game to fund development" model that Minecraft made popular, getting a publishing company to agree to distribution rights is much less important now.
Using Kickstarter to fund video games is not a new idea (you can find a gaming section on the site), but the Double Fine announcement put tens of thousands of eyes on the platform as a viable way to back development without needing to pitch the idea to a publisher. And that is how it will impact the industry.
The Psychonauts studio put their "old school" adventure title on Kickstarter, and look where that got them. They received 200 percent of their requested funds in less time than it would take to properly pitch an idea and sign a publishing agreement.
And Double Fine gets to keep complete creative control.
The traditional software publishing system isn't going anywhere in the next few years. Music isn't as good a comparison here, as publishers are more restrictive than major record labels as far as what they put out these days.
I understand that corporations don't want to take risks. When you are spending $40 million on larger games, the next Call of Duty is a better play than a quirky point-and-click adventure title.
But really, Double Fine's fundraiser should make the big boys step back and ask, "Do we really know what our audience wants?"
Next time, instead of going with what you know, why don't you ask us?
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