Kickstarter Evolved: Fargo Wants To “Kick It Forward”

By Adam Smith on March 23rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm.


The Wasteland 2 Kickstarter page, which has a goal of $900,000, currently shows over $1.5 million pledged with 25 days left to go. This means the game will release on Mac and Linux as well as Windows but there’s more to the story. In an update, Fargo shares some of the “nice human moments” that appear to have been as pleasing as the vast amounts of money people have hurled at their screens. All the goodwill has inspired the creator of post-apocalyptic hell-zones to share an idea that has the potential to change how we all think about Kickstarter projects, even though I for one am still trying to work out what I think about the current state of Kickstarter projects. Brian Fargo wants to “Kick it Forward”.

Rather than paraphrasing the man’s own words I’ll let him sum up the concept himself:

Any developer that puts the “Kicking it Forward” badge on their Kickstarter project page is agreeing that they will put 5% of their finished product profits back into other Kickstarter projects. To be abundantly clear, this is only money that the developer earns as profit AFTER the project ships and AFTER they have paid their expenses. This is NOT a suggestion to invest money they received from people who invested into their project via Kickstarter.

He cites Minecraft, imagining what would happen if a success of that proportion grew from Kickstarter and pumped 5% of the gargantuan money piles back into other fledgling prospects. Business being business and the world being the world, some Kickstarter projects that reach their funding goal will inevitably fail to make a profit, but if enough money is locked into the system as developers reinvest their proceeds Kickstarter could become a self-powered game generating machine.

Like everything else related to this explosion of interest, any results from an idea like this are a long way off. Wasteland 2 isn’t going to be released anytime soon and it’ll be even longer before its financials can be picked apart and offered up for public consumption, but it really could be an evolution of the Kickstarter ethos. Could it be a further step to challenging the developer-publisher model? Fargo seems to think so.

This economic payback will continue to grow the movement way beyond the current system. I hope others will join me with this idea and make this a true shakeup.

Let’s get the power shifted around a bit!

this is all we have until some concept art comes out but who's complaining?

There’s an argument to be made that successful projects could grow successful companies which then hire promising indies and give them support and funding. Fargo’s vision is different in that the money will be pledged back into the wider community allowing indies to stay indie rather than building a stable of promising outsiders and grizzled veterans.

Like Kickstarter itself, “Kick it Forward, will be an honor system; anyone will be able to attach a badge showing that they are part of the program to their page but that doesn’t mean Fargo is going to be digging through their bins looking for proof of profit-sharing.

Despite the tendency for skepticism and fatigue to set in when something that was initially exciting starts to spread and thin itself out like an own-brand margarine there seems to be a sense of euphoria and enthusiasm from Fargo. Perhaps that’s as much a result of the frustrations of the current state of affairs and the desire for something better as anything else. Whatever the case, he’s a believer.

I genuinely believe that a fan funded approach to development combined with a new flow of investment money can change things up quite a bit here. It will be exciting to see how it all plays out.

I reckon he’s right about that.

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91 Comments »

  1. shaydeeadi says:

    In theory it’s wonderful, enjoyed reading the email when I started work. Lets hope a few people jump on this train.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Agree. Its like this Ubisoft-In-The-Nuts-Kicking-Machine perpetuum mobile I have had daydreams about.

      Fingers crossed.

      • Shuck says:

        We’re not remotely near the level of Ubisoft development budgets yet, though I’d like to see that. I have my doubts it’s possible, however.

      • Geen says:

        I would totally buy that machine.

  2. qd says:

    Calling a game that’s coming out on Windows a PC game is fine because it’s the de facto operating system, but when you mention Mac and Linux and then equate PC as a Windows operating system, it looks a bit silly.

    • Adam Smith says:

      You are not incorrect.

    • Valvarexart says:

      I fully agree. My PC does not suddenly become a not-PC when I install another OS.

      • HothMonster says:

        The PC that I installed a different OS on is now a linux-box, it is no longer my PC. Obviously stupid since PC stands for personal computer which my linux box still is but I would never call it a PC.

        • ChainsawCharlie says:

          Well Linux-box implies that is used for something other than gaming. But it is possible to have a Linux Gaming PC ™

      • Premium User Badge

        PoulWrist says:

        Blame Apple for not calling apples oranges. Or PCs Macs, as it were. Now you say “I have a PC” and “I have a Mac” while the two are the exact same things: Personal Computer.

        Instead, you should say “I run OS X” but since most people don’t even know what an operating system is, let alone that a Mac runs OS X, they just know that PCs run Windows.

    • Wizardry says:

      Indeed. It even annoyed me when people started calling DOS computer PCs to differentiate them from C64s, Amigas, Atari STs etc. They are all personal computers, just with different hardware and operating systems.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Well you can thank IBM and, er, Compaq I think for that one. The “compatable” has fallen off the end of “PC compatable”.

        I liked the term “microcomputer”, myself.

      • Premium User Badge

        jrodman says:

        It’s laziness.

        IBM Personal Computer.
        IBM PC.
        PC.

        I prefer to say the whole name for things, most of the time. This sort of thing breeds stupidity.

    • Premium User Badge

      lurkalisk says:

      Blame Apple. They don’t seem to think they’re selling personal computers, but rather some revolutionary device that ought never to be weighed down by the archaic, soul crushing, not at all hip acronym “PC”. So you get this largely invalid distinction pushed by their marketing wherever they hold sway.

  3. Xerian says:

    Thats actually a pretty damned intriguing idea… It has the potential to be sodding brilliant.

    • Prime says:

      My sentiments exactly. Game devs helping each other to make their games? Genius, and absolutely the way forwards I want to see.

  4. bill says:

    I think it’s an excellent idea. Which gets over the fact that people seem much more willing to donate money to well known game companies than to unknown indie guys.

  5. deke913 says:

    Brian Fargo could produce a game about excrement in a forgotten language, utilizing only the escape key and music made from fingernails on a chalkboard and I would buy it at this point.

  6. gaertner says:

    But someone should make their page fancier… :/

  7. StevoIRL says:

    People are giving money to people based on reputation alone, the fact is a lot of these games won’t be released for a year or two and more then likely a good chunk of people will get inpatient at why there money hasn’t gotten them anything. Honestly I don’t see the Kickstarter fad lasting that long. For small projects yeah it’s great but when you starting taking in more money then you expected the expectation for you to produce a GREAT game and not just an ordinary game takes over.

    • Wunce says:

      I agree in that this is the most likely outcome, but I like to hope for an alternative:
      People keep funding indie games over a number of years so by the time they fund another, a previous one reaches maturity.

    • mangrove says:

      I’m fairly enthused about it myself. I think creative people with NO creative constraints (other than what time & money allow) and working on their own terms you are much more likely to end up with a great game.

      As for impatience. I’m not so sure, I’m guessing most people buying into this are older gamers with other things to be getting on with. I mean I pre-ordered Natural Selection 2 a year and a half ago (which is basically the same as kickstarting it). I haven’t played any of the betas but I’ve checked out how it’s evolving and I’m still looking forward to playing it. So at least for me I don’t mind waiting for the goods.

      Pretty sure I did the same thing with Amnesia as well, can’t remember how long the wait was for that.

      • frightlever says:

        Older gamers are worried about saving for retirement – I doubt they make up the bulk of people pledging or anywhere like it.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I think constraints can actually be good for a creator. Look at Grim Fandango’s style, which originally came from technical constraints or look at George Lucas’ unrestrained vision for Star Wars. It’s a lack of creative control that really hurts projects.

    • DiTH says:

      I agree.I think this will die down fast.
      And what it needs to go to the next level is a proportional split of the profits.For example,it seems fair to me for someone that invested the 0.000001% of a project to get the 0.000001% of the profits also.Or the 0.000001% of 50% of the profits while the company gets the other half.
      In the end i believe that companies will start promising shared profits to get more funding.
      OFC this is a bit different from the current “Kickstarter” programs,as atm you prebuy something when at the next level you will invest in something.

      • Premium User Badge

        Thermal Ions says:

        I doubt it. The legal and tax complexities just get too large, particularly when dealing with a lot of individuals with small amounts. When you throw different countries and states into the mix, all with different rules it reinforces why Kickstarter isn’t an investment arrangement.

      • Shuck says:

        Right now using a Kickstarter-style funding mechanism as a micro-investing scheme isn’t even legally allowable in the US. There are people trying to change that, but it may be that the cost of setting it up would still be large enough to scupper the idea even if it were allowed.

    • yutt says:

      FTL, PixelSand, Forge Quest and Code Hero were funded based on reputation? Awareness of Kickstarter is increasing, and donations to projects, of all types, is increasing. You have absolutely no evidence to base your cynicism on. All reality flies in the face of what you are saying.

      Celebrity and past success bring more attention and funding to specific projects, but there is nothing to suggest worthy small projects won’t continue to get the much smaller amounts of funding they require.

    • Shuck says:

      There’s certainly a huge bump in awareness of Kickstarter right now, since it’s getting press on a level that it didn’t receive before (as evidenced by this site, for example), and I do wonder what will happen when the novelty wears off. I’m not sure that long development times are going to be an issue, as the relatively small amounts of money that Kickstarter can raise means short development times. The two largest projects are still planning for a year, or less, of development.
      My concern is what will happen when a project collapses. Most games that start development never reach completion, normally. It’ll eventually happen with some Kickstarter games (that it hasn’t happened yet is because so many projects are already half-finished by the time developers solicit Kickstarter funds, and have small-scale projects that are finished quickly). How many people will be willing to invest when they know previous projects were never finished?

  8. pkt-zer0 says:

    “By gamers, for gamers”, indeed.

    This is a great initiative, I hope it works out.

  9. Blackcompany says:

    This is a fantastic idea. I applaud Brian Fargo for this initiative, and I think this could really turn the tables on big publishers. I for one would love to live in a world where developers and fans decide what they want to play and then fund it directly. It looks like we very well could be headed in that direction, and I welcome the change.

  10. Meat Circus says:

    Fargo has done just about everything right with this Kickstarter. Lovely things like this are icing on the cake.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      Yeah, I was really impressed by how Schafer handled the Double Fine one but I think Fargo has lifted the bar even higher. It’s weird, a couple of weeks ago I hardly knew who he was (even though I’d played his stuff) but I’d now rate him as one of the game devs I most admire.

      • Sarlix says:

        Snap.

      • Wizardry says:

        It beats me how someone doesn’t know the founder of Interplay.

        • MistyMike says:

          Yes, not to know the people who gave us Stonekeep? Feh!

        • LionsPhil says:

          Probably because he hasn’t really done the whole name-on-the-game celebrity thing like Meier or Romero, or built a whole empire under him like Newell, or been the centre of a hype firestorm (until now) like Notch or Toady. Or even done talks to the extent of Spector.

  11. JackDandy says:

    It’s pretty damn ambitious. Hoping it can help some people out and supply us with better games.

  12. Raiyne says:

    I love it. More power to the people, and spreading the love around. :D

  13. wodin says:

    The pressure to produce something amazing though is going to be allot more intense on the developer especially when they start raking in alot more than asked for. Think of a house renovation, they all usually go over budget, same I’m sure applies to films and games and many other projects. His 1.5 maybe swallowed by the PC development alone in the end. So what does he do then, as he has to then make a two ports! He may also find it eaten away and still not produce what he is promising for the PC title.

    This is what I worry about.

    • tyrionlayton says:

      Think of a house renovation, they all usually go over budget, same I’m sure applies to films and games and many other projects.

      Yes, I’m worried about this too. Even if Double Fine and Brian Fargo manage to stay in budget, I worry what will happen if this becomes a major thing with dozens of games being funded this way. It seems unlikely that every studio will be able to stay in budget. It could only take one or two high-profile flops before people really sour on the process.

      It’s interesting to compare this recent hype in computer gaming to boardgaming, where Kickstarter has been a huge thing for a while now. There have been several successful KS boardgames already, though the the stakes are much lower. ($10000 would be considered a successful fundraising, rather than the millions of dollars needed to make a computer game.) But for boardgames the design is almost entirely done before the kickstarter is even started. The money is for the cost of artwork and manufacturing, so there is very little risk that the game won’t get made at a profit if the funding is successful.

  14. Prime-Mover says:

    Another way of kicking it forward, would be to go all in, and pledge to release the game under an open source license. Certainly it would – all equal – produce more funding, but it would also let other developers cut costs on development, thus letting them focus on the core issue, namely producing great games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Malibu Stacey says:

      No it wouldn’t, stop bleating the same tired old Linux user clichés.
      Also there’s nothing to stop games developers using existing freely available open source projects for the same end for example Ogre3d which is used by Torchlight and other commercially successful games.

      • Prime-Mover says:

        No, what wouldn’t? Wouldn’t it produce more funding, by catering to the idealistic crowd? Wouldn’t it let others cut costs, by letting them use other developers engine developments and modifications?

        • Premium User Badge

          Thermal Ions says:

          I suspect that “idealistic crowd” you mention who currently do not contribute, but would if open sourced, is rather small and wouldn’t really make a significant difference.

          • Prime-Mover says:

            It might be wishful thinking from my part, but at least in terms of future projects, if I had to decide between donating to two equally awesome projects, I would prefer the team which weren’t too insistent on guarding their intellectual property i.e. the one with the open source badge.

          • Premium User Badge

            Malibu Stacey says:

            Thankfully not everyone is as naive as you Prime-Mover.

          • Prime-Mover says:

            @Malibu Stacy
            I’m all for voicing my opinion whenever I feel like it. Only this morning I was screaming at one of my farts, how much I like ice cream. But if I were in the business of convincing someone else, I would probably, at the very least, try to establish an argument pertaining to my position on the subject.

            So, if I may ask, why would the world be such a terrible place, if crowdfunded video games aspired to being open source?

        • Premium User Badge

          jrodman says:

          There’s probably a number of more moderates, like myself, who understand that games are not infrastructure so that open sourcing them is not really very important, but yet still would be more likely to support a venture that is planned to be open sourced.

          Game levels and such have no need to be Free. However, music, textures, engines, librararies are all pretty useful and contribute to the common wealth. And that’s good for everyone.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It would do bugger-all to cut future development costs.

      What it would do, though, was help the game live longer. See Warzone 2100 for a concrete example: no pissing about with compatability mode, or virtual machines, or random hacks, because people have the source and can keep making fixes and ports to new platforms even once the developers have moved on.

      If the developers didn’t want to deal with Linux in the first place, it increases the odds that it’d see a community-ported Linux version too.

      It’s not even strictly necessary to make the game free in money, either, by holding the “data” assets back as proprietary. Militant free software types will scream at you, but thankfully they can be easily ignored because they do that to everyone all the time.

  15. MrStones says:

    Genius but I think we still have to see how a finished KS product works on a profit side of things. For example if 84~ thousand of us all ready own a copy of Double Fines adventure how much of a market is left for people to actually purchase the finished product. If 90% of adventure gamers worldwide all ready have a copy how much profit can be made from the final 10%?

    Also one thing i’ve never understood is what happens to all the surplus cash that some of these have all ready have donated to them? Is Shafer gonna make 2million quids worth of a adventure game or are the writers/coders/whatever going to get paid a obscene amount of cash for their work?

    • Prime-Mover says:

      You make a good point, but I gotta say that I doubt the average steam-user or gamespot reader, has ever heard of kickstarter. Kickstarter is atm for the diehard fan, not the casual gamer imv.

      • Ragnar says:

        Or there’s people like me, the cautiously optimistic but risk averse. I like adventure games (loved The Longest Journey) and like post-apocalyptic RPGs (loved Fallout 1+2), but I’m not sure that the products of these kickstarters will be something I’ll like, let alone want to pre-order. So I’m going to wait until they come out, read the reviews, try the demo if there’s one, and then buy them if they look good.

    • GiantRaven says:

      ‘Also one thing i’ve never understood is what happens to all the surplus cash that some of these have all ready have donated to them? Is Shafer gonna make 2million quids worth of a adventure game or are the writers/coders/whatever going to get paid a obscene amount of cash for their work?’

      That’s pretty much where the profit for the games comes from before the game ships. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

      • MrStones says:

        Not trying to say there’s something wrong with these guys making a profit but are we going to end up with a case of say me working as a “insert job title here” , already guaranteed my % of the surplus development cash without anything worthy to show for it. If i do a sub par job will i still slink off into the night with my grubby mitts on the donated cash even if the finished product ain’t worth shit and makes zero profit?

        I’m sure i could make my point easier if i wasn’t massively hungover but that kinda sums what i’m trying to say

      • Ragnar says:

        He said that all the money will go back into the game, which I take to mean that they’ll pay people the standard salary, but they’ll have more people working on the project for longer, and perhaps hire better outside (voice acting) talent.

    • qd says:

      Is Shafer gonna make 2million quids worth of a adventure game

      Yes, they’ve mentioned that on their Kickstarter page FAQ and in some interviews. More release platforms, music, voice, programmers, longer development time, and so on.

      • MrStones says:

        Looks like I gotta read that FAQ again, Cheers for clearing that up though

  16. Sarlix says:

    I predict a new golden age.

    Or utter disaster. However I’m optimistic for the former.

  17. frightlever says:

    Bit of a reductio ad absurdum but – three years from now you have Kickstarter derived profits being used to fund other Kickstarter projects, along with an injection of funds from pledgers. If the Kickstarted profits are substantial it will make people who pledge feel less important and that may even dry up. It basically becomes a traditional publisher model with developers doing a lot better out of it, and no safety net for projects that falter. It’s almost pure Darwinism with Kickstarter projects having to fight for funds from the previous projects that succeeded.

    Discuss.

    • Ragnar says:

      1) It won’t be a traditional publisher model, since the publisher won’t dictate the game content / design / production schedule, and won’t take a cut (or all) of the profits. If the game sells after release, the studio gets the profits immediately, rather than waiting for a publisher to recoup its investment first.

      2) I feel that people get more excited, and more hopeful, as the number of backers and the funds for a project increase. Most people contribute just enough to get the game, so $10-15 or so, but get excited when they see the project hit $1.5 mil or $3 mil or whatever, since that improves the odds of the project being completed and being a higher quality game. I feel that the bigger the band wagon, the more likely people are to want to get on it.

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      I think you’re forgetting the rewards that pledgers will get regardless of the current funding state of the project. Your $15 may not be important to the project when others are pledging a thousand dollars, but it will get you the finished game eventually, which is what drives a lot of people.

    • bohzak says:

      “If the Kickstarted profits are substantial it will make people who pledge feel less important and that may even dry up.”

      This is possible but not necessarily true. A successful dev investing in another kickstarter could also help draw attention to that project (‘If Shafer wants to play this game then maybe I would too’) and thus possibly draw more funds from a wider range of people.

      Good point about the safety net though. And there’s no way to do QC as far as I can tell. Bit risky with software/art projects/anything with a development rather than just a production period (whereas for kickstarters with a physical product they can make a prototype so you more or less know what you’re buying).

    • wccrawford says:

      I had the same concern and have been largely ignored for it.

      When a kickstarter’s main source of funds is the people who want the game, it’s quite a bit different than when the main source of funds is an angel that is throwing money at them. If they aren’t careful, it won’t be long before people are creating projects designed to cash in on this type of funding, instead of trying create a game people are willing to fund.

      I’m not really against giving back, but I’m against giving back without thinking about the consequences.

      When Notch contributes to a kickstarter, he does it because he wants that game to exist.

      When a company pledges 5% to future kickstarter projects, they’ve now got an obligation instead. They’re pledging because they’ve pledged to pledge, not because they want the project to succeed.

      I would love to be wrong here. I would love to have this turn out rosy and awesome. But there is so much potential for pain, and I want them to be very careful about that.

      • somini says:

        I would say it’s more of an excuse for those big projects to back projects that they want, except with a lot more money.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Four things. They’re selling you something as much as you’re funding them, so the moral component, while very, very important, is not the whole thing. Also, developers are already doing this a little bit by giving each other the 10,000 rewards.

      Finally, a lot of the money in this model is front loaded already, so the kickforward would be relatively small. The profits they make will probably be pretty small, so I don’t think it will be a huge flood of money. Doublefine’s game would need to sell 230k copies to be able to fund a game of the same budget and kick back 5%. That’s five copies for every two backers. Even then, the kick forward would only be 100k, or one max reward tier for ten different games.

      The amount of money needed to fund games just isn’t there in kickforwards. If every company makes about what they already have made, and each one kicks 5% forward, Doublefine, Wasteland 2, Banner Saga and FTL could only put a combined 260k forward. That’s not even enough to fund the first two’s original budgets, and would only fund two of the third.

      Also, ending a post with “discuss.” is self-aggrandizing and tasteless.

  18. Temple says:

    This is already a reply fail as I cannot find the thing I wanted to reply to.
    Vaguely off topic as well now I pause to think.
    Anyway, Order of the Stick kinda overshot its $57000 aim by hitting $1250000
    He’s spending lots of the extra on new reprints for his other books rather than just the one he was aiming for. I’m tempted to say devs should do similar? So make more than one game?
    But then they probably didn’t overshoot quite so much, so I guess longer/better/bigger is what they’ll go for.

    And if you never read OoTS then start here http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0001.html

    • LuNatic says:

      That’s almost as evil as linking to tvtropes. If you haven’t read OoTS before, prepare to lose a few days of productivity.

    • qd says:

      I’m tempted to say devs should do similar? So make more than one game?

      I think the general idea is to spend all the raised money on the thing being kickstarted, otherwise people might feel ripped off if the creator starts blowing money on things the backers didn’t sign up for.

  19. Calabi says:

    Why arent the publishers doing something about this? Litigating, suing, abusing unrelated laws.

    Because they cant! HA HA.

    Its nice to see some old ideas coming back, and that natural traits cannot be entirely expunged.

  20. trjp says:

    Why has it taken until now for people to realise that the solution to piracy is to make people pay for the things they want BEFORE THEY EXIST.

    Take this model to the music industry and have the big artists use their advance takings to fund the new artists they like most and you’d wipe out the coke-snorting money-grabbing idiots who are gradually destroying their own industry from the inside out, spunking the money they ‘earn’ into bribing and conning politicians into creating draconian laws we’ve no need for…

    There’s a bit of ‘wake up’ going on here – amid the hubbub…

    • Shuck says:

      There are all sorts of legal issues with this approach, actually. (And when a project finally collapses after getting funding but before release, there’s going to be all manner of ugliness.)
      Also, there’s no proof that this scales up to publisher-level budgets, and they’re the ones getting upset about “piracy.” (Also, given the legal issues, they’d probably never touch this means of funding.) Kickstarter projects very much rely on sales, too, so “piracy” would still be an issue.

  21. theleif says:

    But who will decide to which projects this money will go to? If it’s by committee there will inevitably be lots of accusations of favouritism. If anyone can get it just by starting a kickstarter project, there will be fraud, and the spread of the money will become so big as to become irrelevant. It could work if the money got shared between a invited devs only, but that’s far from perfect either.
    Nice idea, though.

    • Lobotomist says:

      Sorry mate , but that is ridicilous.

      Its their money ( they are investing the percentage of profit )
      They can at least have free choice what project they want to support.

      • theleif says:

        I thought the idea was to give money back to the kickstarter “community”, but each developer choosing what other project to support is probably better.

  22. Lobotomist says:

    BTW they are now accepting PayPal as well

  23. abuzor says:

    Just a word to say I wasn’t that much interested in Kickstarter nor Wasteland, but after reading his interviews and this last project, I really like Mr. Fargo’s approach and thus backed Wasteland 2 as well.
    Way to go, indie funding!

  24. randomRocStar says:

    Awesome idea! I just checked out the site, and came across this small gem. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atomicchimp/feebles-fable