By John Walker on January 28th, 2014 at 6:00 pm.
Today is likely to be one of the most interesting days for Kickstarter watchers. Broken Age, the adventure game that made the crowdfunding format a gaming household name, is out on sale today. Right now, in fact. So the question that’s left to be answered is: how many people are there who are interested in buying it, who weren’t interested in funding it?
The answer could be: tens or hundreds of thousands. That would be rather fantastic for all involved. With 87,142 backers on Kickstarter, and a further 8,413 “slacker backers” coming in since, that’s already pretty impressive ‘sales’ for an indie game. Nigh on 100k is nothing to be snorted at. Especially for a genre that is now certainly farther inside the margins. But if this is to be a working business model for many, it needs to go on to sell an awful lot more. The money from those 100k ($3,520,254) wasn’t enough to fund the complete project, it turned out – hence the split in two and the hope that sales from the first part can help fund the second. Then, presumably, a hope that it and the second part can themselves start to turn a profit. Clearly they have a head start on most projects, in that money already spent didn’t come from their own accounts. But they now need to find a whole new audience to pay the £19 (an awful lot more than the £9 the Kickstarter tier cost) for a full copy of the semi-released game.
I’ve been critical throughout Double Fine’s campaign (and indeed of many other KS-backed projects) that they’ve gone out of their way to advertise the game to those who already bought it, and heavily restricted promotional material from those who had not. It didn’t seem like good business to me. I can’t help but wonder what kind of public attention the game might have now if everyone had been able to follow along with the documentary as it happened, rather than the contingent who were getting the game whatever. (I also can’t help but wonder what difference it might have made to the potentially toxic nature of backer communities if the results of their donations had been for the many, not the few.) By deliberately restricting what could have been understood as extended commercials for the game, I fear that they’ve shot a portion of their potential sales in the feet.
I really hope I’m proven embarrassingly wrong. What a tremendous sight it would be to see Broken Age dominating Steam’s top spot, and bringing in a massive windfall to a superb development studio. It’s tough out there in a market dominated by multiplayer survival-me-dos, and it would be an enormous source of personal pleasure to see a single-player game up there.
Broken Age is a decent adventure. It’s not the stunning game-changer I was hoping for – it certainly isn’t up there with DOTT or Grim. However, what I’ve learned from a few of the extraordinarily positive reviews is that lots of journalists haven’t played an adventure game since the late 90s, and for them the act of returning to the genre is enough to win a great deal more affection. If that pattern is true for others, that distance from the format makes the heart grow fonder, then perhaps this trend will apply to the public too.
It’s worth noting that some of my biggest criticisms in my review have been addressed. The interface will be greatly improved in today’s launch version, now designed for PC rather than tablet. Of course, that doesn’t meant the game’s deepest flaw – the lack of a “look at” ability, thus rending a crucial layer of depth – has altered. But it’s still good news.
So now we’ll see. A solid game, a lot of public attention, but a great deal of secrecy, and obviously a huge proportion of the audience already own it: where does that go? From today we get to find out.