Classic Game Developers Flocking to Kickstarter to Avoid Publishers

Classic Game Developers Flocking to Kickstarter to Avoid PublishersGame publishers care about profit more than just about anything else. Sure, we could argue that statement until I’m blue in the face and you’re too tired to care, but that’s the general nature of business. Publishers are responsible for turning a profit with every game they promote.

That said, it stands to reason that these publishers would stick with what’s safe. Angry birds works today, as does Cut the Rope and larger games such as Mass Effect. Call of Duty still turns amazing profits with each edition released by whatever developer comes out with it. It would be silly to consider funding a game that attempt to reintroduce a genre that has long-since fallen out of popularity among players. Why expand your reach to something old when newer games are doing so well?

A handful of classic game developers, some of which are behind the biggest titles in PC gaming history, have decided to prove the publishers wrong, and Kickstarter is proving to be a capable source of these much-needed funds.

The classic genre that appears to be picking up the most steam in this recent initiative is point-and-click adventure. Sierra Online, Interplay Productions, and other once-popular development houses have long since closed their doors, with rights to these popular classics secured away in a vault somewhere behind lock and key. The genre has long been considered a dead art form, until now.

Surprisingly, fans have opened their wallets and answered the call in droves. Projects are exceeding their funding expectations very quickly, with one actually overlapping its original project goal six-fold. Is the adventure genre really dead? The fans appear to be in definite disagreement with the publishers on this one.

Double Fine Adventure (Unnamed Game)

Tim Schafer, a veteran game developer is now at the helm of Double Fine Productions, an independent game studio filled with talented game developers with a passion for creating games that they would want to play. This team includes Ron Gilbert, who is credited for being the father of the point-and-click adventure genre.

Schafer’s resume includes work on popular titles including The Secret of Monkey Island, a series he worked with Ron Gilbert on. He’s also responsible for a largely popular platform game called Psychonauts.

What sets this new project apart from his recent work is that it is targeted for OS X, Windows, and Linux as well as iOS and Android platforms. Very rarely will a publisher opt to release a game for Linux, an advantage to crowdsourced funding.

The entire process of game design is being documented by 2 Player Productions, a documentary team dedicated to covering and promoting game development and gamer culture. In addition, backers will be included in the decision-making process through the game’s development.

Wasteland 2

Brian Fargo is a big name in the gaming world. In fact, his former company (Interplay Productions) was responsible for some of the biggest games of its time. Bard’s Tale, Fallout 1 and 2, Dragon Wars, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and of course Wasteland.

Wasteland was the game to pick up in 1988. I played it in the early 90s, and it was well ahead of its time in terms of storyline complexity and immersion. Sure, graphics were nothing to cheer for by today’s standards, but the game itself was and still is one of the most innovative of its type.

Fast-forward to today. Wasteland evolved into Fallout due to rights issues, and the game that cried for a sequel never received one. Publishers don’t want to fund a game that hasn’t had an active audience in decades, leaving crowdfunding as the only real avenue for the game’s creation.

Publishers can be pushy, and being the primary financial force behind a game’s creation means the developer gives up a certain level of control over their product. By bringing funding to the fans, Wasteland 2 could be very possible, and would likely be the game fans want to play rather than the game publishers believe would work.

The Banner Saga

Also breaking free of the publisher realm are veteran game designers Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen, John Watson, and their Austin-based company Stoic.

After spending half a decade on Star Wars: The Old Republic, the founders of Stoic have opted to create a game that throws back to an animated gaming experience that is all but lost on modern releases. Combining art, strategy, and an evolving storyline, the Banner Saga promises to be a step back to a gaming experience which is both innovative in its execution and nostalgic at its core.

Like Wasteland 2 and Double Fine’s unnamed adventure project, The Banner Saga far exceeded funding expectations, earning over four times the original project goal. A free multiplayer release is set for this Summer, with more to come.

Leisure Suit Larry

Few games are as memorable as the Leisure Suit Larry series. Al Lowe is a game development veteran responsible for some of Sierra Entertainment’s biggest releases including King’s quest III, Police Quest I, and Leisure Suit Larry.

Al Lowe currently works with Replay Games, a company driven by former Sierra Entertainment employees.

Remaking Leisure Suit Larry just another example of an old point-and-click adventure game finding the funding it needs to be updated and released for a modern gaming audience without publishers pulling at the purse strings. In his introductory project video, he explained that he wanted to create a remake of the first Leisure Suit Larry game without having to dumb it down or make it less adult to adapt to the current standards of major distributors and retailers such as Walmart.

After all, Leisure Suit Larry was always an adult humor game. Changing that, which publishers would want to do, would do little to revive the risqué classic.

With 21 days to go in the Kickstarter project, the remake has already made $271,485 of its $500,000 goal.

Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun is a world of high fantasy and cyberpunk blending the more creative elements of the fantasy genre with a world much like that of Blade Runner.

Making a video game in a classic format based on this world is the goal of Harebrained Schemes, a start-up made up of veteran game designers and talented young developers. Under its belt, Crimson Steam Pirates, one of the most popular games for the iPad.

Shadowrun itself is a pencil and paper role-playing game of old. Bringing it to the video game world brings to mind the many successes Dungeons and Dragons had with Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. While there have been games based on the concept and idea of Shadowrun, none has truly captured the essence of the playing mechanics introduced in the original pencil and paper role-playing game. The proposed video game in this project promises to give players the ability to build their own campaigns and bring friends into the game. Shadowrun is a unique game world that has a lot going for it, though the production of such a complex game is sure to require a lot of funding.

This is where Kickstarter came in. Jordan Weisman laid out the idea behind the project and what a project like this entails. In response, supporters have more than doubled the initial funding goals for the project.

Jane Jensen’s Pinkerton Road

Jane Jensen is another Sierra veteran seeking to bring back the genre made famous by Sierra with fan support. With Robert Holmes, one of the most recognized composers in the gaming world, Pinkerton Road Studio is poised to create games that appeal to fans both old and new. The approach Pinkerton Road is taking involves bringing Kickstarter supporters on a year-long journey which may include multiple game releases and stories voted on by the supporters themselves.

Imagine being a vested member in a community-driven game studio that only makes the games you want to see made. Having a vote and a say in the projects, and receiving frequent updates and benefits as a member of this exclusive club. That’s what this project has brought to the table.

If you’re into games that bring detailed stories and mystery to the gaming experience, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for this studio.

Final Thoughts

This is just five examples of how game developers can and are beginning to break free of traditional publishers by going to the fans for support. By bringing fans in and giving them a say throughout the creative process, these games have a potential that isn’t generally associated with published titles currently hitting the market.

Eddie Ringle, a developer and contributor here at LockerGnome, recently pointed out the dilemma facing developers who wish to create content, but are at the mercy of publishers in doing so.

Perhaps now, with so many of these classic (or classically inspired) games finding the funding they need from the very fans that would support the software, publishers will wake up and begin looking past the Angry Birds and Call of Duty franchises in the industry and start focusing once again on what people really want to pay for, games that inspire the imagination and bring back stories that are both entertaining and immersive.

After all, isn’t that what gaming is about?