Well, my name is Luke Crane. I'm in New York City. I've lived here for over 20 years. It's rather impolite ask a man his age on the first date.
And I am the head of games at Kickstarter. So, I interface with creators, help them launch projects, answer questions, and also represent the kind of games creative community internally when we're discussing product and changes. I am also a game designer and a publisher myself. I've been publishing my own games since 2002 and I have recently started publishing other people's games.
I guess just to start, obviously you have a bias, but how strange is it that funding has become sort of a spectator sport? [Laughs.] What has that been like to watch and observe?
It's pretty cool. I mean, I remember the dark old days: The time before the dawn, when we did things like pre-orders. I remember the time before Kickstarter and I was very skeptical when Kickstarter launched and when it had a lot of buzz and whatnot. I'm always staring squint-eyed at things that people are raving about. I wanna make sure that they're healthy and happy and good for the whole community.
So, anything that seems faddish to me, I'm always very skeptical of. But, you know, the more I looked at Kickstarter, the more I saw the real benefits for the community. And now, having used it, I think, six times myself, it's this great opportunity to not only get an infusion of cash at very critical junctions in your project's life, but it really is this incredible visible way to put an idea up in front of your community and basically talk about it for a month and kind of have a little bit of an Internet party about it for a month. And, I mean, that's that the thing that we've just never had before. Right? That, "Hey, everybody, surprise! We're gonna talk about this crazy idea for a month."
We had PBS, but this is a little bit different.
It's very different. It's not a fundraising drive. We're not having a bank of telephones with celebrities calling you saying, "Please, I'll give you a tote bag if you support me!" And it's funny, it seems like it should be that, but it's just not. We're not really calling anybody. It's all of our fans and their friends and whatnot coming and saying, "Hey, what the hell are you doing? This is cool! Tell me more.”
Fairly recently you reclassified as a public benefit corporation. With that shift, what you have done to assure that Kickstarter will remain a fair space that encourages a diversity of ideas?
So, it's funny. The public benefit corporation -- I mean, obviously, internally we knew what was going on with this for months or years ahead of the public announcement. And so the public announcement was really just a reaffirmation of things that we already do. So, now, it's good that it's set in digital stone that -- I don't ever have to look at a game and say, "Will this make money?" Or, "Is this gonna be a profitable enterprise?" I mean, I never did that before but now that it's locked in and it's part of our DNA, I mean, I can just point to that when I talk to a creator and say, "Look, this isn't about me assessing you for whether I think you're going to pay my rent or something. This is about whether we think it's a good game or cool idea or just something that should exist in the world." That's just so different from any other type of funding model.
When you say make "us" money, do you mean the creators or do you mean Kickstarter?
Well, Kickstarter, in this case. As a public benefit corporation, we don't have to be driven by profit motive whereas a standard incorporation has a responsibility to make a profit for its shareholders.
We can consider a project under the rubric of public good, public benefit before we look at anything like money. So, it just changes the way you think about doing business from our perspective and about what projects we invite onto the site and creators that we work with. It's great. I mean, it's funny. It's something we've always done, but now that it's kind of out there in the world, it's really nice to be able to point to that and I find that most creators are really appreciative of that.
You guys are more than half a decade old now, I think six years old now. Do people still get you mixed up with GoFundme or other crowdfunding sites when they're either pitching projects or they're trying to approach listing with you?
Honestly, one of the things that I really admire about what Yancey [Strickler, co-founder] and Perry [Chen, co-founder] have done and the communications and editorial and press people, working with them on our team is -- we're a tiny little company. We're tiny. We don't even make that much money. You can figure out how much money we make and it's not that much. But our reputation and the "brand" of Kickstarter is so much bigger than our 100 or so people that work here or any kind of revenue stream or anything like that. If anything, it's the other way around where Kickstarter has become a bit of the Kleenex or Xerox in our space where people say, "Oh, I'm gonna Kickstart this" when they are just going to -- you know, do a yard sale or something.
Has the audience for Kickstarter, either in general or specifically in the games vertical, become more intelligent about what it's funding as far as the risks that are present?
Yes. Especially in videogames, the backers have become very sophisticated. Not just in rewards or whatever, but there's, like -- they assess a project for viability: what kind of demo you have or how far along you are in the process. Now, there's a couple caveats here. One, I think that's great that we've kinda provided the kind of game-playing community a window into the creative process, that they can kind of inform themselves about. That's super-cool.
Two, it's become very clear to me through that process that those people don't know anything about the creative process and are making utterly wrong-headed assumptions and judgments about that's happening on those teams. [Laughs.]
Yeah. I know what you're talking about.
But I think, too, if we're talking specifically about videogames, I think the audience for games has been largely in the dark about the developments of the games they play. And obviously, things like people streaming their developing and email and things that allow for more communication when it's possible and wanted to be broadcast.
But what role do you feel you play in opening up that conversation between creators and fans versus obscuring it? How do you think you have broadened it, and how do you think you could broaden it more still?
I definitely think just the nature of the beast here: Kickstarter has helped on both sides of the equation. Our tools are very simple, maybe even primitive. But just the fact that once your project is done you're essentially blogging about the creative process. That's changed a lot of the way people interact with these things and honestly it's created an audience for that. I advise creators on this all the time, to really tell their story and to allow fans into the creative process because not all of them are going to want it but some of them will and for some of them, that's why they back projects on Kickstarter.
So, you know, that's the way things are now. There's always so much more we could do, though. We're just discovering that -- our platform is very basic. It's a funding model. But as you soon as you say "creativity," "creative process," "games," or "art," there's so much more going on around that than simply collecting money and talking about your idea.
That's essentially what the platform does right now. Everything from conceiving your idea -- how do you take a concept into something that is a project to a viable thing that you can complete? And then once you have completed it on the other side, we're not involved at all in how people deliver this stuff to backers.
I think that's a place where we could support creators a lot more.
I think I saw, maybe it was even last week, you guys are upping the frequency the newsletters or you're starting a special newsletter just for games?
Yeah, yeah. So, we have a bunch of newsletter-type things from Kickstarter but they're all general Kickstarter focus, like, "Hey, this is the cool stuff that's on the site." I've been asking for quite a while now to have a direct line to games backers because games backers don't always just want to hear about the, "Hey, latest game cool launched great back it!"
But at the same time, one of the things I hear from backers is they do want more access to the stuff that's launching. It's hard to sift through all the projects that we're launching. Even just in games. So, I'm trying to honor that side of it and say, "Hey, I look at all these things everyday, so here's some of my picks for the last couple of weeks." Hoping to just be able to speak directly to the games community and not speak to them as general Kickstarter backers but speak to them as people who like games and kind of build out from there.
When a project fails on Kickstarter, what do you guys learn from it as the platform?
I mean, do you learn anything?
Yeah. Oh yeah. Well, first of all, one of the great things about the way Kickstarter works is that there is a sizable amount of uncertainty. It's counter-intuitive. You'd think that uncertainty would be this terrible poison that would doom all these projects. Like, "Oh! It's never gonna fund, so forget it! Ah!"
I've seen those articles.
Right. Well, but those people don't understand how human beings work. And in fact, uncertainty is one of these really, like, quintessential elements of our human experience that drives us to create, to help, to participate. If things were certain all the time, we wouldn't do anything. So, by creating this uncertainty that a project has so much time to fund and it may not fund, it really creates this energy around what people are doing. That said, when a project does fail, I mean, it sucks for everybody but sometimes -- in games, I give people a lot of advice at different stages of the whole process -- one thing I've learned pretty early on, within the first year or two of being here, is that sometimes failure is the best teacher. Sometimes no amount of advice from me is going to help. And sometimes I just need to get out of the way and say, "Go right ahead, launch your project. Go for it." And then -- because failure on Kickstarter really costs very little. We don't charge you anything. In fact, you could even say there's a benefit to just launching a project. Especially if you make it halfway there or something like that because you get access to all those fans. Everyone who backed you, you can still message them and update them and make them a part of what you're doing even though you don't get to collect any money.
Is there anything you actively do to support projects that fail? This might be a strange comparison, but I think of something like OkCupid. I don't know if you've seen, but they do those blog posts with deep data dive analysis about specific user behavior patterns that let people get the most out of their platform?
Do you feel like you do stuff like that? Is there more you'd like to do to help people see correlations or patterns?
Yeah. I mean, we're no OkCupid as far as data analysis goes. They're kinda top-notch as far as being able to look at their own belly button and tell you what they're lookin' at -- or look at your belly button and tell what you're looking at.
Tell you whether they're a match.
[Laughs.] Right. Of course, I'm always trying to provide more insight and data to project creators. I mean, I do try to talk to as many project creators who have missed the mark as possible. I try to reach out to people after the project was unsuccessful and just try to be there for them. I don't want Kickstarter -- at least not in games -- to ever be this arrangement of, "Oh, you failed? Fuck you. Get out of here.”
Because that's just not what it's about. The money is really the secondary thing, so there's so much to talk about when a project is unsuccessful about what your next steps are, what you could do better, what you have gained from this. But, for success and failure both, I am always trying to provide data. Like, I give presentations with tips and best practices and numbers. I pulled all this crazy information for creators about, "Here's the rewards that you put in your projects. Here's what people actually back for." They do not match up precisely. I'm always trying to help, but I'm just one person. There's only so much I can do.
I think, too, there's that other failure, which is not the norm, where people raise money but then end up not delivering. Obviously, you're just one person and you're not on the legal team at Kickstarter, but what sort of discussions take place about whether these failed projects should be fixed through legal processes state to state, privately by you guys, or federal legislation?
Okay, so there's a number of fail states for a project, right? There's a project that is unsuccessful on Kickstarter, that doesn't raise the funds they were looking for. And then there's a project that does raise the funds they were looking for, but is unable to deliver.
So, we worked with the Wharton School of Business, with this guy Ethan Mollick to do a study of the state of projects on Kickstarter. The results for that are just coming out now and one the things that he found is that 90 percent of projects deliver. So, that's incredibly reassuring.
Right. Unless you're in that 10 percent.
Well, right. I mean, one in 10 is obviously a high rate. At the same time, 90 percent is a really reassuring number. It's not that projects are likely to fail or even a flip of the coin whether I'll get what I want or not. It's actually more likely to get what I backed for, but there are gonna be some hiccups.
But in games, one of the things that we're really lucky to have on Kickstarter -- and it's maybe a little more prevalent in tabletop games and I'd like to see it more in digital games, where project creators are really reaching out to help one another and to help each other over any hurdles or even just take over the development some of the games and get them out to backers. I've seen this, especially in tabletop games, where creators have come up to me and said, "It's important for this project to get delivered not just for me or even the backers of the project, but for the entire Kickstarter community.”
Why do you think that happens more in board games than in digital games?
I'm still trying to figure it out, honestly. I really don't know. But I can tell you that the tabletop backers on Kickstarter are very active and they certainly are more of a community than any other -- based on the internal numbers that we have, they're more of a community than any other group on Kickstarter except for tabletop games, which are, like, an order of magnitude more cohesive.
Just the way they back projects.
I think depending on what circles you're in, the audience for videogame can kind of get a bad reputation. I think that's true of any audience. I was wondering about frictions or pushback or expectations -- does the game vertical run into different types of frictions with the audience than other verticals? I'm sure you're on email threads together.
Yeah. I try to talk to the other category people as much as possible. I try to help out, one, because games does have such a community, but there's a dark side to it, too. One of the points of friction for games, though, is that the backers are very active. They back a lot of projects. They're very sophisticated. That means that they'll also tell creators their business, tell them not only how to run a Kickstarter project but how to design a game, and they can be really really rude in their public displays in comments or things like that.
It's unfortunate and it's really upsetting to me as someone who's trying to foster even more of a tight-knit and supportive community on Kickstarter, to see the dark side of this is people feel entitled to be rude. I mean, it's a really hard line to walk because we want criticism. Part of the public process is to allow people to be able to voice their displeasure or to be able to say, "Hey, I don't think this is right. This doesn't seem like you can make what you're saying here."
But to mansplain over and over every comment is rough. It hurts creators. It makes them question why they even make things at all. [Laughs.]
I think, too, a lot of that can make people question what to make or how to present it.
Are there those types of comments from the music vertical --
-- for example? [Laughs.] For the transcript, you said no before I even --
[Laughs.] I'm sure you've heard it said that videogames are an interactive, co-created medium but that still doesn't explain why people put that key into the ignition and then turn it. There are a lot of co-created experiences with different measures of participation from the audience, but it's also true that videogames have never been just for children. And it isn't just children who act that way. This might be out of the scope of your expertise, but what do you think is going on? Where is this coming from?
[Laughs.] Oh. Oh, God. I don't know. [Laughs.] I have my theories. Like, it's really important to recognize before we go off into speculation about that kind of behavior that most people are totally cool. Most people are fine. Most people are fine with what's going on in Kickstarter. Most people are fine with the state of games. Most people are excited. Most people are positive. There is a vocal, sophisticated subset of people who are the opposite of that. [Laughs.]
And very into videogames.
Well, yeah. Very into videogames, but I can tell you they're into all types of games, from my experience here. I handle the whole category here at Kickstarter. So, everything from LARP to puzzles to videogames to tabletop or whatever. And so, yes, I can tell you they exist across the spectrum. But in particular to videogames -- I mean, I don't know. It's difficult to say. It seems like a position of entitlement. A position of privilege where from an audience that is being catered to, an audience that has essentially won the culture war, right? Videogames are cool. Everybody plays videogames. There are multiple companies vying to make you the videogame that you want right now and so, you know, when you have a vocal kind of angry user base being catered to in that way, it seems like it comes off to them as an illusion of power that can be misused. [Laughs.]
Players have always had a stake in the games that they play, in one form or another. Maybe another tack with this line of thinking is: How do you think Kickstarter has changed or deepened that relationship?
Certainly deepened it. Certainly given people access to the creative process with the idea that you're giving money well ahead of time of receiving anything in return. I mean, on one hand it's this amazing gesture of generosity and support and trust. On the other hand, there's a few users who feel like that entitles them to be able to tell you your business or whatever. So, we definitely enable that behavior in some ways.
Do you think that's different from people commenting on articles on the internet?
There certainly is general internet behavior but I really wonder at the Venn diagram of where those people exist and I suspect there's a real bright spot in the middle where they kind of all live. Like, comics fandom, man, they lose their shit if someone's costume changes. But games are kind of in the driver's seat right now culturally, in that space. So it's just a lot of light shined on a lot of bullshit.
Yeah. You had said in our emails how "the public narrative around sales and features is maddening and the slavish devotion to satisfying every desire of every fan is destructive." What do you find so maddening and destructive about that fixation?
[Laughs.] I don't know. This focus on Steam sales or Humble [Bundle] sales and basically bargain-hunting for games constantly -- I get it. From a consumer standpoint it's a product and you want that product for a low value, I guess. But it's just tough, though. It creates a race to the bottom for prices, it hurts the developers who you love and ostensibly you want to support.
You know, I'm kind of a rebel artist in my views here. I just think creators should make what they want to make and they should price it the way they want to price it and that should be it. If you don't want to pay that, that's fine. I mean, if that means that the creator doesn't become a millionaire, I think that's also fine.
Right, I know. It's controversial on both sides of it.
No, I'm fine with that. I was just laughing because -- I'm sure you've heard about some of this Kanye West stuff that's been going on the last couple of days?
[Laughs.] Yeah, of course.
I was expecting to get into that a little bit later, but to rewind a little bit more: Kickstarter sort of had their Kanye West moment a few years ago with Zach Braff, which is a comparison I never thought I'd make.
[Laughs.] No. Yeah.
You were at Kickstarter at that time, right?
Yeah. Yeah. I was here.
I remember a spike of some of this entitlement you were talking about where people I think felt Kickstarter somehow belonged to them to a certain subset or a certain sort of utopia for certain kinds of artists in certain kinds of situations. What do you make of that expectation of brands and platforms to be utopias, to be the cool band we all knew about before the rest of the world changes it or "ruins it?"
Oh, it's super-complicated.
On one hand, a platform like Kickstarter really does thrive on trust, on the users trusting the higher order of operations behind the platform and that things are being done for the right reason and they're heading in the right direction and therefore I feel good about this and I'm gonna back it.
Now, I mean, that's kind of a general thing. Obviously if trust in Kickstarter was destroyed in general, like, no one would back projects. But it seems like the trust in the platform is pretty high in general because even when have little dust-ups like the [Zach Braff] Wish I Was Here thing, it doesn't actually affect things too much. But, you know, the other side of things -- I mean, this is also super-complicated and I'm gonna be kind of glib about it but I understand how complicated what's going on behind this is, but people don't understand how much it costs to make a movie.
I was gonna say that, too, with games people run into this accusatory, "Well, what do you mean you need more money?" Like they see that number and think that's the alpha and omega of costs.
Right. Right. [Sighs.] We're living in this creative golden age right now. I look around and I'm so amazed. Maybe you want to say that there's no one carving statues that are marble or painting murals on the top of chapels or whatever, but the amount -- the fact that the entire populace is engaged with creative work in some way, either they're making it or they're consuming it is just incredible.
But this has exigencies, right? Like, it means that these are expensive to make and there's labor and stuff behind them that drive up the costs and also means that once they become this industrial thing -- or, actually, that's not true on either side of it. Whether they're made in an industrial fashion like a studio movie or whether they're made in a garage, like, just making things is never cut and dry. There's so many variables, like time and cost, they just change and it slips.
And then, of course, Jesus, the idea that a very successful artist on the national stage multiple times wouldn't be able to just snap his fingers and conjure up the millions of dollars necessary in order to produce his next work of art, like, how horribly offensive that is. Oh my God. And then to say to him, "Well, sir, you're a cad for coming and asking people for this. You should go and ask really horrible executives and money lenders who work in Hollywood who will take a stake of your movie and ask all these crazy things from you. You should go ask them and how dare you ask people."
Like, come on.
This is the thing that's interesting. It's never the people who are backing these things. But I think people felt betrayed or misled by Zach Braff -- if I'm remembering correctly, he used the backer investments as an equal-partner matching from other investors to get his film made.
That's just how movies get made. But how do you think Kickstarter has changed since it had its Zach Braff moment? Is there anything at all to the notion that these bigger, national, or perhaps even international level of creators, do they somehow displace or create fewer opportunities for the scruffier, smaller garage artists that these platforms are perceived as being intended for?
[Laughs.] No, not at all. In fact, we've found it's the opposite. Because we have built this quintessentially simple platform and we have opened it up -- we try to draw some fuzzy boundaries around what it's for and who can use it. The fact that we just say "creative projects" and you have to be creating something new or whatever, like, those are good rules.
But what we found, user-wise, is that big creators bring an audience with them, they introduce them to the platform, they introduce them to this method of funding, and some of them stick around, and then they go on to fund other, cool, small, weird projects or they go on to create their own or something like that. I mean, it's not 100 percent. I can say the vast majority of people who come to Kickstarter to support a big creator, they're just there for that one experience. They want to be a part of that and it's cool. They don't even want to be a part of the rest of the experience. But there is a significant percentage who do stick around and do then go back your weird photography project.
Do you think when you have people like Zach Braff or even Patreon -- and I'm not asking you to comment on a competitor or if you even consider them a competitor -- making a play for Kanye West with the video telling him to come shack up with their platform --
-- don't you think that also introduces the notion to potential creators or to an audience that, "Yeah, sure, okay, everyone can 'do this,' but really you can only succeed if you know how to market yourself and you know how to be liked?" Like, if you're someone with only a crazy idea, you can't make it happen?
First of all, the idea that you need to be Kanye West or Zach Braff or whatever to be successful? That's ridiculous. That's not true. And to then also then stand on this very fakey platform of, "Only Zach Braff and Kanye West know how to market themselves" is also just patently ridiculous.
There are so many people just, frankly, other people who are not superstars who have a community, who know how to "market" themselves and how to appeal to that community to get them behind what they're doing. So, on one hand, yeah, you have to have those skills in order to be successful on Kickstarter. Or you have to be lucky. You've got to be one or the other. But that doesn't mean you need to be famous. That doesn't mean that you have to have a marketing team behind you. People do this everyday -- dude, I ran a Kickstarter project in January and I talked like a wizard for 30 days. Every update, every update was in wizard voice.
And it drove people crazy, but the people who loved it loved it. So, and I don't have a team like that behind me. I'm not Kanye and I don't have marketing and I'm not a billionaire -- but I do have a community. I do have people that I've been kind of appealing to with my games for years.
But on the other side of it, I see people come to Kickstarter everyday. If you don't have an audience or you have a very small audience, you come with a small goal and you build. Expecting to roll out of the gate and fund your MMORPG massive multiplayer server extravaganza, expecting to raise the billions of dollars you're gonna need for that as your first project out of the gate with no art and a video of you saying, "I have a passion for games! I've been playing games since I was 12," like, okay, dial it back. Start somewhere achievable. This is just basic creative things. Like, you don't start with building the most complicated ship in a bottle. You start with a little sailboat. [Laughs.]
What are your thoughts about backers who take Kickstarter goals stated even obviously before projects begin as gospel? I'm not asking you to comment specifically about the Double Fine Kickstarter, but just in general, what are your thoughts about taking these intentions as literal promises?
Well, I mean, I understand. It's a totally sympathetic position. It's not -- like I said, it goes back to trust. You're trusting in this person who is a creator who you played their stuff, you like it, you wanna trust them. So, I mean, it's totally understandable. You don't know how things are made so when they tell you, "Oh, I'm gonna make a thing by this date and it's gonna be like this," that's how that then gets burned into your brain.
I don't even know if these are things you can comment on, but the Double Fine case, which I'll state for the transcript here for people who aren't familiar: My memory of it is people felt swindled on a game coming out in two parts not on deadline, even though that wasn't what was intended in the first place. They just tried to put the money to use and maybe didn't project manage effectively
I remember there being some waves of harassment against Double Fine. Does Kickstarter help out creators when they run into stuff like that? Do you yourselves deal with harassment from users? Do you have anyone specifically in charge of dealing with stuff like that?
Yeah. I have a co-worker whose name I will keep quiet, but she is our moderator.
That's probably wise.
Yeah. She definitely steps into the mix when people get shirty. And, yeah, we deal with people yelling at us or tweeting at us or whatever. And, yeah, everyday I'm helping creators with problems like that.
But, you know, just don't -- I'm not saying never voice your displeasure. But don't send an angry note to someone. But, man, don't harass anyone, like, ever. Don't do that. Like, what? You paid $15 for a game. You're disappointed in it. Great, okay. Process your disappointment. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] But again, you're saying, this doesn't happen with authors who print books on Kickstarter or filmmakers who make movies on Kickstarter?
Let's say it's rare.
It's rare. It's not as frequent?
I would never speak in absolutes, but yeah.
You just did, though. [Laughs.]
Let's just say it's rare.
I'm sure you knew I was going to ask you a little about this, but I just wanted to talk a little bit about the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter.
Is there stuff you're not allowed to talk about with that? On a real general level, can you just walk us through what happened and how it came to be? Or can you not even talk about that?
Yeah, the team called me and said, "Hey, we wanna launch a Kickstarter project for Shenmue 3." I went, "Cool!"
At that point, did they know it was going to be announced by Sony onstage at E3?
Yup. Yup. Yup. They had talked to Sony and Sony was like, "Cool! We'll announce it at E3."
Yeah. There was a myriad of ways I saw people being upset about that. Did you see any of the sort of critical reactions to it?
Man, you really like to talk about upset gamers.
You don't have to comment on it. We talked a lot about the positive things Kickstarter has done, but this is part of the landscape of what videogames are too.
Okay. Well, yeah, I saw that some dudes got upset. I also saw people weeping with joy. People legit freaking out with joy over the project. I mean, I don't know. I cannot fathom what people would be upset about with that. They got the third part of the game that they've been waiting for 12 or 15 years. What are you mad about?
I think people felt that if Sony wanted to promote it, they should fund it themselves. This is what I saw floating around the internet.
Right, because that's how that works. That's totally 100 percent how that works. Yup.
There's actually a cyborg that sits at the center of Sony and just churns out all of their work. Just one biological mechanical interface. You feed it and it says, "I will make Shenmue 3 now."
Yu Suzuki's the creator. He talks to his team and he's like, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's do this. What is this Kickstarter thing?" [Koji Igarashi] had just used Kickstarter and the Mighty No. 9 team, obviously, [Keiji Inafune] had used Kickstarter. So, obviously it's in his circles of friends and they're talking about it. They know it exists, and so he's like, "Yeah. Let's do Shenmue 3 Kickstarter." And his team calls Sony and they're like, "Hey, Suzuki-san, like, he's into this." And Sony's like, "Great!" But also, Sony's saying, as a publisher "Does anybody wanna play Shenmue anymore?" And his team goes, "Um, yes."
Right? The team doesn't know. It's not like there's any market research on this or anything.
Well, also, too, among that group of creators you mentioned, I know crowdfunding is not as big in Japan as it is over here.
There are some, but it's not as popular over here.
Right. We're not live in Japan or anything, yet. For creators, at least. For backers, yes. But not creators.
Right. And I can tell you, it's not some shadow project for Sony. It's not like -- the email address is not "[email protected]sony.com."
Right. It's not. I mean, honestly, if you look at their project, it looks like it's a small dev team put that project together. It doesn't look like a splashy E3 presentation.
The reality, too, is $6.3 million is kind of low for that ambition of production.
Right. [Laughs.] If I came to Sony and said, "Okay, I've got an idea: I'm gonna get $6.3 million and 64,000 people and are gonna have the biggest game ever," they would laugh. There's no conspiracy behind this. It's a big game from back in the day and it's certainly big enough to attract the attention of a big publisher, but that publisher doesn't know if the game's going to be big or if the fans are still into it. Right? Kickstarter is this really incredibly way for the creator to say -- which has happened time and time again, this is what Brian Fargo did with Wasteland, what the Harebrained team's Jordan Weisman did with Shadowrun, like, all these creators who came back. Even with Tim [Schafer] in the Double Fine Adventure, like, "All right, well, publishers, they don't really wanna hear about the games that we wanna make anymore, so what do you all think?" Kickstarter is this great way for the fans to be like, "Yes!"
You had said in our emails that the compared to board games, the state of design for digital games is still a few generations behind. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that, and I was also wondering if there's a similar fixation on budgets in board games as there is in videogames, or if there's less of that?
No, I mean, there's a budget for all of this stuff.
Sure, but you don't need $6.3 million to make a board game necessarily, and I'm just not honestly sure if people talk so much about that in board games or need to remind themselves that.
No. But also, just, I have so many more tools available to me as a tabletop games creator or even a live games creator.
Like, I'm not limited by Unity -- which is a great language and very versatile. Killer Queen was done in Unity. Who knew?
But at the same time, digital games, they're getting better and they're getting more sophisticated, but the rapidity and subtlety with which I can make a series of very complex moral choices inside of a live game like a LARP or something like that, it's astounding. Right? And the efficiency and the economy of the system inside of those games enabled me to make these choices and for where the outcome is unpredictable. Right? Where the outcome is not a set thing, where it's something where I'm gonna have to kind of process, like, "Okay, I've made all these choices and it got me this outcome. Okay, wow. Cool." Like, it's the end of Mass Effect 3: "Okay, I've made all these moral choices and they've gotta funnel down into this one outcome." Which is cool, but really it doesn't sit well with anybody because it's not really the sum of all the choices that they've made. So, there's that side of things and the ability to be flexible and to experiment with all of these different types of interfaces and mechanics. Systems inside of tabletop games, like, you can just iterate so fast.
One of my favorite stories of development in the past few years is with XCOM and the fact that they did all out on paper first. They made a pen and paper version of that game before they went into the code, which is super-smart and super-cool, and then -- I mean, I really want to talk to them about this -- but it seems with the second one that they played a lot of board games in the intervening years between their first reboot and the sequel now. Like, it's so clear that they're adopting these ideas from games like Risk Legacy or Pandemic or all these great tabletop games that are kind of pushing that medium forward. So, it's very tough to imitate those in a digital space and to give players the range of choices and the subtlety of experience.
I think there has been a rise on Kickstarter in videogames, and I don't know if you can really call it a trend, but there have been a few prototypes or vertical slices of videogames being made on Kickstarter. What are your thoughts on that? Are you surprised that that's starting to be a thing we're seeing more of?
You mean, we're seeing more prototypes for videogames being funded on Kickstarter?
Just people going to the mat with it and just --
Well, I certainly think people are using the opportunity of Kickstarter to fund more experimental or out-there games, but as far as prototypes and vertical slices? No fucking way. The backers for videogames are so demanding, they want a full game, like, right now.
But you've seen those projects I'm talking about, right? There's a handful.
Maybe. But I mean, my experience for most games on Kickstarter is that most backers want a full experience.
That's my perception, too.
Are they recent?
Yeah, these are recent. There was one, I think it was called Broken.
Oh yeah. Well, Broken, though, that's really interesting, right? Like, they want to create a tech demo for that thing and no one is into it.
[Laughs.] It's not over yet. People are savvy enough now to know, like, how many days into a project it needs to be before it hits a certain number to know if they'll make it. And you are right, it hasn't hit that number yet.
Yeah, but anyone who tells you about "it has to hit a certain number by a certain date," they're wrong.
I don't believe that anyway because it's like you said: You never know what will happen later.
I was just surprised to see people going for that or trying to make that happen because that was my perception, too, was that the platform is for finished "one and done" projects. Has there been an instance or a couple instances where people's use of the platform in the games space has surprised you? Where you thought, "Oh, this isn't really what it was intended for but that's cool."
Oh, everyday. Yeah, I mean, it's hard to keep track of them all but there's no one right way to use the platform. I love that and I'm just being constantly surprised by what people are doing or the way they're presenting their projects. Like, visual novels. The fact that these are a thing. I mean, obviously, there's a huge audience for visual novels and now they've come to Kickstarter to fund translations or to fund new ones. There were maybe a couple -- when I started there'd be one here or there but now it's just a steady drumbeat of these projects.
Some of the developers in my orbit were curious to know more about the methodology for staff picks videogames. What's the criteria for selection and what's the impact that you highlighting them has?
We're just looking for a good presentation and a cool idea. Something that makes us go, "Yeah!" It's really that simple for that stuff. And then, like, the numbers behind it -- there's two ways to look at it: Either we just have a good eye for picking winners or our stamp of approval is instant success. [Laughs.] I think it's the former, not the latter. It's impossible to say because we would have to compare two projects that are either very, very similar or exactly alike that are running at the same time and one with a staff pick and one without.
Or have to ask the cyborg at the center of Kickstarter perhaps.
We would have to ask the cyborg at the center of Kickstarter, that's right.
What have videogames accomplished?
They've pushed a lot of pixels around, sir. They make a lot of people happy. Making games accessible and really opening up -- they're part of the fabric of -- what do they, who calls it this? Is it [Eric] Zimmerman or something, who calls it the "Ludic Century?" Right? The idea of this whole elevation/acknowledgment of games as not a diversion, not something for children, not this side thing that we do, but as a cultural pillar. Videogames has really helped us acknowledge that games stand alongside art, they stand alongside sport, they stand alongside all of these other things that make us human and give us society. We've been able to recognize that, yeah, everybody plays games. We play games all the time and they're vital to the human experience. And so, you know, videogames have helped push that out and helped us acknowledge that. They bring a lot of people a lot of joy.
Maybe some rage-quit.