From being the talk of the town, crowdfunding campaigns now receive minimal press coverage. In the game press, that is. Tech campaigns still attract lots of attention. As innovation abounds and crowd funding is growing at record pace, the game press has left the scene.
Those of us who have been around since the early 80s have seen the many changes this industry has gone through. Personally I have loved to see the rise of the Indie Scene of late. It reminds me of all the creativity we saw in terms of gameplay in the 80s.
As many before me have observed, it is rarely among the AAA titles we find the exciting innovations in gameplay. Yet these titles still dominate the mainstream game press, fed by their enormous marketing budgets and PR campaigns.
When crowdfunding became a reality, most of us were astounded by the possibilities that opened up. In theory, people with great ideas could appeal directly to the public instead of trying to sell their game to the money people, who were less interested in innovation than about profit and reducing risk. This is not to say that making money is bad, nor that professional investors don’t have their place, as do the big studios and publishers. Still, crowd funding has allowed for a thousand new flowers to bloom, and opened for unprecedented innovation.
So where has the press been in all this?
In the ‘good old days’ the Publishers made the games, the press wrote about them, the players read the reviews and bought the games. It was a simple cycle where the press had an important role of sorting the good from the bad and letting people know.
At first, the press was all over the crowdfunding scene raving wildly. As the news wore off and some projects that were funded inevitably were not realized or should never have been funded in the first place, people got mad. The temperature changed. All and everyone did a Kickstarter and the newsworthy projects became farther between, the gaming press became skeptical, and then turned away, and gradually the AAA titles took over the front pages again.
This did not happen in the tech media. They still love innovative new crowdfunded projects. With a few exceptions, the game press either lost their nerve and chickened out or they were to lazy to do the necessary investigative work to sort out the good crowd funding projects from the bad. Instead they went back to feeding from the big AAA marketing campaigns.
Today several major outlets won’t even look at games during a Kickstarter campaign as a matter of principle! I am sorry, but that’s lazy at best. At worst you could mistake it for lack of objectivity.
The gaming press has an important role to play in the exciting new world of gaming where innovation has been democratized and the power to build amazing new games no longer is limited to the big studios and publishers. The press should represent the player and not cater to the big guys. Yes, it is a lot of work checking out, not only the game, but also the company behind it. It is risky to write about it, and even riskier to recommend it. What if the Kickstarter fails or even worse, if it is funded but fails to deliver? It’s much safer to look the other way.
With Great Powers...
Running a crowdfunding campaign is all about getting the word out to potential backers. And the game press has by far the biggest powers in that respect.
I recently backed the Planet3 campaign on Kickstarter. As they reached the classic mid-plateau part of the campaign. Kotaku did one post about the game and the surge the next few days generated around $70,000 more than they otherwise would. The effect put them 28% closer to the goal!
This was a quality project deserving the attention, but without that single post on Kotaku the project might very well not have been funded! (They finally superseded their funding goal with $60,000)
I think this illustrates the positive power the press can play. Some, like Kotaku, use this power, and by doing so they help the industry evolve. Innovative new projects get a chance. But others don’t. I think not doing so – is a cowardly stance and a lack of respect for the role the press ought to play.
Time to Take Responsibility
I would like to challenge the press to not shy away from crowdfunding projects by default and instead do some investigating journalism. Help the backers sort the good projects from the bad. Embrace the fact that you have the power to play a significant role in what games come to be and use that to help drive great project and great innovation forward.
This article is pretty personal. I head the team behind Earthlock: Festival of Magic, now in its final days of a Kickstarter campaign. We have been contacting game press for almost two months. We have gotten some great reviews here and there, but all too often we are met with a response like this: “Your game looks great, but we won’t even look at it until the Kickstarter is successful!”.