Opinion: Black Isle is a great case study in how to NOT crowdfund your game

Crowdfunding is still a pretty new concept for all of us, but there are some very basic lessons that we've learned along the way. The so-called Black Isle revival manages to miss the mark, and here's why.
Crowdfunding has been a godsend for video games in 2012, allowing studios to bypass publishers, gauge interest, and go directly to the fans for funding. But it's also been a way for lazy developers to ask for free money with a pitch that would get them laughed out of any boardroom. Case in point: Black Isle today launched a crowdfunding scheme for Project V13, a post-apocalyptic game that has been in development for an indeterminate amount of time, and may or may not have anything to do with the work that was done on Fallout Online, the MMO that Interplay isn't allowed to make (or even talk about) anymore. The vague campaign is, intentionally or otherwise, misleading and frankly insulting, and here's why.

Calling the studio "Black Isle" is manipulating memories

The main point to note is that this revival of Black Isle is more in name than anything else. The original Interplay company was founded in 1996, and closed down in 2003. Numerous members of the Interplay team that made the first Fallout banded together to form Black Isle, and this studio went on to create Fallout 2. With this year's comeback, only two of the original team have actually been brought back in to work on Project V13 -- studio head Chris Taylor, and Mark O'Green, both of whom worked on the original Fallout series. In fact, notable figures like former Interplay CEO Brian Fargo and designer Chris Avellone have said that they knew nothing of Black Isle's resurrection before it was announced earlier this year, and each have no hand in it whatsoever. black isle 2.gifWhy does that matter? Well, for the sole reason that the current Black Isle studio seems to be attempting (and succeeding) in using the name alone to gather up pledges. Press and gamers are jumping on the chance to discuss the revival of the Fallout team, many unaware that it really isn't the original team at all, but rather a bunch of developers who, for the most part, have nothing to do with Black Isle's past. When a fan of the original sees such enthusiastic headlines as Fallout Creator Black Isle Studios Is Back and Fallout 2 Dev Working On Post-Apocalyptic RPG, why would they believe this is anything but the original Black Isle?

So what exactly is Project V13?

It's a good question, and while we can make a fair guess at the answer, it's not been specifically explained yet. Project V13 was the codename for Fallout Online, an MMO based on the Fallout universe that was recently dropped by Interplay, after Bethesda won the rights to a Fallout MMO. Given the PV13 name, coupled with the fact that Black Isle says the game has been "in development for years," it's rather safe to assume that this is Fallout Online with all the Fallout references removed. Fair enough, you say -- Interplay has had this in the works for years, and to throw all of the work away over a dispute would be madness. But here's where it gets tricky. Bulgaria-based Masthead Studios was working on the original Fallout Online build, with the plan that it would be published by Interplay. With this move to Black Isle, there's no word regarding whether Masthead is on the project anymore. black isle 1.jpgMore notably, the pledge page for PV13 fails to describe the game in any detail, refusing to even list the type of genre that the game will fall under. "We've had to make some major changes recently," it reads, suggesting that the MMO angle may well have been dropped -- but in place of what? Why would backers want to put cash down for a project outline that is so incredibly vague and disconcerting? And what happened to all the work that was done at Masthead all these years? Is there really not enough there to put together a prototype and seek proper funding?

What is the money even going towards?

Even if you decide to look past all of this shadiness, it's pretty impossible not to raise a critical eyelid at the crowdfunding scheme itself. Where it has become common practice to offer backer rewards for those putting funding toward your game, Black Isle has decided this isn't necessary. If you pledge $10, you'll be granted access to a special Black Isle forum. If you put down $20, they'll even let you post on the forum. There is no way to receive a copy of the game by pledging -- even if you decide to put down $10,000 -- because the money isn't actually going towards a game at all. In fact, the money will be used to build a prototype, which Black Isle will then show to investors in the hope of gathering up moolah elsewhere. black isle 3.gifAnd why is there no total figure shown at all? Shouldn't the entire point of open crowdfunding like this be that consumers can see how well the scheme is doing, and choose whether to be part of it? Hiding how much you've actually made is more than a little dodgy, truth be told. Look, this whole crowdfunding thing is new for all of us, but there are some very basic lessons that we've learned from the campaigns that have come and gone. Treat your backers with respect, and they'll reward you with their support. Treat them like second-rate citizens that are expected to hand you wads of cash for basically no reason, and they're going to go somewhere else.

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