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THE PEOPLE VS. THE DEVELOPER: A new customer species is growing, and why Kickstarter might have a problem

Everybody is talking about the opportunities crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter are offering for self-distribution of Games. Since per definition nothing can be flawless in this finite world, I came up with the following caveats to the concept.

Andreas Ahlborn

November 28, 2012

9 Min Read

Sign which shows that developers have to be full time available to their fans

game developer 24/7

Today I stumbled over this article on Killscreen. 2 out of 3 game related kickstarter-projects didn`t deliver till this day.

It confirmed my assumption that the “big successes” (at least in the gaming sector) are a big marketing bubble that crossed their bridges before they until  came to them. But it also got me thinking: What if we actually got rid of the evil Publisher-Goliath vs. the good Kickstarter-Indie-David cliché and checked our facts?

I don`t mean to discourage studios, that got their money or outmatched their kickstarter-goals. I intend to give a fair warning, that I never read anywhere. For many young developers and small or mid-sized studios Kickstarter seems like a holy grail. The wine that comes with it is not immune to turn sour. Even if the Indie-Scene might be partly right about the revenue-centered world view of most AAA game publishers and of the greed that reigns their lobby, gamers and especially fanboys have a greed-problem of their own. One that might prove as delicate to deal with as the former.

diagram showing how a customer can turn into a menace

from fandom to obsession

The illustration shows how a From-Customer-to-Menace-progression could work. Every stage has an underlying “theme” to it. If the theme changes there is always a bifurcation taking place. For example a John Lennon-fan might be motivated enough by his idol to start singing/songwriting himself. At that point he exits the downward-spiral and tries to create sth. by himself, if he goes too deep into his devotion he might turn out like Chapman (Lennon`s killer).

It`s highly likely that the more the Fanboy-character is attached to the kickstarter-project, the more he will spend on it. The Big Donors, that reach the status of Rejection/Disappoinment are probably the ones that will launch the “crusade” if something goes not the way they imagined it should have happened.

1. The Setup

Some Definitions to begin with (that are a little over-the-top, I guess, but where fun to write)

Banboy“: Stage of development that a „Fanboy“ reaches, when the love to his most valued “franchise”/”brand”/”artist”/”idol” turns to animosity. Not to mix up with

Fadboy” (customers that are fed with the formula you recycle every year and are fading away slowly) , stage of development a “Fanboy” reaches if you overdo it with the whole Sequelitis, Toy Branding, Card Decks, Spin-offs, animated versions, books, comic-books, T-shirts etc. He develops an allergy against your product, that can only be cured by staying away from it. He obverdosed and developed antibodies. It`s  actually better for you as a Developer to calculate with Fadboys, because they only hurt your profits not your health. Also: real Fadboys will not make a fuzz about their leaving. The most dangerous species of Banboys is the one that will make dozens of threads like: “Ok, Developer I´m done with you”, “You destroyed my believe in you, for the last time”, “I´ll never buy a product from you again”, “Fool me once…”, you know the drill.

S*talker”: Short, for “Shit talker”. Forumite that is convinced that his opinion is the only one that counts and that his commitment to the “brand” should entitle him to special treatment within the community and from the developers, he will go as far as either creating an alternative version of your game/story that he considers objectively better or making polls in a minute cycle…

(P*amming:= Poll/Petition-spamming) to get approval from other believers how things have to change. He considers himself to have a license to be rude, biased, illogical, that every other human beings lacks. He has an imagined Platin Member Card, that allows him to bypass the rules that sheer mortals (which he calls “Noobs”) must obey. He will make double-bind demands like “Stop being fair to everyone”!

He will even go as far as considering his legal actions to make your life a living hell…

(L*easuring:= legal measuring/R*ucking:=ratfucking). Banboys are in most cases: technological competent, obsessive, above-average nerdy. The Banboy is the kind of Fan that threw money at your company for years and now he has officially declared Payback-time. Since he can´t get his money back he decides to let you repay him with attention, his hidden agenda might include sth.like: to get you to commit suicide, that “his” brand gets freed from your tyranny or incompetence etc.

Considering the high divorce-rate in the developed societies and the overaging of the average gamer population, I see trouble on the horizon for the entertainment - , and especially for the games industry.

Being a Fanboy is a hard job. Conventions, Forums, Fansites, Cosplays… these all are time- and money-consuming things to do. And the Fanboy does it without getting paid, spreading the word like a true apostle, marketing the core of his possession like only a true believer can. You can imagine how much of a problem you get on your hands if these “Fanboys” turn over to the dark side and join your enemies with their inside knowledge. If this would be politics you`d best treat them as “sleeper agents”.

2. The Anecdote

Nietzsche-Wagner meme

O Brother where art thou?

We are tempted to see “Banboyism” as a relatively new Phenomenon. It is not; Lennon`s killer has a long line of spitritual ancestors, that used all kinds of weapons to get to their target of obsession.

In a Galaxy not far away from our adjacent Galaxy, it happened to the famous german Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and he used a Quill to kill with words. We are lucky that the case “Nietzsche against Wagner” is documented.

Long Story short: Nietzsche was the biggest fan of the german composer Richard Wagner, he was Wagner fiercest “devotee” partly based on the fact that they were both fans of “Arthur Schopenhauer” (another german philosopher) and shared the same opinions about Deism (they were both non-believers) and musical drama as the “ultimate” Artform until Wagner turned to Christianity in his late operas.

This was perceived as a betrayal and Nietzsche henceforth wrote many polemics about the issue.

The fact that Nietzsche suffered a complete mental breakdown after dealing with the issue surely helps to illustrate how obsessive one can become over such a subject (musical drama) and how even an accomplished thinker like Nietzsche can loose himself in Banboyism.

It was not much helping, that Nietzsche also composed, it may have been a main part of the conflict, that Nietzsche felt his professional pupilship (Wagner was his Mentor in the beginning) turned into a rivalry.

With Wagner at the end of his life seeing his dream of worldwide acknowledgement as a masterful composer come true, and Nietzsche, who practically fought for admission his whole life and never got it in his lifetime (only after his death intellectuals all over Europe discovered his philosophical Genius), this sure left a bitter taste in Nietzsche`s mouth.

3. The Paradigms

The gameindustry has only  begun to contribute to the “commitment wars”. It`s not so much a Xbox vs. PS3 war, that is fought between different  console/pc-fanboys which entertainment system is the better one any more. Since AAA console-exclusive titles sooner or later won`t be profitable any more, these  discussions will vanish over time, it`s also not a fight between “CoD” and “BF”-followers or suchlike, most consumers are happy to play both of these games.

The People vs. George Lucas”, a documentary about “crowd-grieving, the star wars way” is only the tip of the iceberg, if you imagine that it probably took years of working out the frustration of all these fans since “The Phantom Menace” (1999) to the film`s release in 2010.

It`s not impossible that we will see a sequel to that one next year: “The people vs. Peter Jackson”. (I mean, come on, after seeing the trailers I can almost guarantee, that TLH will suck compared to LOTR, the Acronym doesn´t even have the right length).

We saw a glimpse of the future, when we followed the press or visited the official Forums of Bioware one day after Mass Effect 3 was released. Even now 8 months after everybody should have gotten over it and moved to other things there are “Take back Mass Effect”- posts that demand this and that from Bioware.

There is even a “Indoctrination Theory” thread, that completely negates what Bioware`s official statements in the matter of the ending of Mass Effect is, and tries to “convert” the community to a different “canonical” ending. The pressure, spear-headed by Banboys, got so large, that Bioware felt the need to add an extended cut for no additional charge. Good luck with that, if you are a crowd-funded mid-sized studio without the backing of a large publisher, which is the main reason why you would turn to kickstarter in the first place.

The “Biogate” Scandal was only a foretaste, though.

The main danger for the games industry is obviously the speed and power that such a Banboy-Tsunami can achieve in a very short amount of time. It took Star Wars Fans 10 years to articulate their rejection and make a film about it, in this time and age it only takes 10 hours (and that`s allowing for the global timezones).

What does that mean for Kickstarter and other crowd-funding services?

You better be ready for the storm that is coming, if your product –even if you deliver it and even if you deliver it on time- does not deliver with utmost precision.

Because you officially marketed the Fans into thinking they own you now, with all the “fan catering” that happens in preproduction. It doesn´t help that you feel legally safe, considering refunding and suchlike. It wouldn`t help that a game company put a big fat disclaimer on all their games like: “Play this game at your own risk. Fangasm not guaranteed”, or would it?

Its not just a film Meme

Its not just a film

In the end of the trailer of “The people vs. George Lucas” you see a guy in his mid-thirties, who demands: “Don`t you ever say, it`s just a film ! IT`S NOT JUST A FILM!” I found this not even funny or sad anymore. I found this scene unsettling. Is it coincidence that 2 years later Lucas sells his mental property to Disney? Not in my book. He skipped the country, that`s what he did.

(Just kidding, truth is: he bought his own country)

Star Citizens Chris Roberts would be wise to make the escape pods ready.

Hell hath no fury like a fan feeling scorned.

Gamers are a special kind of people. I should know, because I´m one myself. I´m also guilty of helping to enhance the worldwide gamerpool with three additional fanboy-souls that contribute to the games industry`s growth. Consider this article partly as a light-minded confession, partly as an honest concern.

And for the love of Leia or Luke: don`t be offended, if you are a Fangirl. You are free to feel adressed, too.

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