Kickstarting Obsidian

If you ever played computer role-playing games, you’ve hopefully heard about Obsidian’s massively successful Project Eternity on Kickstarter. The goal of $1.1 million was reached within a single day, and has been doubled by now. That’s great news for anyone who enjoyed previous games by the team or its members, from the classic Planescape: Torment to the underrated Alpha Protocol. Kickstarter is ideal for funding such projects – too big for spare time efforts, too small for mainstream publishers – as director Josh Sawyer explains in a Gamasutra interview:

When it comes to games like this that are crowdsourced for an audience that is very passionate… we can cater to niche audiences like that. We can design for the people that already like this stuff, and that is okay. Not everything needs to be made to reach a mainstream audience.

For their part, publishers are certainly aware of Kickstarter – and try to exploit it for free money. Before Obisidan launched its new project, publishers asked CEO Feargus Urquhart to act as a Kickstarter front man for their own benefit:

I said to them ‘So, you want us to do a Kickstarter for [your game], using our name, we then get the Kickstarter money to make the game, you then publish the game, but we then don’t get to keep the brand we make and we only get a portion of the profits?’ They said, ‘Yes’.

Hopefully, few teams will play along with such proposals. But while Kickstarter lets artists avoid publishers, they are now subject to their fans’ sense of entitlement, as musician Amanda Palmer discovered. Having successfully raised $1.2 million for a tour, she invited volunteers to join her on stage for free beer and merchandise. Palmer had done plenty of free gigs in her own career, and the volunteers who showed up found the offer perfectly acceptable as well. Nor was there any money left to pay them: all the raised funds were planned for other tour expenses. But none of that impressed the ignorant furor of Internet denizens, who raged against Palmer until she agreed to cut other line items and pay the surprised volunteers instead.

Without publishers shielding the artists and acting as scapegoats for all unpopular decisions, I’m sure we can expect more of this fan outrage in the future. Obsidian is already promising several “stretch goals” that sound rather difficult and expensive: a Linux version, three additional languages, and an entire crafting & enchanting system, aside from many smaller features. It’s almost inevitable that some of them will end up missing or underwhelming, to the great disappointment of fans who are now also investors. I’m certainly looking forward to Project Eternity myself, but I think it’s wise not to expect too much beyond the original proposal.

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