The old adage is that something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. But, in the digital world, a games development is increasingly worth as much as someone is willing to pledge to it.
2012 has seen the Kickstarter crowd-source funding platform hit the headlines with some eye-wateringly large cash pledges for new projects from games studios, including Double Fine and InXile Entertainment. But what are the implications of this new source of funding, and should it be regarded as friend or foe?
So, what is Kickstarter? No, it's not the classic BBC motorbike tricks programme of the 1970s and '80s, nor is it a shot of neat vodka on your way to work. It is a website launched in 2008 to help crowd-source funding for new projects.
Basically, businesses and entrepreneurs throw their ideas out into the public domain, and ask average Joes and Janes to back it. According to recent data, Kickstarter has helped raise in excess of $175 million (£111.8m) in pledges for more than 20,000 projects as of April 2012. The success rate was said to be 44%.
The current Kickstarter record was set this spring by the Pebble Watch, which was listed by product designer Eric Migicovsky after he grew disillusioned with the tepid response to the hardware project from Silicon Valley investors.
On May 18, 2012, the funding drive for the stylish timekeeper featuring innovative E-paper technology closed with a staggering $10,266,844 in pledges from 68,928 donors.
The reason why people give money to projects on Kickstarter appears to be a mix of benevolent enthusiasm and a desire for a deal.
The successful Kickstarter projects are the ones that have hit the right notes in their pitch to the public, but also generally the ones that offer favourable rewards in exchange for pledges (based on a sliding scale depending on how much people offer). If all goes well, the project gets its money, and the people get a great gift - everybody's happy, right? Well, maybe.
Double Fine is currently the most successful games studios to use Kickstarter, after Tim Schafer's company closed its pledge drive for point-and-click game Double Fine Adventure with an amazing $3.45m from more than 87,000 donors.
Launched in February 2012, the Kickstarter for Schafer's first point-and-click adventure game since 1998's Grim Fandango started with a target of $400,000 from the allotted 30-day funding drive, but exceeded that goal in just nine hours. It then passed $1m in 24 hours, only the second Kickstarter project to do so at the time.
This unexpected funding influx had the effect of shifting the team's goals, aiming now at a bigger game with much better visuals, thus pushing the release date back to 2013.
In an interview with the Rock, Paper, Shotgun website after the Kickstarter drive had launched, Schafer said that the initial response was like an "enormous love-bomb exploding".
"[It was like] all these people saying, 'We don't even need to know what the game is, we just want you to make it, here's some money'," he told the site. "It's an incredible message to send.
"There's probably a lot of different kinds of messages that people are sending. Some of them are just 'We love Double Fine', some are saying 'We love adventure games', and some of them want to say, 'We hate the existing payment structure of games and we want our kind of game to be served'. They're all good messages."
Schafer said that he would love Kickstarter to lead to "more crazy and alternative ways of funding games". But he also feels that the relatively low budgets being generated from crowd source will not have traditional games publishers such as EA and Activision "quaking in their boots".
Brian Fargo, founder of Fallout developer Interplay, hit a brick wall when he tried to get funding from traditional sources for an online sequel to RPG Wasteland (for his new studio, InXile Entertainment).
In a witty video accompanying the Kickstarter page for Wasteland 2, Fargo reveals the testing process involved in trying to secure funding. In a mock pitch meeting with a young boy in a suit masquerading as a publishing executive, Fargo says: "So you are turning down a game that the fans want?" To which the boy replies: "Hey, I'm a publisher."
"In all seriousness, I have been hoping to make a Wasteland sequel for years, and I am hoping that this type of funding brings back a genre of product that I love to play, and I love to make," Fargo adds in his plea to fan investors for the turn-based, top-down role playing game.
"I know that we are asking for a lot of money for this game, but these games are not inexpensive to make. Every penny of this money will go into the production and I personally will not be taking anything from Kickstarter myself... this really might be the last chance for Wasteland 2. This fan funding didn't exist a few years ago, but it and digital distribution is probably the best way to get this game made."
The plea worked, as Wasteland 2 closed on April 17 with 61,290 backers having pledged $2,933,252 - $2m more than the original target of $900,000, which the project eclipsed in under 43 hours.
Most interestingly, Kickstarter announced on its blog that as of March 29, $400,000 of the money raised for Wasteland 2 came from "Double Fine's first-time backers", suggesting 'serial investors' on the site. It is also worth noting that 12 backers pledged an amazing $10,000 to the project.
In a follow-up Q&A video, Fargo said that the response from fans was bigger than he expected, and gave him new enthusiasm for the project after many fruitless years pitching for funding. But he also sounded a note of caution, saying that he would take on board feedback from fans who had made the game possible, but would also not to try to make a game that 'appeals to everyone', or dilutes his creative vision.
Kickstarter is unique because it has the capacity to transform fan devotion for games into actual cold hard cash. Following the success of Double Fine Adventures and Wasteland 2, many other developers are rushing to Kickstarter to fund their projects.
This includes UK studio Stainless Games, which hopes to reboot the Carmageddon franchise - made famous as a "Points for Pedestrians" PC driving game - with Carmageddon: Reincarnation. Uploaded on May 6, the project's listing has already raised $354,818 from 9,403 donors towards the $400,000 target, which must be met by June 6 or the project will not be successful.
Neil Barden, co-founder and executive director of Stainless Games, told Digital Spy that the past history of Carmageddon and its existing fan base make it a "perfect fit" for a reboot via Kickstarter.
"The ideal campaign [on Kickstarter] seems to be one where the brand is already established, but being independently owned is less likely to be funded by 'traditional' means - as we found in the case of Carmageddon and other indies have found in the case of their own brands," he said.
"We were planning to self-fund the game using an 'iterative release' model (similar to the approach taken by Minecraft, for instance), [but] when we saw what was happening on Kickstarter, we thought we'd give it a go and boost the funding, which in turn would accelerate the rate of development."
A key component of gathering interest in Kickstarter drives is what you offer to entice the pledges. Carmageddon: Reincarnation's rewards range from appearing in the credits for a $1 donation, to anyone pledging $10,000 being flown to the Stainless offices in Newport, Isle of Wight, so they can be immortalised as a character in the new game (so far, two people have made the pledge of a maximum three).
"Attractive rewards that form part of a limited edition, or somewhat exclusive set of goodies ensures backers know that they're getting more than just discounted entry to ownership of the game itself," said Barden.
"Some backers (particularly existing fans) are perfectly happy to just pledge money to support the cause, but you also have to make provision for what seems to be a growing new generation of Kickstarter community members, who maybe aren't lifelong fans of your game, but will be convinced to pledge by the additional rewards on offer. It's understandable - we all like cool, collectible stuff."
Barden said that most Kickstarters would "dream of another Double Fine result", but he realistically expects to just pass the target for Carmageddon: Reincarnation. But the real question mark hanging over Kickstarter is how long will the wave of enthusiasm last?
Currently, Kickstarter projects are making the headlines and donors are feeling like they are helping subvert the usual funding overlords, while receiving something special in the process. Barden says that "fatigue" will likely set in soon on the initiative, but he feels that Kickstarter will eventually find its place in the ecosystem of video games financing.
"I don't think that it's likely people will get fed up with the approach, although there may be a sort of 'Kickstarter fatigue' that could set in, if the projects up for backing pop up with too much regularity," he said.
"In the end, I think we'll find Kickstarter (and other services that inevitably pop up to offer the same or a similar service) will find a level that backers are happy and able to support via crowd funding."
What do you think about Kickstarter? Is it the future of games financing? Let us know in the comments below…