Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Players to backers ratio

The Crowfall Kickstarter is coming to an end this week, having reached its goal. Around 15,000 backers funded the project to the tune of 1.5 million dollars, about $100 average per backer. One of the advantages of crowdfunding frequently mentioned is that it allows to demonstrate public interest in a project. Which leads me to the question of how many backers would be sufficient for that.

In today's market a MMORPG with 15,000 players would be considered incredibly niche. But we have to assume that the number of people willing to buy a game is larger than the number of Kickstarter backers. After all, spending $100 on a game that hasn't been developed yet is obviously a risky proposition and a lot of people would rather wait for the game to be out before making a purchase decision. On the other hand the MMORPG genre is full of "tourists", people who are quite willing to buy a new game and try it for a while, but who tend to be gone after a month or three, and who don't contribute to the long-term health of a game.

We don't have a lot of data on the players to backers ratio of kickstarted MMORPGs for the simple reason that we don't have many successfully kickstarted MMORPGs. Crowfall has about the same number of backers as for example Camelot Unchained, but less than Shroud of the Avatar, and only about half of the number of backers of Star Citizen. The obvious problem is that the development time for MMORPGs tends be rather long, so none of these games have come out yet. We don't even know *if* they will all come out.

The other fundamental problem is that a Kickstarter backer is essentially buying a dream, while a player who buys the game after release is buying a more or less finished product. Between public beta tests, YouTube videos, and game reviews the person waiting for release is far better informed about the actual quality of the final game than the Kickstarter backer. Godus, which technically is still in beta and also got over 15,000 backers, presumably would have a hard time to attract a lot of new players if it ever gets "released". While theoretically a company could be better at making a game than a pitching it on Kickstarter, the general tendency is for actual products not living up to all the dreams and promises.

In the end I have a hard time imaging a players to backers ratio of higher than 10 on release, less after the tourists came and went. I don't think any of the MMORPGs on Kickstarter will reach a million players. The Double Fine Adventure Broken Age sold 70,947 copies in the first three months, which isn't all that much compared to the 87,142 backers, suggesting a players to backers ratio of around 2 for the second most successful Kickstarter game ever. What do you think?

I think the backer:player ratio is completely unscientific and if we'd plot backers vs players for many games, we'd get 0.1 R-square or something.

Backers pay for the vision of the game. The main plot and mechanic.

Players pay for server stability, bug-free code, class balance, UI goodness, learning curve and such: a vision-neutral product quality.

Keep in mind that the "norm" for the MMORPG genre is to disappoint, and the near-universal "norm" for Kickstarter games is to under-deliver. Unless you see something extraordinary and unique in this game that you don't see in others like it, you are really betting on a huge longshot for this game to succeed.

Particularly because I agree with Gevlon:

"Players pay for server stability, bug-free code, class balance, UI goodness, learning curve and such: a vision-neutral product quality."

These are just not at all things that Kickstarter games deliver on. If the over/under for subscribers at 3 months is 30k, I'm taking the under.
I suppose if the proposal is compelling enough and targets an unfilled niche, a lot of people who really want that game may be inclined to back it.

Backing Crowfall is pretty brave, as we don;t know how the hybrid strategy/MMO design will play out in practice. I hope it succeeds.
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Broken Age being the "2nd most successful Kickstarter game ever" - What is that based that on? I don't exactly follow this, but looking at this chart (, Wasteland 2 has around twice as many owners/players as Broken Age despite being released 8 months later. And it's total funded $ was slightly lower ( I assume Divinity: Original Sin is #1. Are you not counting D:OS because it was only partially Kickstarted?
They said somewhere that in the view of other investors the amount of KS backers indicated about 10% of what you would expect from a live game. IIRC, Crowfall said they would've been happy with 5k backers, so triple that is looking pretty good.
My data was from this infographic. But if it is third instead of second that still changes nothing of the point I was making that a successful Kickstarter doesn't necessarily mean a million players.
How is Star Citizen not on that list?
The Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter ( had 25,681 backers. On january 10th this year Frontier Developments announced 300,000 people had bought Elite: Dangerous and if things progressed the way they did at that time, they expect to sell a total units in between 500,000 and 750,000 by may this year (

The average backer donated around $90 each (based on current UK pounds to US dollars conversion). And the ratio seems to be about 1:12 backers vs. players. At least around january 10th.
Kickstarter is a direct wallet-vote for an idea, rather than a more logical decision with a high expectation for a return. There are a million things that can go wrong to make a good idea for a game turn out not to be that fun in the end (Wasteland 2 for example), and a billion things can go wrong with an MMO.

But without Kickstarter, something like Crowfall or SC likely doesn't happen at all, and instead we get more SW:TOR or other tired MMO clones (or nothing at all, since the industry is over thinking recreating WoW is easy).

We don't have MMO examples of success yet, but look at RPGs. D:OS is a huge, huge success story, and I fully expect Pillars of Eternity to also do great numbers. In a year from now big studios are going to be cloning those games, and maybe one of those clones is actually solid. WIthout Kickstarter, RPG fans might still be replaying BG2 due to lack of options.
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