Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Telling the future

Psychochild has written a great article explaining that "Peter Molyneux isn’t so much lying as being terrible at telling the future.". For me the problem is not the difficulty of telling the future, or any specific developer being bad at it, or any specific game failing to deliver on its promises. For me the problem is gamers and game media being more interested in the future than in the present. If you want you can do the following experiment: Go to the next newsstand and buy any one random games magazine. Now count the pages dealing with previews of upcoming games and count the pages dealing with reviews or other information about games that have already been released. The number of preview pages ALWAYS is bigger than the number of review pages, up to twice as many pages talking about the future than there are pages talking about the present.

The internet isn't any better. There is endless discussion of Kickstarter projects and all sorts of other games still in development. As soon as a game is released everybody is losing interest. The level of interest is also quite evident in pricing: Many developers will happily sell you alpha access to a buggy unfinished mess for $200, but the price of the game goes down to $60 on release day, and half a year later you can pick up the game for $20 in a Steam sale. People would be outraged if a game on release day had a $100 price tag, but Kickstarter projects for games frequently get an average of around $100 per backer.

Unfortunately everything Psychochild explains about Molyneux is also true for most other game developers. The greatest visionaries are often the least able to transform their visions into an actual product. Anybody remember the Warhammer Online hype, and the "bears, bears, bears" video? Lots of people got so excited that they started a great many number of blogs, most of which quickly died when the game was actually released.

I would much prefer if the visionaries would shut up and rather try to implement their vision than telling the world about it. Visions are incredibly cheap to produce compared to actual games. And I see more and more cases where it can be suspected that somebody noticed that the cheap vision sells better than the expensive to make game, and deliberately sets out to con people out of their money. Game developers aren't the only ones terrible at telling the future, gamers themselves are also incredibly bad at evaluating the visions that are being sold. Game design has a number of insolvable problems and inherent incompatibilities, and you can earn a lot more money by promising the impossible than by trying to work out a reasonable compromise and implementing it. That makes Kickstarter a paradise for con artists rather than a way to fund the games that people actually want.

I blame Kickstarter.
Implementing visions is hard (expensive). Visionaries only get the money to attempt their visions when they shout about it. Without the huge publicity during fund raising, there is no end product.

I almost yearn for the days when publicity peaked for release with the aim of maximising sales because there was a publisher bankrolling the cost of development.
Well said.
You've mentioned this $100 average before and I have to pull you up on it as a misrepresentation.

If you look at Crowfall (and I know a lot of other games have similar numbers) you'll see that the vast proportion of the backer are pledging much less - out of 17,000 backers 9,300 pledged $40 or less, 12,000 less $60 or less. The mean average is just pulled up by the whales paying stupid amounts (15 backers at $10,000 for example).

I'm told that commonly most of the big backers would be associated with the project - the kickstarter cut isn't so much when weighted up against making it look like your project is popular.
I'd say I was very exact by calling it an "average". The number you are talking about is a "mean". I certainly agree that the mean contribution is a lot lower.
Let's say we have 100 backers. 99 of them spend $1. The 100th, a rich gamer, spends $1000.

(1000x1 + 1x99)/100 = $10,9 per gamer

But in reality... 99 out of 100 spent $1.

So how's that $10,9 called? Average? Mean?

The $10.9 is called average. The median value is the value where half of the players paid more and half of the players paid less, in this case $1.

For example the average wage in the USA in 2013 was $43,000, while the median wage only was $28,000. Averages are usually larger than medians, because a few large numbers don't shift the median, but move the average a lot.
Except Kickstarter isn't a shop where you buy games, its a platform where you donate money, so a $100 donation for something is very different than buying something for $100.

And if anything, the success rate for Kickstarter (at least for games as I don't follow it overall) is incredibly high for backers. How many truly great games has Kickstarter produced vs how many have been funded overall? Now compare that ratio to the ratio of truly great games released each year vs the total number of releases.

Godus is being used as some horrible example of Kickstarter failure, yet people who backed it still got a game, and a half-decent one at that, just without all of the stretch 'promises'. If that's the worst example, how is that even comparable to something like SW:TOR, or Allods just after beta, or LotRO today, or about a million examples of hyped games that at release were downright horrible or unplayable?
Imagine a drug dealer in front of a judge saying that he didn't "sell" drugs, he just gave drugs to people in exchange for donations. Do you think the judge would accept that argument?

Most people treat Kickstarter as some sort of pre-purchase plan, because every game development project on Kickstarter has "you get the game" as backer reward starting from some specific amount.
Thanks Tobold for the clarification.

Well, in this case I'd say that we should consider the median kickstarter pledge (not the average) to better understand how much people really invest into these projects. Because there are always those big whales, as you call them, that raise the numbers by a lot.
So a charity that sends you a coffee mug if you donate $100 is a scam if some people who donate believe they are 'buying' the mug?
That depends on whether they A) use the money for the purpose they said, and B) they actually delivered the mug. The problem with Kickstarter is that they frequently fail on both A) and B).
And plenty of charities don't, but should we then say all charity donations are bad, or that the entire system should be abolished? Of course not.

Giving money to a poorly run or fraudulent charity is like backing a Derek Smart Kickstarter; that's on you for not doing your research.
I just bought Pillars of Eternity. I didn't back the Kickstarter, I waited for the game to come out, read the reviews, and watched gameplay videos before deciding to buy the game. THAT is what I call doing my research.

Trusting a Kickstarter because of some big names in the team is foolish, because the project can still be badly managed, regardless of which known people work on it.
I would say one of the core competencies of an experienced senior engineer/ designer is being able to put more accurate predictions on projects. If Peter Molyneux has not learned that then he's either got a serious blind spot that other people on his team have been covering for, or knows how unlikely his targets were and is lying about it.
I did my research during the kickstarter. Looked at who was on the team, what they wanted to do, and how they were going to attempt to do it. Given the state of the RPG genre (every game looking more and more like a sRPG WoW-clone due to the millions of people wallet-voting that game post-WotLK), that research, and the cost, it wasn't hard for me to decide to donate.

Ultimately myself and 77k others helped to make PoE happen, for the benefit of you and the likely millions of others who are going to buy it, and very likely changed the course of the RPG genre as a whole (we are going to be seeing PoE-clones sooner rather than later).

You're welcome.
That is an extremely easy claim to make AFTER the fact. And frankly you can't even be sure that Paradox wouldn't have financed the game without Kickstarter.

Name me ONE game which you believe will be genre-changing and financed by Kickstarter but which HASN'T been released yet. Then we can see if you have any actual skills in telling the future.
No no, I made that prediction in 2012, and I have the Kickstarter pledge to prove it. You are on the outside looking in now with that one, but the history book has been written, the debate is over. 77k were right, and everyone else jumping in has us thank for it.

Going forward, that's too easy; Crowfall. Feel like going 0/2 and disagreeing?

0/2? Go ahead, search my blog, I never made any prediction about Pillars of Eternity not going to be a success.

Crowfall you are just going cheat and define "success" on your own crazy terms. "Oh wow, Crowfail got more players than Darkfail, what a huge success!". I am quite willing to predict that Crowfall player numbers will never come anywhere close to the genre standard for games for evil bastards, which is EVE Online, if you want to bet against that.
You didn't Kickstart PoE, that is on record, and money talks a lot louder than words, sorry. 0/1 there and that's in the books.

Setting the bar for Crowfall above the second most successful MMO in history is a little high, so no on that, but lets just say similar to how every MMO now has PQs thanks to WAR, post-Crowfall many MMOs are going to have a few Crowfall-like items eventually, and Crowfall itself will have more than enough players to keep it going at a healthy clip. Feel free to redefine that however you wish to somehow fit your view of things.
It is you who is defining success with weasel words. Give me a number, any number that can be verified afterwards. How about 100,000 players?

And EVE Online the second most successful MMO in history? How about Lineage, Guild Wars 1 and 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, and, and, and ...

Check MMOData, but I guess in your world data don't count, and you just make up success criteria that prove your point.
Hooray, someone still reads my blog even though I don't post very often! :D

The problem is that games are still an entertainment business. Sitting by yourself and doing good work doesn't get the attention. I like to think I've done good work, but I'm at best a B-level MMO celebrity, and I think at least part of that is because I've been pretty mediocre at promoting that work.

Also, entertainment is not a linear process. There is a lot of false starts and dead ends. Just sometimes when you run out of resources you have to ship. Molyneux was in a great position in the past to be able to get the resource he needed in the past, but it's hard to run a second crowdfunding campaign to make up the shortfall. People are getting a glimpse of what it's like in the sausage factory, and people are surprised it's not as clean and neat as the envisioned.

We'll see. I want Kickstarter to be a viable alternative to publisher funding, but I think too many people just don't understand what that truly means. Both the people running the campaigns, and people chipping in money.
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