As Steam, Humble Bundle — and soon, Valve hopes, the Steam Machine — continue to bring PC gaming to the forefront of in-home entertainment, the indie gaming scene is as popular as it has ever been. Still, though, indie developers need funding, and both Kickstarter and early access games have risen to prominence as the most popular ways to push a game through development. Unfortunately, both methods of funding are ruining PC gaming.
Crowdfunding is one of the only ways to help indie developers make some potentially great — or at least, interesting — games. It’s unlikely that a big-name publisher would take a chance on and fund two unproven kids developing a game from their shared studio apartment. Turning the funding over to interested gamers is a decent way for those developers to make enough money to work on the game full-time, rather than be driven to madness due to working a desk job during the day just to buy a meager amount of food to eat while developing their game at night.
Releasing a playable-but-unfinished version of a game — called “early access” instead of something more accurate like “frustratingly unfinished access” — is another admittedly clever, though ultimately ruinous way to help fund a game. If a game needs another jolt of money for whatever reason, giving players “early access” to the current build of the game is at least more appealing than asking for some more funds but not providing anything in return. While crowdfunding platforms and early access releases are both successful ways of generating money, they’re also lowering both the excitement and quality of PC games as a whole.
What’s so bad about giving you a playable build in return for your pre-order, or helping to fund a game that would otherwise not get made? Both avenues of game development create different issues, though both are debilitating. Kickstarter, though a platform for interesting ideas, is more often than not a platform for eventual disappointment. The crowdfunding site’s biggest qualitative success was Cards Against Humanity, everyone’s favorite game to avoid playing with grandma. The other top successes were either huge disappointments, games or movies that have yet to release months or years later, and a virtual reality headset development kit that isn’t compatible with much, and ultimately requires expensive companion gadgets to achieve its goal.
It’s fine if you want to take a risk and help fund a product on Kickstarter, but the platform not only doesn’t guarantee a worthwhile product — or one that works well, or even releases at all — but it ruins the games news cycle. A large swathe of PC games you read about on your outlet of choice ultimately finishes with a link to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, destroying your excitement and anticipation of a title. Again, tossing money toward projects that would otherwise not receive funding is great, but squelching your excitement about upcoming releases is detrimental to your own enjoyment.
Next page: The downside of early access
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