Interestingly, the industry is in a state of flux. While monstrous publishers are berated for disingenuous business practices, beloved studios are grabbing headlines and free money simply by asking. And no more has this division been shown than within the last month.
Recently, Tim Schafer pandered to gamers' hearts via Kickstarter, to make a point-and-click adventure, a genre the studio made famous. At first glance, anything from Double Fine would garner mass attention. Yet publishers refused to fund the project because it wasn't a first-person shooter (speculative, of course). Their pledge went viral and donations poured in within hours, even trending first worldwide.
The fund hit their projections in eight hours and just passed the three million milestone, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. And what happened? The studio crowdsourced -- or, actually, fan-sourced. The contributors were admirers of Double Fine's work, including many prominent personalities (and even some gaming journalists; don't tell nobody). Thus, a widely-released game was funded by fans, for fans, and not helmed by a profit-motivated entity.
Double Fine's success has displayed the true power of the audience, where admiration and reputation are worth more than dumping downloadable content into consumers' laps. The intense relationship is generated from a genuine appreciation for the artistic nature of game development, and how Double Fine seems undeterred in stifling creativity for a few extra bucks. And, expectedly, others have recognized the potential for Kickstarter, like what's going on with Wasteland 2.
Setting the benchmark for post-apocalyptic titles, Wasteland realized in 1988. A sequel has long been called for by fans; and to inXile's credit, they came out in droves. After setting up a Kickstarter fund last Tuesday, the project reached its ambitious total of $900,000 in two days. They made the project run 35 days, not knowing the explosive fallout (no pun intended). The extra cash will allow for many versions, including Mac and Linux, and more content without budgetary concerns. Again, replicating what the future of game development might look like.
Just within the last week was another notable example of fan involvement: Mass Effect 3's ending. The well-documented anger over BioWare's decision to have an ending come down to a single choice set fans ablaze, accusing the developer of short-sighting a marvelous game. A massive story leak last August set development back, and it may have been a blessing-in-disguise judging by how distraught fans were over what was revealed. Claiming to care for fan opinion, Casey Hudson talked exclusively with Digital Trends about the controversies.
Regarding the endings, Hudson said:"I don't want the game to be forgettable, and even right down to the sort of polarizing action that the ends have had with people -- debating what the ends mean and what's going to happen next, and what situation are the characters left in."
Hardly a game of Mass Effect 3's magnitude would ever be forgotten, establishing an innovative standard in the amount of branching plots and overarching stories that few franchises have ever achieved. But Mr. Hudson's perspective, with that fear of making the game "forgettable", is misinterpreting the point. Fan outrage stems from an obscenely passionate (and almost exclusive) ownership of the franchise, and what the fanbase will remember are the various controversies.
Making the studio respond was one thing, but over 14,000 signatures is another. Some fans have gone further as to turn the outrage into a positive message, raising $40,000 for Child's Play. The charitable aspect adds weight to the claim and benefits a good cause -- smart on their part.
While there is a sense of 'gamer entitlement' (a term thrown around a lot lately from this scenario), it's the first time in a long while that fans have so actively revolted like this. And assuming BioWare isn't business tone deaf, it's also a first that fans have actively sought downloadable content this soon after release (in an effort to change the ending).
Some have speculated the botched ending was EA trying to pull a Final Fantasy XIII-2, leading the ultimate conclusion to downloadable content. Obviously this shouldn't be the case, because next time anyone visits a major gaming site, the top headline will read: "BioWare Offices Burned Down".
How this trend evolves over the coming months could have a profound impact on the future of game development. From outrageous business practices to simple courtliness, fans get a gold star in active participation. BioWare, Double Fine and inXile are all working away on their latest projects due to vital support or criticism, only to better craft (and tell the world) consumers actually have a say. Another gold star everyone.
Now go sit down and finish your homework. Your assignment: write an angry letter and show you care. Jeff out.
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