The tangent between crowd-funding and transparency with Precursor’s first game.
As more and more legendary veterans returned, we’ve been seeing Kickstarters that are sequels and follow-ups to some of the most loved franchises in history. Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar, Chris Roberts’s Star Citizen, Torment: Tides of Numenara, Wasteland 2…even games and technologies meant to act as new experiences altogether have had us excited, with Oculus Rift, the OUYA, Double Fine’s Broken Age and Obsidian’s Project Eternity.
However, when Precursor Games announced that they had opened up a crowd-funding campaign for the upcoming Shadow of the Eternals, there was – as usual – curiosity. Then as it was revealed that Eternals was a spiritual sequel of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and that Precursor was made up of ex-Silicon Knights designers – including Denis Dyack – doubt began to creep in.
For those who don’t know, Dyack was in charge of Silicon Knights when it was developing X-Men: Destiny, and effectively siphoned off funds from that game to create Eternal Darkness 2. He also self-destructed his company from inside out, shutting out criticism and punishing those who spoke out, even having his wife as head of Human Resources to snuff any complaints about him (after which employees were promptly terminated).
Having Denis Dyack, especially in such a senior position, was hairy enough. However, the campaign demanded $1.5 million in funding, just for episode 1. There would be 12 episodes in total for Shadow of the Eternals, with the game would be heading to PC and Wii U. Ambitious, for sure, but some developers are making entire games with the kind of budget a single episode brings.
Did we mention the campaign on their site was non-refundable? This means that if the goal wasn’t met, backers wouldn’t be seeing their money again.
Precursor then went and started a second crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. This makes it somewhat better, since it provides some kind of safety net for people to get invested in the game. But given the kind of scope and budget that Eternals has, it’s still hard not to get a little skeptical.
The biggest problem that arises out of all this is the most obvious one. Ken Levine once said that he would never give a single dime to Zach Braff for his film Kickstarter, the reasoning being that the site is meant to fund the little guy with the next big idea. In the gaming industry, we have plenty of veterans and developers who are nothing unless they kneel before the whims of the great publisher.
These are developers who want to work to the benefit of fans, but also to answer directly to the fans. Because the gamers themselves know what they want from a product. If it’s something they want, they’ll fund it.
The question that arises then isn’t if we want a sequel to Eternal Darkness. The question is whether we want an Eternal Darkness sequel from Precursor Games. If it was the current iteration of Silicon Knights, which is pretty much shut down now, then the answer would be a resounding “no”. Precursor being made up of many erstwhile designers aside from Dyack gives it hope.
The fact that the team also has quite a bit to show off already helps. The amount of development done on the earlier Eternal Darkness 2 tech demo just wasn’t enough. The presence of public funding also gives a much needed layer of transparency to the proceedings. If things don’t work out, Precursor is answerable to the fans. Seeing as how a 12 episode series is planned, if the team doesn’t deliver in the sense that the backers’ money is wasted, they can say goodbye to any hopes of future development.
Not to mention the loss of credibility among other developers, which surely can’t help a “new” studio like this.
For now, Shadow of the Eternals outlines why Kickstarter (and crowd funding in general) is good for such projects, even if such projects may not be the best for crowd-funding.