I think it’s about time we all had a talk about crowdfunding, and with the current ruckus going on regarding Peter Molyneux’s Godus, now seems an apt opportunity. For those who haven’t heard, a number of concerns have been raised recently regarding the progress and direction of 22Can’s upcoming god game, with the lackluster PC version, the uncertain future of the multiplayer, the overlong development time, and the signing with a publisher (for the mobile version) being chief issues. Also of note is the studio ignoring Bryan Henderson who won the title “God of Gods” through 22Can’s previous title, Curiosity, though that’s not really pertinent to the discussion I want to have here today. In the wake of this realization that Godus might not live up to Molyneux’s infamous promises, a number of gaming sites have been vociferously calling him and his studio out while lamenting that this one bad experience might sour people on crowdfunding as a concept. Well we’re not here to do that, and while I’m certainly not going to defend the state of Godus or Peter’s legendary pie-in-the-sky promises, I think that rather than cry refund and play the victim, it’s time we take some personal responsibility and remember that the phrase “Buyer Beware” applies as much to the idealistic world of gaming as it does to buying a new car.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time the internet has gotten a bug up its ass regarding a high-profile Kickstarter project; just last year the gaming community exploded in impotent rage when Oculus was bought by Facebook, with angry backers demanding refunds of their Kickstarter pledges and decrying the company for taking an action of which they did not approve. But the thing that those backers forgot, and that much of the internet seems ignorant to, is the fact that backing a product via Kickstarter (or any other crowdfunding service) does not provide you the same rights as investing in or outright purchasing said product. In all actuality, a Kickstarter pledge is much more analogous to gambling than anything else; sure you expect to get something out of it in the end but there is no guarantee that what you’re spending money on will ever come to pass or be exactly as it is described on the Kickstarter page. This is especially the case when it comes to backing games because by their very nature games are constantly evolving and changing throughout the development process, making it nearly impossible for them to follow a stated roadmap and deliver on exactly what is described in a crowdfunding pitch. They need room to grow and improve, to cut and trim, to polish and shine, and those creative needs make development a very hard process to predict. This is why Early Access can be such a crapshoot as well, because what they’re selling you at that moment does not represent the final product and isn’t guaranteed to ever get finished. That is not to say that supporting games in this way is a bad thing, some really fantastic titles have only come about thanks to gamers actively supporting devs in such a fashion, but we need to remember that for all intents and purposes when we do spend money in this way, what we’re doing is rolling the dice and hoping that they don’t turn up snake-eyes.
And that brings us back to Peter Molyneux, because for the last fifteen years or so everything with his name attached has been a gamble. The man has a well-known penchant for making overambitious promises that never seem to quite pan out, but in the same way that you warily yet excitedly buy a lottery ticket, we get hyped up for whatever his new project is anyways and buy it in the hope that maybe this time those outlandish promises will actually come true. Sometimes you get a little something good (like with Fable 2) and sometimes you come up empty (like with Fable 3) but you never win the big $50-million prize and you learn to resign yourself to the fact that while winning that jackpot is technically a possibility, it’s almost certainly never going to happen. He’s a man with a very distinct and pronounced pattern to his history is what I’m trying to say. Sadly, Godus represents a particularly strong example of that pattern, with his regular over-the-top promises only being bolstered by the nature of Kickstarter. The goal there is to make all your money in one shot and you can’t go back for more; this makes it all too easy for people to over promise because they know that if they come up even a dollar short then they won’t get anything and will have wasted their chance. Such an environment is unsurprisingly an incredibly easy place for someone like Molyneux to let their bad habits get ahead of them, promising the world and only realizing once it’s too late that they won’t be able to fulfill those promises with the resources available. Really the only difference between Godus and any other Molyneux project is that this time the game is being developed with the money we chose to send him rather than it coming from the pockets of a publisher, with the operative word in that sentence being “chose”. Yes, it’s a pity that the thing you spent money on isn’t coming along exactly as you’d hoped, but you can’t throw a hissy fit when the slot machine doesn’t pay out; you’re the one who decided to dump all your quarters in there after all.
Because that is the ultimate lesson here, that we need to take responsibility for our financial decisions and learn to do some research and give some more thought to what we spend our money on, especially when what we’re spending that money on is still but a concept in the ether. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever take the chance to buy that game you’re really excited for while it’s in Early Access, or to pledge some cash to a project that you’re genuinely passionate about, but just remember to do a little digging first and make sure that you know the odds and can accept the responsibility before you decide to put your money down on the table. A little bit of caution and realism can go a long way in preventing disappointment, and in the world of magic and idealism that is gaming, that’s unfortunately something that is very easy to forget.