Join 3,442 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


But no one ever cared about the cloth map they got for a game that wasn’t any good.
October 4, 2012 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Kickstarter success stories have so far been firmly rooted in nostalgia, not innnovation. We’re seeing some of the biggest talent in the industry openly abandoning the ambition of innovation, and we’re paying them to do it.
Kicking It Old School: The Peril Of Kickstarter Nostalgia
posted by griphus (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dunno - is all the retro stuff straight nostalgia? At least some of it seems to be based on a desire to roll back the clock then take a different direction - going places that would be difficult to go given the set of emphasises modern AAA games have.
posted by Artw at 6:55 AM on October 4, 2012 [17 favorites]


Agreed. Working in a particular form isn't always nostalgia — sometimes it's just because it's a nice form that still has room to be explored.
posted by glhaynes at 7:02 AM on October 4, 2012


Innovation can be in terms of technology and platform or it can be in terms of narrative. Taking an old platform and updating the plot and the jokes and the scenery and making it thoughtful or transgressive is an innovation, one that big companies probably aren't willing to pay for. But big companies are willing to pay for technological leads forward, and are probably the best place for that since they can easily afford to fund R&D.

It's like this guy is complaining that the Artist should have been in 3d.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:02 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: "Kickstarter’s gaming successes strike me as a one-time thing, a round-up of the past, and then done."

The past is never done. Even in gaming's short history, there is always more meaning to be mined from old tech and old tropes.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:04 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Folks maybe rtfa before inserting your "I don't care"s?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure "worried about this" is what's going on here. There's a point being made -- a relevant one that I'm maybe half on board with, and half agreeing with everyone else here -- about an artistic medium. I mean, yeah, people do wring their hands about lack of innovation in painting and the writing of novels, except if you don't travel in those circles, you're not going to hear about it. But novels now are different than novels from thirty years ago, just as video games now are different from thirty years ago.

If you have no respect for the medium, and a clear ignorance of its history, why even say anything at all?
posted by griphus at 7:15 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Developers have been stating in their own pitch videos, and subsequent interviews, that Kickstarter has often been about finally escaping the clutches of the publishers, able to spread their wings and be creative where the evil money-men would crush them, able to innovate, innovate, INNOVATE! But almost no one is.

This reads to me more a misunderstanding of what developers want. They got out of the clutches, spread their wings, and were creative without the money-men. All good.

The "innovate, innovate, INNOVATE" part is the only thing missing but really, you have to put the word "innovate" into any fundraising video because it's just a buzzword. They probably also said "amazing" and "incredible" and "open" without meaning those words either.

If they described the game accurately and people were happy, case closed.
posted by DU at 7:17 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that the nostalgia meme isn't limited to Kickstarter and video games. The overarching paradigm these days is that things we loved in the past should come back (movies and TV shows and fashion and interior designs), so why wouldn't Kickstarter's successes right now be any different?

Nostalgia is selling right now. When that changes, I'm sure that Kickstarter (if it's still around) will follow.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on October 4, 2012


Nostalgia is selling right now.

Maybe, but it's nothing like the nostalgia they sold when I was a kid.
posted by griphus at 7:29 AM on October 4, 2012 [27 favorites]


Also "innovate" can be a code word for "something like back in the days when people really innovated, as opposed to the soulless, profit-days of today". Even if the thing produced is not an innovation, it can be evocative of one.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Speaking of novels not being the same as 30 years ago, check out the Penderwicks kids series. Deliberately written to be similar to a much earlier age and enormously popular with actual children (and also really good, which is not the same thing).
posted by DU at 7:29 AM on October 4, 2012


Meanwhile mainstream publishers are ramping up to release innovative games like Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Assasin's Creed 3, and Pokemon Black and White 2 soon after a stellar creative year of Diablo 3, Borderlands 2, Resident Evil 6, And Final Fantasy XIII-2.
posted by Blue Meanie at 7:29 AM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Kickstarter is about getting regular folks, who aren't trained to recognize what makes an new idea into a successful innovation or not, to believe in something enough that they are willing to pay for it before it even exists.

It's easier to get people to take that leap of faith if you can link what you are doing to something that they already love.

That being said, I feel like the author overstates the point somewhat. The success of things like CLANG! (and maybe OUYA) seem to show to me that there is a way for new innovations in gaming to be successful on Kickstarter.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:30 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd argue that focusing on new technology and the risk-averse attitude that comes with skyrocketing development budgets has done much more to made mainstream games less innovative.

I'll wager that a new Wasteland game from Brian Fargo will be more innovative than Fallout 3 was. Or that Obsidian studios can make a Planescape sequel with Chris Avellone that's more innovative than their Fallout 3 sequel, New Vegas, was. I'm sure there are Kickstarter campaigns wanting to make a new FPS in the Quake 3 engine that will produce something more innovative than Call of Duty has been for a decade.
posted by straight at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


...And Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Also, there's part three of the Final Fantasy XIII series entitled Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. But I guess we're lucky they didn't just call it Garmonbozia Final Fantasy Stormdrain or something.
posted by griphus at 7:43 AM on October 4, 2012


Have we finally admitted that Kickstarter is just a mechanism for funding video game sequels and video game fanart chapbooks?
posted by Nomyte at 7:43 AM on October 4, 2012


I dunno - is all the retro stuff straight nostalgia? At least some of it seems to be based on a desire to roll back the clock then take a different direction - going places that would be difficult to go given the set of emphasises modern AAA games have.

This is quite tangential, but a very similar thought can be put forward about many art forms in general. Lots of babies have gone out with the bathwater during massive shifts in the history of art, and it's by no means obvious how those babies would have grown up.
posted by Anything at 7:47 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Old School RPG Kickstarter looks like a parody of recent Kickstarters, it's pretty painful, so it's causing a lot of this kind of naval gazing from game writers.

Why they didn't include something with some personality like this post from their dev blog I have no idea. I still don't have a lot of confidence in their game, but who wouldn't want some comfortable pants that cause emotional issues in your enemies?

Anyway, I don't disagree with the RPS post, but I think there's more going on here than just a nostalgia kick. John Walker skips a key element. I think there's a small backlash going on in the game world right, with a significant number of players looking for challenge, for rough edges.

Modern game development is all about polishing a game to a shine. Balancing a game to perfection. Focus grouping and A/B testing until you have a smooth-as-glass path that even the least engaged player can slide right along from loop to loop. That cool shiny thing you find in the treasure chest is going to be exactly 5% better than the one you have currently. There will be nothing unexpected or outside the curve.

For some gamers (and I'm talking about myself here of course), this results in a dull product. Nowhere is this more evident than in RPGs (Bioware, ugh).

Look at a Kickstarter hit like FTL. FTL has some elements of nostalgia certainly, but the overall design is unique. People like it, though, because it allows failure. In fact, it makes failure fun. Or let's talk about Dark Souls (please? because I could talk for hours about Dark Souls), a game which you can't really call nostalgia at all, but which sold like crazy partially because it found this audience of gamers that was looking for games that offer challenge. I see a connection there with the desire gamers have for recreating the classics.
posted by malphigian at 7:51 AM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Damn straight I'm paying them to avoid innovation. Whose bright idea was it to take something loved by almost all who played it (like Baldur's Gate, or the original isometric Fallouts, or the Jagged Alliance games, or freaking XCOM!) and only ever make two games? It was a play style I loved, and am happy to see the developers loved it too.

Sure, you want to update the stuff under the hood, which is why they are all using Unity. But once you have got that recreated, you can take all the time you spent futzing around with the engine and making a story!

Although FTL is pretty fun, and I think it is innovative.
posted by BeeDo at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The focus in modern gaming is on Very Expensive Assets. And if an asset is very expensive they're damn well going to make sure it's shown to the player and in the right order and in the right way... Going lofi is a way out of that, and something like FTL would be no more fun if it had exquistly rendered cut scenes with very expensive voice actors.
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I honestly think FTL would be less fun with cutscenes and voice acting. With all its flaws, the tempo of that game is perfect.
posted by griphus at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can make up your own stupid intra-crew soap opera!
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2012


The mantis crew gets all the fun. Although I guess if engis love repairing, they are having a good time too.
posted by BeeDo at 8:06 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the next episode of Masterpiece FTL, Slocum gets slowly punched to death in the Medbay while Murdock dies from either fire or oxygen deprivation, depending on the speed of the leak.
posted by griphus at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


My slug crewmember is having an affair with the rockman I keep aside for boarding actions - she frets every time he's on an away mission.
posted by Molesome at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile mainstream publishers are ramping up to release innovative games like...Final Fantasy XIII-2

Damn right. When was the last time you saw two sequel numbers in a single title?

Damnit, forgot about the Half Life 2 episodes.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:09 AM on October 4, 2012


Human Dolan questions his life choices as he fights fire while the Rockman works the engines.
posted by BeeDo at 8:11 AM on October 4, 2012


Nice Roman-Arabic split.
posted by Artw at 8:11 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Humans are uninteresting.
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have no respect for the medium, and a clear ignorance of its history, why even say anything at all?
Hi, you look like you're new here. This is called the 'internet'. Let me show you around.

(I agree with you entirely, I think the -real- problem is that there are too many people spouting off uninformed opinions as if they had some sort of value. Case in point.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:18 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've found this to be a problem with Kickstarter in general. As a male in the coveted 18-35 range, there is a thing as being too targeted of a demographic. Remember that pnp rpg/band/video game/comic book/cartoon? We're getting the team back together. It's not about sequels, it more that the world seems to be sucking creative inspiration solely from the years 1990-1995.

Granted this is probably a reflection of society in general, as purveyors of culture finally realize that baby boomers are starting to get on fixed income, and must find demographic alternatives to hawk wares. Still, I wish I could turn on the radio without hearing Nirvana on the hour, every hour.
posted by zabuni at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2012


Nostalgia is ever-present. Remember in the early aughts that everything was all about the 80's, and then in the 90's everything was about the 70's, and before that people were raving about the 50's and 60's? From music to cars to interior design?

Hell, I mean 'art deco' is a style that is nostalgic, quite literally, in and of itself.

The real problem with innovation is that we expect it at every single intersection we come to these days. It's the same concept as everybody expecting to win the lottery.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:26 AM on October 4, 2012


I think the author is missing the distinction between "nostalgia" and "an established relationship of trust."

Even in the gaming categories, there are new original RPG and gaming projects that are hitting the $1M and $2M $3M marks. Project Eternity still has two weeks to go and is about to top $3M, and is only 'nostalgia' if you consider comparisons to past successful franchises "nostalgia" rather than "useful explanations of gameplay similarities."

Yes, the Wastelands 2 and Shadowrun projects were successful in large part because of the fond memories fans have had. On the other hand, those projects involved talented teams of industry veterans with deep experience in the source material they'd be basing the proposed games on. And THAT spells trust -- one of the biggest hurdles for a Kickstarter project to overcome. Another retro-nostalgia project, RoboArena, promised to duplicate the gameplay of the cult classic "RoboSport," but only barely cleared the $1000 mark. It had a team of unknowns and a more difficult time getting traction.

I think the author is arriving at some really, really broad conclusions based on a small set of example projects.
posted by verb at 8:34 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read the word innovation so many times in this article that it ceased having meaning.

Just look at the big success stories. Beginning with Schafer and Double Fine’s bid to make an adventure like they used to in the old days, to Fargo’s relaunching the Wasteland saga, to Obsidian’s promising an RPG like Planescape, to The Banner Saga’s tile-based combat, to Planetary Annihilation’s pledge to be like RTS games you remember.

Yeah. First thing, Planetary Annihilation's selling point was moving a TA-like format of RTS to an interplanetary setting. Games usually either don't care much for individual planets and go full-on galactic scale (SOASE) or are limited to stages or, at best, big parts of a planet (Supreme Commander). So this nostalgic game is doing more than the official spiritual sequel to TA, and watching the trailer might have helped.

Most importantly, the author's view of innovation is terribly skewed. These successful kickstarters deal in genres that have been mostly overlooked or straight-up abandoned. People think they can get more pleasure out of this style of game and if no one is offering something similar, then this is something new to the market a.k.a. innovation. It's not as if these devs will port decades-old mechanics without working (or should I say innovating) on them. Fallout 3 and NV sold like pancakes, but people thought they didn't pursue certain avenues they were interested in. The Jagged Alliance remake was awful. Wanting Wasteland 2 (or the new X-Com) means that people think there is still potential in the genre.

And you know what, I don't care about innovation as a buzzword. You can't convince the board of directors that Planescape's storytelling was an innovation, but it took a kitchen-sink setting and a tired combat system and molded them into a unique experience. That's what people are expecting: games that their creators want to play, not games that are produced simply because they'll have a higher ROI even though they are generic dross. As long as this isn't happening, I'm not convinced I shouldn't give my money to the designer of Monkey Island 2 and Full Throttle.
posted by ersatz at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


These successful kickstarters deal in genres that have been mostly overlooked or straight-up abandoned. People think they can get more pleasure out of this style of game and if no one is offering something similar, then this is something new to the market a.k.a. innovation.

I think you might be confusing "innovation" with "diversity in the market of games that are currently being offered for sale". Bringing back game mechanics and genres that were abandoned in the 90's will diversify the market, but you could hardly call it creative.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:23 AM on October 4, 2012


The first thing I kickstarted was Andrew Plotkin's Hadean Lands, an interactive fiction game. This wasn't because I'm nostlagiac for interactive fiction games, but because I wanted a new really good one. (Speaking of which, this year's IF Competition is on.)
posted by Zed at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2012


just doing my part to turn this into a stealth FTL thread

Of all the games I've backed, FTL is the only one to come out so far. Wildly successful (asked for $10k, got $200k), it's clearly inspired by old roguelike traditions but is also very much its own thing. It's a great game that doesn't rely on the built-in mindshare of a pre-existing franchise or the use of a well-worn gameplay template.

Does Banner Saga really count as relying on people's nostalgia? "Turn-based grid strategy game" is not exactly a small niche; everything from King's Bounty to Final Fantasy Tactics to Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor to Disgaea falls into that category, each of which play differently to the others in significant ways. Its traditionally-animated art style is something we haven't seen very much of in video games—the only other significant example that comes to mind is The Whispered World, aka "huh I never heard of that game what's it about."

Many good game pitches rely on some level on old game tropes, mostly because it's very hard to explain how your game will play in the absence of common touchstones. Blackspace, for example, is a great-looking combo of asteroid mining, action RPG and tower defense with accurate physics modelling and a basic geology model. The pitch video contains what appears to be a working prototype, which is more than what most game pitches bring to the table these days. And it's floundering right now, with over two-thirds of its goal to make up in the second half of its campaign. (No, I don't work on Blackspace, though I did back the Kickstarter project.) I think it's because Blackspace's essential concept is difficult to explain without falling back on the established tower defense genre, which in turn implies a lot of things (low production values, aimed at casual gamers) that I don't think the project is going for.

And I don't think Blackspace is alone. Remember that Republique's Kickstarter almost failed. That's in part due to what I think were strategic blunders on Camouflaj's part, yes, but even if the way that team handled PR for Republique left a bad taste in your mouth, the essential concept of the game was a blend of stuff you already know (the adventure game bits) and stuff you haven't really seen much of (interacting with Hope through security cameras and phones). That's harder to explain than "it's like the original Fallout, but with prettier graphics!"

But at the same time, I see what RPS is saying, and to a certain extent they're right. To me, the real issue is pitches that rely on nostalgia are lazy pitches; the Old School Role-Playing Game project Walker maligns in the article is a good example. But lazy pitches aren't confined to nostalgic projects, and some (seemingly) great projects with comprehensive pitches nevertheless involve elements of nostalgia. The worst part is, until these games actually start coming out, we're not really going to know if Brathwaite and Hall can contribute something new to the RPG canon, or if any of the other games with a nostalgic bent (Wasteland, Shadowrun, etc.) are good games in their own right.
posted by chrominance at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Homestuck.

2.5m, initial goal 700k.

Modern IP. Unknown team.

I dunno if the game will be innovative. I don't remember if that was promised. What was promised was a game based on this bizarre webcomic inspired by old adventure game mechanics and absurdities. Hopefully they'll deliver.
posted by egypturnash at 9:39 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of happening on Kickstarter with tabletop RPGs, both old and new school. Are video games really that different?
posted by jiawen at 9:54 AM on October 4, 2012


just doing my part to turn this into a stealth FTL thread

I'm just waiting for RPS to finish their damn FTL diary and then there will be a reckoning.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's the bulk of what I've backed, with the odd comic. RPG culture seems to have taken to Kickstarter pretty naturally, and I wouldn't be suprised if there's some crossover with the computer RPGs. FTL actually feels like it would work as a really awesome modern board game.
posted by Artw at 9:57 AM on October 4, 2012


I'm just waiting for RPS to finish their damn FTL diary and then there will be a reckoning.

His crew is going to die horribly in Sector 8. I almost can't bring myself to look.
posted by IjonTichy at 10:31 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you might be confusing "innovation" with "diversity in the market of games that are currently being offered for sale". Bringing back game mechanics and genres that were abandoned in the 90's will diversify the market, but you could hardly call it creative.

They're not just bringing them back though, but also working on them. For instance, Project Eternity is meant to take elements from various old rpgs and rework them in a custom system, Wasteland 2 is not a straight port of WL mechanics either and Planetary Annihilation expands the scope of the playing field in a way that should be interesting if they make it work. Continuing to work on old mechanics and genres is incremental innovation and, in my view, more interesting than using 15% more polygons in your character models. I care more about execution than about novelty.

Besides, these are creative people. Obsidian's time-limited dialogue options in Protocol Alpha were an interesting choice and even if Schafer used the mechanics of Full Throttle, but came up with a brand new script that was as humorous, it would still be a creative game in one of its aspects even though I'd be cursing pixelhunting with the rest of you.
posted by ersatz at 10:36 AM on October 4, 2012


/boarded the spider FPP and lOst crewmbers.
posted by Artw at 10:38 AM on October 4, 2012


One reason that Kickstarter funding tends to favor well-known designs is that Kickstarter itself has implemented a policy which prohibits showing planned implementations and projections. You have to advertise what you have now, not what you intend it to look like. This favors old-school, familiar game design models, since "it's going to look like Prince of Persia 2012" is a lot easier to explain than "trust us, it's going to look like nothing you've ever seen before!"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:42 AM on October 4, 2012


One reason that Kickstarter funding tends to favor well-known designs is that Kickstarter itself has implemented a policy which prohibits showing planned implementations and projections.

The linked policy seems to only apply to the "Hardware" and "Product Design" categories -- most of the projects in discussion here probably fall under the "Games" category instead.

(Something I missed the first time in the FAQ on that post is that it's actually even narrower than that: the ban on product simulations and renderings applies only to Hardware and Product Design projects where the product itself is a backer reward. If your Hardware project is your Burning Man kinetic sculpture or whatever, render away.)
posted by jdherg at 11:59 AM on October 4, 2012


That policy has also only been in place for a couple of weeks. I don't think it is relevant here.
posted by oulipian at 12:10 PM on October 4, 2012


There's a lot of game genres that have sort of died over the last decade or so, and it's great to see those be revived. But game design has grown up as well. I love to see retro game styles updated to modern design, instead of retro game designs that embrace their retroness so much that they cling to the same design mistakes that existed before.

Example (warning neither of these games are released, I'm semi talking out of my ass) the new Firaxis xcom vs xenonaughts. The first feels like they took the original xcom, and "euro"fied it to be a tighter, cleaner game. The second is just "x-com was awesome, we are going to recreate it as closely as possible". Xcom excites me a lot more.

In the board game world I feel like there's an amazing new generation of strategy games that is taking the styles and gameplay feel of games from the 70s and 80s, and mixing them with the lessons learned from euroinvasion gameplay of the 90s and 00's, and that's leading to some exciting game designs. I'd love to see more of that in the computer game world, but instead I feel like there's too much "ohh, pixel art and crushing difficulty, isn't that awesome?"
posted by aspo at 12:51 PM on October 4, 2012


On Kickstarter, you have to prove yourself, either by:

a) Being Tim Schafer/Charles Cecil/Jordan Weisman/etc
b) Convincingly promising to recreate an already-beloved but sadly underused game style/IP
c) Offering something new that is so compelling, people MUST buy it (and it helps if you're convincing)

C) is where the innovation happens, and unsurprisingly, it doesn't happen very often because you need to convince thousands of people that your idea is good. I funded FTL because it looked like a lot of fun, and I've also funded some other weird/interesting games like Against the Wall (plus my company made Zombies, Run!, which was Kickstarter-funded).

It's not easy, coming up with innovative game ideas that are so compelling people will throw money at you. There are plenty of very experienced companies that are not wanting for cash that nevertheless still can't manage to innovate frequently. Sometimes I get the feeling, particularly in the UK/Europe, that people would prefer there to be some kind of grant-awarding body for new indie games, like the Arts Council, judging projects based on their merit - but believe me, Kickstarter is a million times better than the inevitably politicised, cronyist shitstorm that such a body would inevitably become.
posted by adrianhon at 1:11 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


FTL actually feels like it would work as a really awesome modern board game.
By all accounts, it does. Not FTL specifically, but every time I read Rock, Paper, Shotgun's coverage of it, I am overcome with a desire to purchase Space Alert.
posted by lumensimus at 1:17 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


lumensimus: I think this is the game you want
posted by aspo at 1:44 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


(FTL is awesome and all, but hugely influenced by the Battlestations boardgame, which is also awesome IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT GROUP)
posted by aspo at 1:45 PM on October 4, 2012


My FTL games are more like some black and white Russian or Scandinavian movie, an anonymous team trudges grimly through a brutal galaxy, merciless, greedy, and violent before being cut down in their turn by some cosmic disaster or some equally violent cadre of faceless goons. Then the cycle repeats. They may be dimly aware that they are trapped in a recurring hell of meaningless slaughter, bit this vague insight only serves as fuel for further brutality.

Fun game though.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kickstarter success stories have so far been firmly rooted in nostalgia, not innnovation.

Good. I'm a 38-year old white male who's past his prime and a little bit cranky about it, and I'd say it's about time the world starting pandering to my needs.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:30 AM on October 5, 2012


I'm a 38-year old white male who's past his prime and a little bit cranky about it, and I'd say it's about time the world starting pandering to my needs.

Be the baby boomer you want to find.
posted by Zed at 8:38 AM on October 5, 2012


« Older “Maybe after the election I’ll have a better sense...  |  The Crying Competition - A rac... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments