Question Block : Focusing on Kickstarter Eh?

As always people, submit questions to rdonaldson@vfs.com and we’ll answer them in upcoming editions of Question Block!

 

What do you think the announcement of Kickstarter being available in Canada means?

It’s great news! Kickstarter has emerged as a viable funding source for creative projects of all kinds, including games. We’ve seen a number of games (and hardware, like Ouya) being successfully funded through Kickstarter, with some projects reaching very impressive funding targets.

Canada has had access to crowdfunding for some time in the form of Indiegogo, but Kickstarter is a better-known platform for game-related projects. Having access to Kickstarter could help a lot of Canada’s studios get the funding they need to get their dream projects off the ground. With the growth of social, mobile, and free-to-play, we’ve seen a lot of new startups on the Canadian gaming scene.

Kickstarter comes to Canada later this summer.

Sometimes it can be hard for those new studios to raise the funding needed to turn their dreams into a reality. Additionally, many of today’s games don’t necessarily fit into a traditional publisher-developer mold, preventing that avenue of funding as well. Alternative sources like Kickstarter could be very important to studios that fall into this camp.

That said, there are a few caveats:

  • Firstly, running a successful Kickstarter campaign is tougher than a lot of people think. It is a project on its own, and requires a lot of time and energy.
  • Secondly, the viability of Kickstarter as a game funding platform will be affected by the first few major crowdfunded projects to ship. As we saw recently with Ouya, consoles shipped to stores but not backers. This kind of outcome will leave a very bad taste in the mouths of some backers, perhaps to the point that they will not fund another project.
  • Thirdly, we don’t necessarily know how the Canada Revenue Agency will view the income being collected through Kickstarter, and we therefore don’t know how it will be taxed.
  • And lastly, there could be complications with shipping physical rewards to backers (which, by the way, is a cost developers need to remember to factor in if you decide to raise funding via Kickstarter!).

Having Kickstarter in Canada looks like it will undoubtedly be a good thing. What remains to be seen is just how good it will be!

 

Why do developers sometimes drastically change their game because of focus groups?

Whenever we make games, there is uncertainty: will people like it, will it be fun, will it be challenging enough, how many people will buy it, and countless other questions about the choices we’ve made as developers.

Some of these questions pertain more to creative issues, while others are more business-driven. Waiting until the game ships can put developers and publishers in a bad situation if their expectations for success fall flat, so focus groups are sometimes used to provide feedback during development, while there is still time to make changes.

Focus groups can take many forms, from initial surveys on concepts to concentrated playtesting on specific parts of the game. Developers can ask very specific questions (How hard was level 2? Which car did you select for track 3?) or very general (What are your thoughts about the game? What do you think about this concept?). By getting responses from many people, developers can use that data to make decisions about whether and how to change the game before it ships.

Focus groups can be a double-edged sword.

That said, there are problems inherent with focus groups. They may not always be a good representation of the target demographic. Deadlines mean that developers can’t wait for the perfect representative focus group, so usually they rely on volunteers. Some of these volunteers are members of the game’s target demographic, but some aren’t. Another big issue is sample size. Often there just aren’t enough people in focus groups to capture the range of thoughts of the entire target demographic. So always take these results with a grain of salt.

The reason games typically change (sometimes drastically) as a result of focus groups is when the data confirms suspicions the team already had about things they wanted to change. Rarely, games change based on focus group results because the leadership team staunchly supports data over anything else.

With the continued growth of connected games, we are able to release a minimum viable product and use analytics to measure actual user behavior in the real world. We can use that data to make changes where needed based on actual play patterns. This is sort of like one giant focus group, and gives us great insight into how we can improve. But this doesn’t work for all games, and focus groups can still be useful in earlier stages of development. So don’t be afraid to use them, and incorporate any information you gather into your decision-making process.


Ryan Donaldson teaches the Business of Games course at VFS Game Design