Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kickstarter & Game Project Patronage

Lately I’ve been watching a number of people -- both fellow game-designer friends and others with interesting ideas -- turn to Kickstarter to fund their projects. It’s inspired me to look at Kickstarter more closely as a means to publish my own game concepts currently under development…and while that’ll take me a bit of time to familiarize myself with how Kickstarter works, what people have done with it in the past, and how it might fit the vision for my own projects, it reminded me of a similar concept I contemplated about long ago, back when my online presence was focused through my old Griffon’s Aerie website (way back in 2004). Back then I posted a page called the “Patrons Club” listing some of my ideas for roleplaying game supplements I wanted to develop, with an eye to attracting the casual observer with influence in a roleplaying game publishing house.

The introduction to my “Patrons Club” listing of potential projects was a brief missive on the concept of patronage for game designers, much as in old times, when those with means (nobility, industrialists, clergy) funded the efforts of those with vision. I don’t mean to equate game designers -- especially average ones like me -- with the amazing artists who contributed to our civilization and culture, but the concept of patronage mirrors that system to some degree. This echoes some degree of what I understand of Kickstarter, though you can judge for yourself…here’s the original “Patrons Club” introduction I wrote in 2004:

"For centuries artists, pioneers, visionaries, and even just plain folks have pursued their careers with the generous funding and encouragement of patrons. Ramses the Great commissioned the artists of his ancient Egyptian empire to declare his glory in fine creations, from rings and scarabs to stone monuments still visible today. Pope Julius II funded Michelangelo’s artistic endeavors. Lord Carnarvon funded Howard Carter’s Egyptian excavations for years before they yielded anything of significant value. In our current age of corporate feudalism, these people seek their living by adjusting, molding, and constraining their dreams according to someone else’s dictates. The gaming hobby is no different -- game companies rarely pay outright for a freelance designer’s project. Instead they form an appealing and marketable concept and hire a writer to develop it according to their 'vision,' frequently a designer under their roof or from their own fold whom they can guide and control. If one doesn’t have the means to fund a company -- or to stay home all day and write for the fun of it -- one cannot create and sell games without severe financial risk.

"As a freelance writer I’m often torn between the projects I’d like to pursue and the assignments I must accept to make a living. Now and then I find some spare time to develop projects of my own which haven’t gone anywhere. Some are left over from my halcyon days of gaming just for the fun of it. Often there’s no market for them, they’re in rough stages, I haven’t had time to shop them around, or they were originally for games that have fallen from popularity. Usually they just don’t fit into anyone else’s corporate 'vision' according to marketing and their own whims for what a game should accomplish.

"In the 'Patrons Club' I want to list and briefly describe a few of these orphaned personal projects in the vain hope that someone, a generous patron, might see them, find something worthwhile in them, and perhaps hire me to develop them professionally."

I then went on to briefly outline several projects that ranged from one-shot scenarios and short articles to full-fledged roleplaying game supplements. I doubt anybody read the page much (and it has since disappeared along with the balance of my old Griffon’s Aerie website); certainly nobody of influence contacted me to develop these for professional publication, as I’d vainly hoped. At least two of the shorter projects reached PDF publication on their own and remain available through the Griffon Publishing Studio website “Free Downloads” page (Yugiri’s Gift, a samurai-themed adventure, and Trapped in the Museum, a solitaire adventure gamebook).

Granted, roleplaying game publishing has come a long way since then, with electronic publishing becoming more mainstream and outlets like DriveThruRPG acting as online stores for PDF books. And now I sit here suddenly captivated by the possibilities of Kickstarter, looking at the projects I’m developing, and wondering how best to offer these to a hopefully supporting gaming community and whether I as a game designer who’s probably faded from most people’s memory (if they knew me at all) have the influence to garner enough Kickstarter support for a project….