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Unabridged Comments – What we can learn from Fable Fortune’s Kickstarter [MCV]

Here is another Unabridged Comments (the fact I contributed to two articles in a short time frame kind of kicked me in doing this section). This time, it was MCV reaching out to me to discuss the unfortunate Kickstarter campaign for Fable Fortune. Like last time, I have fixed a few typos and rephrased some points I was making a bit.

Article premise – Here is the frame provided for the article:
  • The piece is centred around Fable Fortune on Kickstarter
  • The wider topic is why crowdfunding doesn’t really work for free-to-play titles
  • The request came with a series of questions I have reproduced below to frame the discussion
And these are my unabridged comments:

Were you surprised [Fable Fortune campaign failed]?

Well – whenever you set rules, [like the “Free-To-Play games don’t get crowd funded” rule], you always have exceptions to prove them wrong. I would have thought the Fable brand to be strong enough to invalidate this one.

There were other things at play, [and] without going too much into it right now, one comment that came back a lot was on the fact that Fable is an Xbox franchise at its heart, and the campaign was addressing the PC audience first and the Xbox audience (in appearance) only after a certain very high stretch goal was reached.

How would you assess Fable Fortune’s Kickstarter campaign? 

The Fable Fortune campaign was a surprise to me, and it didn’t unfold how I would have expected. The most important component to any campaign is to make sure you have an existing audience that you bring with you in the campaign, and Fable certainly  has that. The franchise is incredibly strong. Another key component is to be able to show the game, and certainly Fable Fortune fit the bill there again. And while Free-to-Play games tend to have a very hard time getting funded, the few notable exceptions are all CCGs, which made me optimistic for Fable Fortune.

As far as campaigns go, I think Fable Fortune did a lot of things right, I suspect they failed (or more precisely they would have failed as they cancelled the campaign before the end and secured funding with a 3rd party) due to the change in the video landscape. With Hearthstone dominating the CCG genre at the moment, they don’t fill a niche that is in strong demand. They also diluted their message by announcing their Stretch Goals from the beginning, something that is really not recommended.

Do you think that free-to-play games can be successfully crowdfunded?
Free-to-Play games are historically incredibly hard to get crowdfunded. The most notable exception is probably Hex Shards of Fate, a free-to-play CCG, that raised more than $2m three years ago. From the top of my head, I think I can count less than 20 successfully funded (free to play) video games on Kickstarter, and I would certainly advise [strongly] against trying to fund this type of game this way.
What challenges do you think free-to-play games face on Kickstarter?

The inherent promise of a Free-to-Play game is that you can try it for free, with no commitment, and as you play it, you may feel like putting your money into it. This is the opposite of what happens with a game that you crowdfund, where you build a promise that the game will be so interesting to you before you can play it, that you can safely put your money into it, months or years before you actually put your hands on it.

It makes funding a Free-to-Play game incredibly counter-intuitive. There are other principles at play too here. One of them is the fact that F2P games have offerings with a very large variance. You can spend a lot or you can spend a little. It might seem like it is the case for games funded on Kickstarter, where you can pledge at very different levels, but actually, the core experience offered is usually at one fixed price point (the price of the game), and everything else is additional perks on top of that core offering. This is not how most F2P games operate, and it makes it difficult for the potential backer to project how satisfying certain rewards will be.

And lastly, and it probably plays a role too, the profile of the most frequent backers for video games is certainly close to the profile of the players that are defiant of the F2P model: older, hardcore PC gamers.

What tips would you offer someone attempting to crowdfund a free-to-play game?
I would seriously advise against it first. And in case the project has some strong community that would help compensate the F2P handicap, I would suggest to create the rewards as much as possible around perks or content that are very easy to understand for the player before they even play the game. Imagine a World of Tanks-style game on Kickstarter. Imagine it has a reward at $10 that gives you a free tank. How good is this? Will the tank be useless after 2-3h in the game, or will it be valuable throughout the life of the game? If you can explain what is the value of what you offer in a clear and simple way, then you make one of the core challenges easier to surpass.
How would you assess the launch of Mighty No.9? 
Mighty No.9 ran a fantastic campaign. Maybe too good. I think it is very tempting when you run a campaign to get taken by the momentum and make too many promises, or present the project a certain way, before doing a proper assessment about its feasibility. It seems to me that it happened here.
The launch itself, I don’t have much to add to what many have said already. The expectations were high, and the game didn’t meet them, unfortunately.
I’ve seen some people saying that [Mighty No. 9] may have damaged consumer faith in crowdfunded games. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t believe in these kind of statements. There has been many badly managed campaigns in the past, some of them with more dire results than Mighty No.9 (Clang comes to mind), and the number of

projects that get funded [every month] on Kickstarter is stable.

If anything, each campaign exists in its own set of communities, and one poor game, even very well covered by the media, won’t have much of an impact on other projects.
What we observe is that the euphorical enthusiasm for crowdfunding is gone. Projects that are funded don’t tend to go beyond their initial objectives as much as a couple of years ago.
Anything else I haven’t touched upon that you feel is worth mentioning? 
Nothing coming to mind,

 

Unabridged Comments – Are Digital Cards Games a Bubble? [Gamasutra]

From time to time, I get requests from publications to comment on specific topics. It is quite common for these comments to be cut or summarised to fit with the way the article is written, but it also means that some things are not said. However, as the time to write those comments has been spent, I feel like they should be shared. The original articles are interesting in their own rights as usually multiple persons are weighing in the topic, so it seems quite complementary. It can also be an opportunity for me to add to the comments, in light of the other contributions.
I want to kick off this practice by sharing the whole of my comments done for the Gamasutra article on Digital Collectible Card games (I am sharing my full comments with their blessing).
Article premise – Here is the frame provided for the article:
  • There has been a rise of digital collectible card games for the past couple of years (and a recent acceleration)
  • Specific question – Why is the trend is exploding now (and if I’ve seen a rise in crowdfunded CCG projects, both physical and digital)?
  • Specific question – Do I think this will be a short term fad/bubble, or do I think CCGs have staying power on these platforms?
  • Specific question – What’s the draw for developers and publishers to push so aggressively into this space?
And these are my unabridged comments:

Specifically looking at CCG that were crowdfunded, I think there are very interesting trends that many can learn from. CCG on Kickstarter have done historically incredibly well.

First, you can consider SolForge, a free-to-play CCG that raised $429,000 on Kickstarter in September 2012 ) – when free-to-play games are notoriously difficult to fund on the platform. That in itself was a sign of a real hunger for this type of game at the time.

Then, less than a year later, in June 2013, you have Hex that managed to raise more than $2.2m , again on a free-to-play promise, using the Magic the Gathering nostalgia (or enthusiasm as Magic is still around I guess) as well as the promise of an MMO experience alongside the card game elements.

[For reference, the two campaigns mentioned]

 

Kickstarter has always been a good place to get interest for games in an under served niche. At the moment, I think the niche is no longer under served, Hearthstone has taken care of this. The way I look at it is the way the Fable Fortune Kickstarter campaign went – it had a very strong IP behind it, it had excellent media coverage and reach, but it didn’t transform into a home run, far from it. Before it got cancelled, the campaigned had raised £58k ($76k ) in 20 days. That’s a lot less than SolForge did, and I don’t believe this is due to crowdfunding being past its prime. There are still many projects funded every month. Fable Fortune was unfortunate to be in a segment where there doesn’t seem to be an unfulfilled promise. The fact that the Fable brand is not particularly associated with this type of gameplay didn’t help, but I am certain than had it been released prior to Hearthstone, it would have found an audience.

That’s the risk I see in the current CCG craze – like when WOW released and brought the MMO genre to the forefront, I am afraid that the actual demand for this type of game is mostly fulfilled by Hearthstone. I personally am not very fond of it, and find Magic more appealing, but Magic, while having a dedicated audience, has always had a weak presence on the digital front – Hearthstone is showing the potential that was untapped (and yes, hearthstone is also a much more accessible game, widening even further the reach it has and its audience).

CCGs will stay, and I think there are room for multiple titles that will garner more diversity than in the MMO genres for instance, but we are not in a space where there will be a lot of titles either. I think like in the MOBA space, you will have 3 to 4 strong titles doing very well, half a dozen being profitable and having a sustainable presence, but beyond that, I have a hard time seeing this being a genre that has slew of new titles cycling every year.

I see the draw for publishers and studios – these games are less costly to put together initially, with the promise of very high returns, but there are also very dependent on building a sustainable audience. To anyone keen on tackling this kind of game, I would encourage them to look at the waves of CCGs that sprung from the Magic the Gathering success back in the 90s, and to consider how many (or how few) of them have actually had any enduring existence.