Kickstarter is a web site that allows business people to pitch their ideas to the general public instead of venture capitalists. In return the general public gets to fund projects in the hope of seeing them come to fruition and other rewards depending on the amount donated to the project. In a video interview, David Braben, who along with Ian Bell wrote the classic space trading computer game Elite, talks about the advantages of making a computer game funded by Kickstarter over using a conventional publisher:
We want the game to very much evolve over time. It’s quite hard to do that in a conventional contractual delivery structure where you end up being beholden to things that are no longer the most important. So you’ve got to have an arrangement that has that level of flexibility, and it’s quite hard to create that. [Kickstarter] seems to be an extremely good solution to do it. We’ve got that direct connection to fans and a lot of the constraints that get in the way just aren’t there.
When David Braben started making computer games in 1984, individuals could make them in their bedrooms, but there was no Internet so publishers were needed to distribute them. Today distribution is easier, but a top computer game needs a large team of programmers and artists, so lots of funding up front which publishers can help with. But, like movie studios, games publishers mostly want predictable money makers and understandably to impose constraints on the game that gets made. Kickstarter means developers can work directly for gamers, or movie fans, or people who want to experiment with home aquaponics.
Kickstarter is an example of something the Internet is particularly good at: disintermediation. I can buy coffee beans very nearly directly from the farmer; I can buy gadgets from some bloke in Hong Kong; I can vote with my wallet for the computer games I want to see made. People with niche interests can find each other anywhere in the world and cater to each others’ needs.
Incidentally, the original Elite taught me all about trade when I was 8. This sequel will have proper celestial mechanics and Newtonian physics too, but still needs funding.