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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.

8 comments to Kickstarter

  • Dale Amon

    It also helps books that need to be published, get published. Rand Simberg’s book, Safety is Not an Option, is being marketed under funds he raised in a Kickstarter. Anyone interested in space, or just interested in how damaging the Safety Uber Alles philosophy is, should get his book when it becomes available.

  • The Last Toryboy

    If you liked Elite, have a look at Evochron Mercenary – good game in the same traditions.

    Also made mostly by one guy in his bedroom!

  • Runcie Balspune

    but a top computer game needs a large team of programmers and artistsO Rly?

    The final version of Elite, called Frontier: First Encounters, was, AFAIK, released as shareware. It was then rewritten to use OpenGL so it could run outside DOS, and then modded further by a Russian Elite Fan site to improve the graphics further.

  • A similar concept is followed by micro-lending aggregators like Kiva.

  • guy herbert

    I worked with David Braben & Frontier Developments Ltd, his company for many years, and still have an indirect interest in this story.

    Frontier: First Encounters was re-released by Frontier Developments as shareware. It was first developed as boxed commercial games software for the PC (gosh – remember that?), but prematurely released by the original publishers (the now departed GameTek) leading to a long dispute, and the rights in the games eventually variously reverted to Frontier and to David himself. There’s a page on the Frontier site which is a starting point for official info.

    As a defender of creators’ rights, I naturally take a pretty dim view of unauthorised modifications, but a game with so big a fanbase is bound to evolve them, as well as lots and lots of imitations motivated by rip-off.

  • As a defender of creators’ rights, I naturally take a pretty dim view of unauthorised modifications

    I like you.

  • Laird

    Back to the topic at hand, I like Kickstarter: they provide a mechanism for crowdfunding all sorts of unusual projects.