Kickstarter can be a brilliant thing. As an innovative website that lets people pitch product ideas and have fans pledge donations of their choosing, it makes all kinds of unique videogames, peripherals and just about everything else possible when investor’s risk assessments don’t turn out favourably. Not to mention that it allows creators to retain complete control of their vision and, for better or worse, reduces financial pressures upon those makers. Indeed, virtual reality (VR) itself owes a huge debt to the platform; without it we may have never seen the Oculus Rift VR headset that has spearheaded the technology’s revival following a 2012 campaign that raised over $2 million USD.
We can trace the Kickstarter revolution back even further to earlier that year when Double Fine stole headlines with its wildly successful campaign, raising over $3 million to develop the title that would go on to become Broken Age. Since then we’ve seen countless indies place their eggs in this basket, with plenty of similar success stories. But we’ve also seen cruel examples failure. As the website has become more and more saturated with hopeful projects and dream titles it’s become much harder to standout and get funded. Even with sufficient press coverage a large chunk of titles only manage to raise a fraction of their initial goal. And so some developers have started to use tricks; carrot and stick methods that they hope will entice fans to dig just a little deeper into their pockets. Unfortunately, this is where VR comes back in.
Since VRFocus started back in February of this year we’ve covered an overwhelming number of Kickstarter projects. A lot of them are Oculus Rift-dedicated campaigns that promise support for everybody’s favourite VR headset right from the off. However, there’s a worrying amount that manage to get those magic words onto their campaign page without actually confirming support for the device. There are a handful of reasons one might do this. Firstly, you’re going to attract a very specific, hardcore audience that craves new VR experiences to your Kickstarter page. You’re also bound to get more coverage; VRFocus leaves no stone unturned in VR reporting and similar sites appreciate getting to report on an Oculus Rift title for a change.
Now, this isn’t such an issue if you really do end up supporting VR in your project. Indie dev Dylan Browne, for example, is currently seeking funding for his sci-fi horror project Caffeine on crowd sourcing alternative IndieGoGo and initially stated that he’d be interested in implementing Oculus Rift support. Browne quickly followed through with confirmation that VR would be coming at launch. Mentioning support before confirming its implementation isn’t ideal, but at least the developer has made good on such a tease.
But there are others out there that haven’t set such a good example. Farjay Studios has seen huge success with its Kickstarter campaign for Bear Simulator, which has raised over $50,000 more than its initial $29,500 goal with over a week left to go. The campaign page twice makes mention of possible Oculus Rift support. Granted the developer has gone to lengths to stress that the support isn’t for definite, but then why list it in the first place? Surely you can only use Oculus Rift support as a reason to back a project when it’s definitely in?
All that said, this method of attention seeking remains fairly innocent when stacked up next to the other issue. When developers secure the funds to make their project and there’s a healthy amount of time left on the Kickstarter clock, why not try to raise a bit more to expand your project’s feature set? These are known as Stretch Goals, additional targets put in place by the creators that promise more features for more money.
It’s not hard to see why a developer would implement an Oculus Rift Stretch Goal once it’s passed that first goal as it’s a great feature to have in almost any PC title. That said, some seem to be taking advantage of VR fans with inexcusably high goals. Earlier today VRFocus reported on the launch of a Kickstarter for a seemingly modest indie FPS named Trapped! The developers are asking for a very reasonable $15,000 to fund the project, which is easily one of the lower goals we’ve seen in our time.
That good will is squandered somewhat when you look at the Stretch Goals. The developer is looking for $30,000 to hire more programmers and 3D artists. That seems fair enough, right? Then there’s a $45,000 goal for mobile ports, which strikes as a little strange considering that PC version would arguably be the preferable platform for play. Oculus Rift support? $60,000.
For perspective, it costs $350 to secure the new Oculus Rift development kit, which comes with all the hardware and software support you need to get started. Granted, this won’t include the developer’s own costs for optimisation of titles and compensation for any added development time, but will those added issues really stretch that cost by another $14,650?
Well, how about $40,000? That’s the gap between the initial goal of $60,000 and the first $1 million Stretch Goal for Oculus Rift support in the recently-launched campaign for an HD reboot of Outcast from Fresh 3D Inc. Again, bear in mind that the original Outcast is a huge title and will likely require a lot of fine-tuning for effective Oculus Rift support, but will it really require two-thirds of the original goal added onto it? Keep in mind that there are services such as the Oculus VR Share Beta in which developers release Oculus Rift projects for free, even if they are bite-sized experiences.
It’s not VRFocus’ wish to condemn Kickstarter projects for including Oculus Rift support. We’re sure you’ll agree that the more Oculus Rift supported titles there are out there, the better. In fact, if any of these titles do reach their Oculus Rift Stretch Goals then it speaks encouragingly to just how hungry fans are for VR content. But it’s hard not to view this as being taken advantage of. Kickstarter is a platform that runs off of people’s generosity as much as it does their money, and to see VR being used as a tool to take that generosity feels like a betrayal of everything this technology has rebuilt in the past few years. So next time your open your wallet to help bring another VR title into the world, make sure you weigh up how much you really need to pay.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.