[Edit to earlier data, Hex: Shards of Fate released this year. It has an 87 on metacritic, second highest. That brings the total metacritic average up to 72.9, most likely putting it above EA.]
So, I was dodging doing the stacks of work that I have to do, and instead made a spreadsheet of the 50 most funded kickstarter games. Here’s what I found (I tried Wot I Found, but as an American it feels gross):
The average metacritic for released kickstarter games is 72.3. It’s below Acti-Blizz with 75. That ties Kickstarter with EA. It’s above Sega with a 70. It’s above Paradox with a 69. It’s above Ubisoft with a 68. So, all in all, pretty decent performance. Kickstarter seems to be an above average publisher.
These are all total averages, I don’t think there’s enough releases to really go by year. Note that these averages might be higher than a publishers because companies may choose to drag games out or not release them, but there’s no data here on comparative cancellations.
Keep in mind, major companies have the advantage of massive marketing budgets and sometimes dirty review tactics. Kickstarter successes, even when paired with a publisher seem to be far more modest.
If you’re looking at genres, turn based strategy and western rpg are by far the most successful genres. They have the most released, and higher than average metacritic scores. If you look at western RPG scores, the released ones average an 81 on metacritic. These are led by Pillars of Eternity and then DS: Original Sin (note the Enhanced Edition switches the order). Adding SR: Dragonfall would increase the scores and affect ranking.
The worst genres on kickstarter seem to be adventure games, MMOs, and JRPGs in order of declining excellence. Adventure games average at 67.8, and have several lower scores. Not a single high profile MMO or JRPG has been released after Kickstarter, with the possible exception of Godus (I guess it’s an mmo?). MMOs are of course far more prone to the rolling update model that keeps a game in perpetual beta, and unscored by metacritic. Judging progress is a bit more difficult there. The large JRPGs just seem to be a mess, which is strange, because there have been several successful smaller ones. Project Phoenix is delayed to 2018, a five year wait. Unsung story completely changed gameplay model (single-player rpg to pvp game). Shenmue 3, on the other hand, is merely a long ways away from its predicted release date.
The most popular genres seem to be MMO, cRPG, and Adventure. These games account for 56% of the list.**
The average development time was 1.77 years, so about 21 months. That honestly seems a little quick. While kickstarter delays are certainly a thing, it doesn’t look like successful developers are that bad at it.
On the other hand, when you add in unsuccessful developers it goes up to just under 2 years, 23.6 months.
Kickstarter has some weird development dynamics. Some companies take the money and then don’t start full development for years. Also, the initial time estimate is relatively useless if there’s more than expected funding. As it stands, only 44% of games on this list have been released since 2012. Obviously many came much later than that.
Some notable standouts include:
Homestuck Adventure: The last update was Christmas, the backers are furious (the second most recent comment is an ascii middle finger), and they’re changed from 3d to 2d 3 years in.
Pathfinder MMO: It’s in early enrollment, backers are not happy, and the staff has been laid off.
Shroud of the Avatar: Steam reviews are quite negative, but it seems to be trucking along.
Project Phoenix: Waited 2 years for a programmer to finish another job. Now delayed till 2018 at the earliest.
Unsung Story: Changed focus 2 years in from single player jrpg to online vs. mmo. Kotaku published article calling it a disaster.
Project Godus: Yeah.
Keep in mind, these games may still come out and may still be popular among their niche.
Below 70 scores:
Broken Sword, Plannetary Annihilation, and Godus were in the 60 range, with BS at 69 and Godus at 60. Godus prompted a public meltdown by Peter Molyneux.
Armikrog, Leisure Suit Larry, Mighty No. 9, and Carmageddon were below 60. Leisure suit Larry’s company didn’t actually pay the creator, Al Lowe, who appeared in the video.
So to sum up the failures section, 6 out of 50 look in dire straights and 7 more were released below 70. That seems about right for a major publisher.
Kickstarter as a Purchase?
I view kickstarter as a risk adjusted purchase of both the game itself and the content in backer updates. This is obviously controversial, and I don’t really feel like debating it. However, the risk of getting a bad or no game from a major kickstarter seems to be at 26%.
Someone who’s better with money than my broke ass could probably calculate it better. This is what I got.
Assuming that big kickstarters in development keep the same pattern:
Probability of low scoring game = 7 / 22 games that came out.
Probability of no game = 6 / 28 games in development.
Risk = ($20*.318) + ($20*.214) = $10.64
So a $20 base tier of a $45 game at release is still a pretty good preorder. You save about $15 bucks. A $25 base tier leads to an average savings of $6.70. By a $30 base tier, it would be better to wait on a $45 game.
In general, most of these games look like they were a good risk adjusted value to base consumers. As it currently stands, Psychonauts 2 looks like it was either just on the cusp of breaking even for the base tier, or far worse for the consumer. This is something developers should think about, since even the most successful kickstarter developers have had their share of duds.
Obviously, a higher release price makes a kickstarter look like a better value. A $60 release, the base tier could still be price effective at $39.
Keep in mind there are still several risks not included. There’s a risk you won’t like a game that scores well, but that would be another round with data I don’t have (steam returns for games). This is significant now that you can refund games. There’s a risk the game will go on early access for a similar price to the base tier, thus granting greater certainty for less money. However, there’s also the possibility that a game comes out and you like it significantly more than reviewers; I think this is common given the niche nature of kickstarter.
In two to three years, a lot of these games will have sorted out, and we will have enough numbers to get a really firm grip on risk in large kickstarters.
Major kickstarter games that come out seem to do well, not great. They are frequently target toward a niche, and that niche is generally more positive than reviewers. There are some major games that are dragging on, but just under half have finished. The most prominent failures in the system, Clang and Yogsventures, did not even make it to the top 50. In general, kickstarter seems effective as a preorder system, if risk is accounted for. More data will provide better information.
Let me know if there’s anything else you want me to look at. Thanks if you read this.