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Matt Barton's picture

Kickstarter-Funded Games: Are We Asking for Too Little?

As someone who has been to bat for several Kickstarter projects lately, I'm becoming concerned with what's going to happen on the other end. After all this community support, will it be back to business as usual when the products hit the shelves? Will all this "fan outreach" end when they start worrying about maximizing their sales?

How will I feel when the games that I've not only helped fund, but--like many of you, have also promoted heavily with every social media tool at my disposal--how will I feel if those games end up on the shelf with the same kind of closed-source, DRM-encrusted, shrinkwrap-licensed bullshit that plagues the rest of the industry?

After some preliminary research, I've found that while most of the big game projects at least promise a DRM free version (at least as a limited option to backers), there are few promises that they will *exclusively* offer DRM free versions.

Let's consider how some of the Kickstarters I've supported are handling these issues:

  • Project Eternity. Raised 3.9 million. Offering DRM-free downloads. Nothing I can find about source code or sharing assets; looks like a traditional copyright model.
  • Double Fine Adventure. Raised 3.3 million. DRM-free; nothing about source code or CC licensing.
  • Wasteland 2. Raised: 2.9 million dollars. They are offering a DRM-free digital download, but I don't see anything about sharing the source code, assets, or alternative licensing.
  • Star Citizen. Raised 2.1 million. I see no promises anywhere about the game being DRM-free or sharing anything, despite a lot of talk about how they're rejecting the "corporate suits."
  • Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Raised 400K. DRM-free; no source code or CC license.

Finally, I did an overall Kickstarter search for "creative commons" and "open source" and came up with zero results in computer games.

The way I see it, if you're reaching out your hand for community support, you need to consider supporting the community in return. That means, in my humble opinion, sharing your source code, using an alternative licensing scheme such as Creative Commons--so other people can BUILD on your work--and, perhaps most importantly, sharing assets to enable faster community development.

In the future, I will not be supporting any Kickstarter project that doesn't at least offer exclusively DRM-free versions and at least some kind of sharing scheme for source code and at least some assets. I don't expect anyone to put their work into the public domain, but they should at least make some of their source code and assets available to give back to the community that funded their work. Ideally, what I'd like to see is full access to the source code, CC-licenses, and a healthy library of shared assets.

I realize some of these folks are using proprietary engines and thus cannot share all of their code, but there's no reason they couldn't share some of it. I'd actually like them to go a step further, and not just share code, but offer some videos or resources to help aspiring game developers (in all areas) learn from the process. This isn't an "us vs. them" situation anymore between developers and gamers. This is a mutually beneficial situation where the community supports you--and you reciprocate by building up that community.

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