Why Rick Priestley’s Kickstarter Will Fail

I tried to wean myself off excessive Kickstarter blogging. And yet, I have to write a short one on this, as it goes straight to the heart of the “What-is-Kickstarter-and-what-is-it-not” controversy, which I previously tackled in my  ’Kickstarter is Entertainment article.

Summary: Rick Priestley’s ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’ Kickstarter seeks to create an “authentic” grass-root, crowd-funded game-making experience. Doing so, it plays to the romanticized illusion of what Kickstarter claims to be, and not what it truly is. Ultimately, it asks too much from the backers and offers not enough ‘fun’ in return.

#1 – What Is ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’?

It was hard to miss, but if you did, ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’ is a recent Kickstarter project for a sci-fi skirmish miniatures game, spearheaded by celebrity game-designer Rick Priestley of Warhammer 40K fame.

Rick Priestley has been attached to a few games on Kickstarter, such as Fanticide, but this one seems to be genuinely “his game”. Rick Priestley is definitely on the record with ‘Gates of Antares’ (or GoA) being the game (paraphrasing) “he always wanted to make“.

So – the point I’m trying to make here is you shouldn’t read into the fact that I’ve worked on lots of projects is any indication that GoA is some here today gone tomorrow affair. Yes I have undertaken some historical projects for Warlord – I thought I might as well – I was unable to work on what GW considered ‘competing’ projects for a period after I left. That was a contractual issue I couldn’t do anything about.

I see GoA as practically my last chance to do something I actually own – I don’t own 40K although I invented it – and I receive no royalties or payments on account of any of the things I created for GW – from games such as WH and 40K to ‘IP’ such as the Imperium, Space Marines, and so on. With GoA I intend to retain the copyrights as would the author of any work of fiction – for example – and from that I hope to manage an income that will support myself and my wife over the next twenty years […].

So – no – I don’t intend to give up on it! Sure we might expand the universe with other games – all of which will roll in to the real-time online metagame – but this one is for keeps.

Rick Priestley via Dakkadakka

If you are looking for a more complete run-down, visit Gates of Antares on Kickstarter or read the great interview with Rick Priestley over at TheShellCase.co.uk.

#2 – Three Reasons Why This Kickstarter Will Fail

Everyone can sympathize with Rick Priestley’s efforts, no doubt. And while I haven’t played Fanticide or Bolt Action, everything  I’ve read says these are brilliantly designed games. Rick Priestley’s rule-making-magic has clearly not diminished.

And yet, without major changes, this Kickstarter will fail. That is not the same as me wanting this Kickstarter to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But fail it will. Here are three reasons why.

  • Giving People What They Want

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

― Henry Ford

Gates of Antares pivots on the idea that they want to involve the community in developing the game-world. They have a forum set up, where people can follow and influence the creation of the lore, the game and the miniatures.

It is a noble gesture. But it doesn’t make for a very compelling game-world.

There are similar quotes like the one by Henry Ford above to be found, among others, from Steve Jobs in his biography. Like Ford, Jobs (who eschewed focus-groups and consumer surveys throughout is career) is the archetypal example of business-visionary who made hit-products (as well as a few flops) by not listening to the popular opinion.

On a smaller scale, this applies to board and miniature-games on Kickstarter as well. Kingdom Death claimed the No 1. spot, not by asking people what they wanted, but by unveiling a truly new and unique vision of a world that people didn’t even know they wanted. Others – such as DreadBall – had at least a strong visual and narrative theme.

GoA’s “crowd-development” approach already seems like one big mess. There’s the gritty ‘hard-sci-fi’ faction, a few cat-people thrown in and, above all, lots of jaded 40K drop-outs venting their grievances of what they do not want GoA to be (not what they want it to be).

Fan-input is a great idea, but it needs to launch from a much stronger visual and thematic basis than GoA currently provides. Everyone needs to know the direction it is going to contribute in a productive manner. That kind of vision is missing from Gates of Antares.

  • Too Little, Too Soon

“Hansa” – the first (and so far only) GoA miniature (work-in-progress)

This is where (in my opinion) ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’ falls for the Kickstarter-hype, rather than its reality.

For one, there is very little finished product to show for GoA. Only one ‘work-in-progress’ green for a miniature. For another, it’s asking for the ‘realistic’ (thus rather steep) funding goal to actually develop a game like that.

This is what people would probably do all the time, if Kickstarter truly was a place to ‘kickstart’ things from the basic idea into reality. But it’s not.

CoolMiniOrNot’s Chern Ann was pretty much spot-on with his “90%-rule” on Wired.com.

Ann believes the key to Kickstarter cash is a modification of the golden rule. “If you wouldn’t pledge on your own project, it’s not ready,” he says. “Projects should be 90 percent complete before launching.” He has turned under-promising and over-delivering into a CMON motto, and he’s gained a huge amount of support.

I know CMON gets some “tough love” for the way they use Kickstarter. But they didn’t invent Kickstarter. They only use it to the best effect. It is worth learning from their success.

And frankly, one green is pretty sparse. There have been one-man-show-basement-kickstarters, such as Imbrian Arts, who turned out a new green every 3 or 4 days. Surely the GoA-team can do at least as much?

In short, GoA ‘kickstarted’ far, far too early. To use Kickstarter successfully, the product needs more polish! Romantic notions of what Kickstarter ‘should be’, and not what it is, will ultimately not part people with their money.

  • This Is Work, Not Entertainment

Most of all, developing a game, a game-world, a fictional universe, etc.. is hard work. The notion by Games of Antares to develop their game with and through the community is admirable. But it’s not gonna sell.

I know there are those self-less idealists out there, that thrive on contributing “real work” to the project they love. Sites like Wikipedia.com (or, as it were, Lexicanum.com) wouldn’t exist without them. Yet these people are hardly a majority.

Moreover, part of the appeal of these sites is that the work put into these sites will later be available for free to anyone (which GoA will obviously not be). Nor do Wikipedia & Co ask you for money for the privilege to work for them.

If they truly want game-design-input for an ultimately commercial product, I’d rather they pay people that contribute, rather than asking them to pay (through Kickstarter) for the privilege of offering their work for free.

At the end of the day, there’s always another Kickstarter-campaign one click away that puts on a genuine good show to entertain the Kickstarter crowd. And that – in my humble opinion – is the least people should expect for their money.

#3 – The Numbers Don’t Lie

It’s not going to be enough

To succeed, the Gates of Antares Kickstarter needs to receive nearly £ 5000,- in new pledges every day(!) for the remaining 45 days of the campaign. Or, at the current average backing, about 40 to 50 new backers every single day.

The Campaign is already sitting at slightly over £ 80.000,- in pledges, which is impressive and a testament to the great name and credibility of Rick Priestley.

However, that “credit” is already in the campaign, and the Kickstarter has consistently fallen short of the above minimum-targets for the last week.

I would love to see Rick Priestley’s dream funded. But for that to happen, the GoA team will need to get away from their romantic notion of a crowd-based project that will sell and be profitable without getting down and dirty trying to ‘sell it’ too.

Idealists alone are not going to fund this one.

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