Vocal Minority: How Kickstarter Resurrected Dead Genres
Trends, by their very nature, come and go. No medium is exempt from this notion, video games perhaps the least of all. As the gaming world continues to grow, so too do the tastes and preferences of both the creators and consumers. The relationship is a mutual one; consumers are glad to invest their money into something new, while those who create are willing to branch out, allowing for a form of evolution that allows new genres and styles of games to enjoy popularity while others fade into relative obscurity.
The games industry has seen this happen numerous times and it is safe to say it will continue to happen going forward. This cycle of trends, while never entirely predictable, is recognized easily enough after becoming aware of its existence. Perhaps the best contemporary example, Infinity Ward’s impeccable efforts on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, changed the face of the industry, ushering in wave after wave of ‘gritty’ military shooters from any number of developers, showing that when a video game genre is hot, emulation can surpass innovation.
While the rotating door of popular trends is something the video game industry will never be free of, a new trend has popped up in the last few years, pumping new life into the gaming world. Crowdfunding, specifically through Kickstarter, has become an integral part of the video game spectrum, attracting small, fledgling studios and industry veterans alike.
The crowdfunding phenomena is interesting for any number of reasons, but its most important element lies within its ability to breathe new life and revitalize many genres that have fallen by the wayside. The winds of change have begun to blow on the video game industry and thanks to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding efforts, the most popular form of change seems to be in resurrecting once-popular genres back from the dead.
Perhaps affected equally by nostalgia and raw creative talent, computer role-playing games have gone from an untimely death around the turn of the century into one of the most notable reemerging genres. Divinity: Original Sin, which released earlier this year, has been praised critically as a CRPG sendup that hearkens back to decades past and warranted Game of the Year sentiments from many. Similarly, Brian Fargo and the team at inXile Entertainment have brought the genre once more into the foreground, successfully funding Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera all within the last two years.
Of course, CRPGs are by no means the only genre that has seen a resurgence of attention thanks to crowdfunding efforts. Traditional 2D platformers, metroidvania titles and most shockingly, point-and-click adventures, have all risen once more to relevance, all thanks to various Kickstarter programs. Much like the aforementioned CRPGs, games like Shovel Knight and Keiji Inafune’s Might No. 9 wouldn’t exist without lovers of their respective genres who want modern takes on classic genres.
Once-forgotten genres rising to prominence again thanks to crowdfunding campaigns is somewhat surprising when considering the video game industry as a whole. The games industry has grown rapidly, moving quickly into the entertainment world’s dominant medium. Video games – once the bastard child of popular culture – are now a multi-billion dollar industry, urged perpetually onward by impressive technology and reality shattering hardware. With this in mind, how then, can an obtuse genre like the point-and-click suddenly find thousands of people willing to invest money in it?
Fond memories and nostalgia, it seems, still have serious pulling power among video game fans. To understand this, one needs to look no further than the recent Kickstarter campaign for Thimbleweed Park. On November 18, 2014, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick took to Kickstarter with the intention of creating a spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion. For those unaware, Maniac Mansion was the first truly successful point-and-click game, released in 1987, which eventually went on to define the genre.
Within a week of the Thimbleweed Park campaign launching, the project met its funding of $375,000, ultimately securing $626,250. The most important element of Thimbleweed Park’s crowdfunding campaign is that both Gilbert and Winnick have made it clear that they are unabashedly intent on creating a modern game that is firmly rooted in the roots of the point-and-click genre. Every element of the game, from its ultra-dated visuals to its touted ‘point-and-click’ puzzle logic, is reminiscent of not only the genre as a whole, but specifically of genre progenitor Maniac Mansion.
Much like the insane success of Tim Schaefer’s ‘Double Fine Adventure’ (which became Broken Age), Thimbleweed Park is indicative of the new type of video game consumer. Successfully funded projects like these have made it clear that dedicated fans of genres passed over by the mainstream gaming world are willing to speak with their wallets and relish in new entries into their favorite types of games.
Crowdfunding as a development tool is not going away any time soon. Each passing week brings a handful of interesting new projects, broadening the industry’s scope. This trend, much like the brown and bloom shooters of years passed, sends ripples through the gaming world, bringing more and more to seek funding from the consumer’s pocket. By and large, this has been to the benefit of all parties involved, as any hiccups in the formula have been few and far between.
The importance of the consumer’s ability to ensure a project gets made cannot be understated, especially when considering how many studios have taken to resurrecting classic genres. For one of, if not the, first times in the video game industry, the voice of the people can be heard crystal clear from an idea’s inception to its completion. Thanks to Kickstarter and the massive success of crowdfunding operations, developers no longer have to fear being swept up by another popular trend in order to maintain some form of relevancy. Studios can continue to keep doing what they love to do and newcomers can enter the playing field with more solid footing than ever.
The next time that you find yourselves disheartened by the state of the current video game industry, remember to look past the thick veil of major publications. We now live in a world where a dedicated, vocal minority of gamers have ensured that a spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion can come out twenty-seven years after the original game’s release and that Ghost Song, a haunting homage to Super Metroid and Dark Souls can exist and thrive. That variety and acceptance is what video games are all about.
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