Sid Meier wary of crowdfunding hampering games' design flexibility

Crowdfunding may be a fine way to raise money, but what if your vision for the game changes over the course of development? It's a sticky situation, luminary designer Sid Meier has said. Things are of course a bit easier when your name alone is enough to sell games, but he's pretty happy having a publisher handle the boring work for him.

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Crowdfunding may be a fine way to raise money, but what if your vision for the game changes over the course of development? It's a sticky situation, luminary designer Sid Meier has said. Things are of course a bit easier when your name alone is enough to sell games, but he's pretty happy having a publisher handle the boring work for him.

One issue with Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites is that developers present a specific vision, often with as much detail as they possibly can, to lure in backers. Only, decisions made early on in development may end up being reversed or changed as the game takes shape.

"I think you kind of lock yourself into a lot of ideas early. I really enjoy the luxury of changing my design and evolving over time," the Civilization creator told GamesIndustry International.

"I'd be a little concerned with Kickstarter if I committed to X, Y and Z and I found out down the road that Z didn't work very well, I kind of promised to do this. I think it's great for people who want that indie environment, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each situation."

Meier's been working under publisher for yonks now, and the studio he-founded Firaxis has been owned by Take-Two Interactive since 2005, and it's working out quite nicely for him.

"They do all the stuff I don't want to do; they allow me to make games and really focus on that part of what it takes to get a game out there. I get to design games, I get to program games, I get to work with the artists and the sound guys and do the fun stuff. They worry about testing it and publishing it and promoting it and selling it--whatever it takes to do that I would be really bad at, they do."

He added, "So more power to Chris Roberts and the Kickstarter, but having a great publisher is a real asset and allows me to focus on the things that I can do and not worry about all the other stuff that needs to be worried about."

Of course, not many developers have as much weight as Sid Meier when it comes to getting their own way. While he may be free to do as he pleases in many ways, others are constrained by publishers perhaps as much as they would be by sticking to crowdfunding promises.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when, inevitably, a crowdfunded game does end up quite different to the original plan. HareBrained Schemes received a surprising amount of backlash when it announced it was using Steam for Shadowrun Returns's modkit so gosh, imagine what would happen with actual meaningful changes.

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  • reply
    May 15, 2013 1:30 PM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, Sid Meier wary of crowdfunding hampering games' design flexibility.

    Crowdfunding may be a fine way to raise money, but what if your vision for the game changes over the course of development? It's a sticky situation, luminary designer Sid Meier has said. Things are of course a bit easier when your name alone is enough to sell games, but he's pretty happy having a publisher handle the boring work for him.

    • reply
      May 15, 2013 2:13 PM

      I think Sid has been drinking the tainted kool-aid too long... Who the heck has ever argued that a publisher makes developing a game EASIER? 90% of games that come out as buggy pieces of crap did so because the publisher enforced a deadline.

      if a Kickstarter promised X, Y and Z and Z was gameplay tested to be junk (by the same people who paid for it, through closed beta or w/e) I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have a massive uproar over the removal of Z.

      BTW Sid is already quite wealthy, of course he'd rather not do all the work anymore ;)

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        May 15, 2013 2:17 PM

        Plus the financial advisers in civ are always wrong.

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        May 15, 2013 2:27 PM

        A publisher can be convinced of changes needed, and they don't always make unreasonable demands for changes. A crowd-funded game might have a lot of people who are 100% resistant to change that will respond badly if you ask.

        Also, it is easier for publishers to handle certain tasks like marketing and distribution.

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        May 15, 2013 2:30 PM

        Publishers also handle all of the non-creative stuff like marketing, packaging, etc... so it's not an unfounded assumption. The problem arises when the publisher holds too much of the final result in their hands due to money advances, studio ownership, or the like.

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          May 15, 2013 5:05 PM

          Especially when the publisher starts saying things like, "Your next AAA title needs to sell 5 million copies in 1 month. How you go about it is up to you. Here are some suggestions from our consultants." EA made a habit of doing that in the past couple of years (especially to Dead Space 3 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter), and it blew up in their faces.

          2K is doing a relatively better job, but there are still some problem areas (2K Marin's XCOM shooter foundering, Bioshock Infinite's failed multiplayer experiment) that are relatively isolated from Meier, since he's in one of the "untouchable" owned studios (Firaxis, Rockstar, and Irrational almost always get to call their own shots, since they have veterans of huge releases as studio leads).

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      May 15, 2013 2:25 PM

      He's just worried about the game's title getting too long

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      May 15, 2013 3:15 PM

      I get your point, but I'll be more wary of it when I'm sitting on a stack of money to make my own games.

      Right now, I'm all for it and if the slack jawed yahoos of the internet who fund me want a feature, they're getting that feature.

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      May 16, 2013 12:07 AM

      I think he's correct in principle, but the reality is that most publishers are so risk-averse that they rarely will take on a new idea unless developers can sell it to them as an even more sure bet than the last one.

      Kickstarter may lock developers into certain ideas, but it mitigates the guarantee of sale problem that publishers are beholden to. It's also somewhat self-promoting: Successful kickstarters get press and they get promotion from their backers.

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      May 16, 2013 1:54 AM

      Yea he makes a great argument in support of those flexible publishers out there.

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      May 16, 2013 1:58 AM

      He's just old and set in his ways.

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      May 18, 2013 8:08 PM

      People crowdfund your game because they like the vision you have, not whatever you decide to come up with later. So you either put any changes up to a vote, or you cancel until your vision is clear again.

      The moral of the story is, have a good idea of what you want to do BEFORE you ask for money, just like any other business.