We did it. Thanks to the newly energized crowd-funding phenomenon, 2013 will see the release of five high-profile adventure games, the first time since the genre’s heyday that fans have so many reasons to be excited. And now it’s time to step back, assured in a job well done, and await the results. Kickstarter cannot be the new de facto standard for how all adventure games get made, and there comes a time when we must move on.
Its role here has been important. Adventure games are unique in gaming history in that their decline was sudden and precipitous, more akin to the panic of a stock market crash than a transition in consumer tastes. The abrupt disappearance of adventures – and especially comedy adventures – has been regarded as hasty and unjustified by fans, but the supposition that adventure games have been commercially toxic has gone largely unchallenged, as almost all of adventure gaming’s top talent has been either forced out of the genre, or out of the industry entirely.
There has been a desire to prove the industry wrong over the years. Adventure games never went away entirely, but the people behind its greatest creative achievements were forced out, either to other genres, or exiled from the games industry altogether. Since then, the genre has languished, without a great deal of innovation, and, frankly, with writing that is usually far below the standard we once enjoyed. “If only our heroes were back, they’d prove the industry wrong,” we thought.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Tim Schafer turned to Kickstarter and asked the fans to fund his triumphant return to the genre that made him famous. The result was resounding, definitive, and heard throughout the industry. An unprecedented 87,000 individuals open their wallets and heaped $3.4 million dollars on Shafer’s campaign, without so much as a title or a concept to motivate them, just the promise that the game would be an adventure, and it would be written and directed by Tim Shafer himself. The message was clear. Adventure gamers don’t just want new games, they want their champions back. To this audience, the writer is supreme.
Since then, seemingly one after another, the great writers of the adventure genre lined up on Kickstarter and asked an increasingly tired but infinitely altruistic audience to save them, too. First it was Jane Jensen, then it was Al Lowe, then the reunion of the decades-estranged Two Guys from Andromeda, and finally the return of the down-and-out private eye, Tex Murphy. Each of these projects had moments where they struggled, but one by one they all succeeded.
But we, the gamers, would never want to live in a world where we had to pay up front for every game before it even exists, often at generously exorbitant levels. Kickstarter is just that; a beginning. And those of you who have gotten our support have earned that trust over the course of many years. You are our champions; the exceptional few who will prove our point to the rest of the industry. Each one of you brings something unique and important to the table, and we need you to show what makes adventure gaming special and important.
Tim Shafer, your imagination and humor brings out the kid in all of us. Although you never lost your ability to make us laugh, your writing has had to share the spotlight with jumping, punching, and slashing in a way that has surely limited the kinds of stories you can tell. I can’t wait to see you get back to focusing on what you do best.
Jane Jensen, you’ve proven how monsters and limited ammunition aren’t the only ways to scare gamers. Creepy writing and layered narrative can tingle the spine in ways action games seldom aspire. You too never really left us, but your campaign was about more than just a game. It was an investment in a new, independent studio where you can tell the kinds of stories without fear of influence or interference.
Al Lowe, your story was perhaps one of the most infuriating. The Leisure Suit Larry series was taken from you and then dragged through the mud until its name seemed as good as ruined. Games for adults are no longer a novel concept, but the idea of real adult humor in games has almost completely vanished. You’ll show once again that there’s a difference between being bawdy and cleverly suggestive in a way that makes us laugh and flat-out obscene.
Seeing the Two Guys from Andromeda back together after over 20 years seems like a fantasy. Mark’s imaginative designs and Scott’s sardonic sense of humor proved to be a formula greater than the sum of its parts. Your vision is by far the most ardently old-school of all the new adventure Kickstarters, and I’m sure you will help to reclaim some of what you lost. Most of all, it’s important that we reclaim humor for gaming, as comedy is such a rare sight in the modern gaming landscape.
And Chris and Aaron, your Tex Murphy games were always on the cutting edge. While adventure game designers dragged their feet, you embraced new storage media and the 3D revolution with open arms, using them in transformative ways. The smooth, free 3D exploration and unparalleled cinematic presentation of the Tex games were unlike anything on the market, and had more people been as forward-thinking, the genre might have weathered the storm in the first place. More than that, no one portrayed characters better, from Chris’ charismatic portrayal of Tex himself, to the endearing cast of misfits that surrounded him, no doubt enhanced by the use of live actors.
Kickstarter makes things happen that couldn’t otherwise. Many of these creators have suffered years of rejection in one form or another. It is doubtless that none of these games would be made – at least not in the same form – if not for the financial support of fans. Kickstarter was a last resort for these people, and it saved the day. We saved the day.
But Kickstarter is not a good way to shop for games. A Kickstarter pledge is a gift and should be given to those that have earned that kindness. It is not an investment, it is not a purchase. If developers turn to Kickstarter as a first option, even for commercially viable projects, simply because it’s free money that needn’t be repaid, it can be downright predatory, especially when employed by those who have not yet earned our trust and goodwill.
If these adventure game Kickstarters are about sending a message, we could have chosen a better crop of delegates to shout that message from the mountaintops. It will be heard, and whether or not it will be heeded depends on its own merits. Now it’s time to regroup, put Kickstarter aside, and save our money. There may come a time sometime soon when we will need Kickstarter to send a new message.