"We really wanted the Glorkian Warrior to have an epic journey, blasting aliens like Galaga, rolling around like Sonic, exploring like Metroid, making the player feel they were inside one of James' comics," Pixeljam co-founder Miles Tilmann tells Joystiq. "How we thought we could get this going with just $10K, I honestly have no idea. Somehow at the time we thought it was possible. It's interesting how the sheer excitement of starting a new project and raising money for it can make you blind to what's actually realistic."
Pixeljam's Kickstarter campaign concluded on March 22, 2010, after raising $11,200, and Glorkian Warrior launched on March 13, 2014. That timeframe is relevant for two reasons: Pixeljam took to crowdfunding before Double Fine Adventure broke down the barriers for gaming Kickstarters in 2012, and four years is a long time to keep backers waiting for a game.
"A couple of backers have told us that it was worth the wait, which is the best compliment we could possibly receive for the game," Tilmann says. "It reinforces the idea that the backers were simply excited to help us make something with James Kochalka, and were less picky about what the game would actually do. I think that's only the case with niche or small-budget projects, though. If something that raised $100K+ on Kickstarter took four years to deliver and didn't do everything that the original plan entailed, there would be much more of a backlash." Double Fine ran into some of that backlash when it changed plans after receiving $3.3 million from 87,000 backers in March 2012 for the development of Broken Age. In July 2013, Double Fine announced it needed more money to finish the game, and it launched Broken Age Act 1 on Steam Early Access in January 2014.
This fits the "didn't do everything that the original plan entailed" aspect of Tilmann's negative-response theory, and a vocal group of Double Fine backers (and bystanders) fulfilled his prediction. Still, Double Fine Adventure made Kickstarter a common name for gaming fans, and the next hot funding model for game developers.
Pixeljam entered the Kickstarter market with Glorkian Warrior two years before the Double Fine explosion. Tilmann says the crowdfunding process in 2010 was less stressful – but it was also less lucrative. Glorkian Warrior "absolutely" would have raised more money if it had gone live on Kickstarter post-Double Fine, Tilmann says:
"But I'm glad we ran the campaign when we did. There was a lot less pressure to put tons of time into a Kickstarter campaign then. It took us about a week to create, and a couple days to manage while it was going on. Our recent (unsuccessful) Dino Run 2 campaign, on the other hand, took a few people a few months to prepare, and a very stressful month to manage after it launched. That's the reality of running campaigns today – it's a full time job for a lot of people, and there's no real guarantee of success. However, I do have to say it's one of the great spectator sports of the internet. I can see why people get so excited about them, but also why so many are simply fatigued at the endless stream of hopeful-looking creators asking for money."
"There was one backer who politely asked for a refund, and they sent the request literally the day before we launched the game," he says. "It felt great to write them back and say, 'Actually, we just finished the game, and here it is.'
"That being said, I think it's fair to say that the majority of the backers simply forgot about it – four years is a very long time. I personally have ignored multiple emails that said 'the game you helped us Kickstart is ready, and here's how to get it.' I have to question what makes me, or anyone, back a game and then not even bother to play it when it's done. I suppose it speaks to the massive appeal of crowdfunding: The idea of helping someone make something new seems to be a lot more attractive than spending less money on the actual thing once it's available."
Sales of Glorkian Warrior have been better than any game Pixeljam has previously released – Dino Run, Potatoman Seeks the Troof, Snowball – but Tilmann says the numbers aren't yet strong enough to fund Pixeljam's next game.
After one successful and one failed Kickstarter campaign, pre- and post-Double Fine, Tilmann offers words of wisdom for any developers looking at crowdfunding:
"Games are almost never what was originally envisioned, but the developer usually has the luxury of not being beholden to anyone for that difference but themselves, or their publisher, who is probably a lot more forgiving than a group of 1000 or more people. The danger of crowdfunding is that the initial vision for the product is now what the backers expect to get, and anything that deviates from that is going to cause some friction. Should backers get everything they paid for? Even though we did not do this, I think the answer is yes, and I think that should be heavily considered for anyone thinking about crowdfunding their next game project."
Glorkian Warrior isn't the game Pixeljam intended to make four years ago, but Tilmann says, "Once we decided what the game actually was, we managed to create the full realization of it. And that's success in our book .... Our current task is to keep adding content and value to the game over the next year. We have faith that this little three-eyed alien has a bright future."
Glorkian Warrior is $3 on the iOS App Store.