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Kickstarter: Same Old New Stuff

Kickstarter  is “a crowd funding website for creative projects.” It’s also been seen as a breath of fresh air into the RPG industry, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Open Gaming License proliferated the D20 system in 2000.

At the time, I was as excited as a gamer could be. Ryan Dancey spearheaded the OGL concept, and suddenly it became vastly easier to create and spread new games and genres without fear of infringing copyrights or intellectual properties.  I’ve since collected most of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, 3.5e, Pathfinder, all of the Green Ronins’ projects, and a great deal of Mongoose Publishing’s material.

Over time, however, OGL games got stale, and Kickstarter will be no different. While it made it easier to design and proliferate your RPGs, the OGL also made sure that you had to buy Wizards of the Coasts’ Dungeon Master Guide  to level up, and gave designers a lazy way out when it came to rules design. For a short time, especially as I was just then entering my teens, I was functionally unaware of games that weren’t OGL D20 games.  This wasn’t because I wasn’t looking, but because there were so damn many, and they were taking up two-thirds of the shelf space in every local gaming store. I look back now and realize that while the OGL might have been a boost to RPG availability and development teams, it also sucked the creativity right out of us.

Not only did many development teams take the easy out of using the D20 system instead of developing something new, but it also lead to a surplus of shitty games.  There were many games released that I believe were actually developed in the 1940s as a means of torturing prisoners of war. As a teenager just entering the world of fantasy RPGs (I’d first wet my whistle on Mechwarrior 2nd Edition and later Shadowrun), I wasn’t entirely able to sift through all the sand for the gems, and as a result I bought tons of games whose sole purpose is to mock the existence of anything resembling fun or happiness.

My childhood. It was beautiful.

Kickstarter isn’t quite there yet, but it’s certainly showing the signs of producing similar levels of mind-numbing retardicanes.  Part of this is brand loyalty: I know I recently spammed the universe with Shadowrun Online without really checking to see if it was going to suck or not (thankfully, it’s going to be awesome). I, and others, have done the same for Monte Cook’s Numenera, among others, without really reviewing the titles first. Others throw their funds behind every “indie” project that comes along, feeling better about themselves for helping “the struggling artist” push his game—even if that game is about as original as that plagiarized English essay you turned in senior year, or as fun as being sexually assaulted by a blue whale high on PCP.

Then Google “Kickstarter scandal” and get some taste of the possible future. While they’ve so far managed to contain it, the scammers are getting more of a foothold. Much like many gamers are so damn sick of D20 games that they swear Wizards of the Coast was founded solely to sell nearly-round slingshot ammunition, eventually the proliferation of shitty or plain-out fake Kickstarters is going to do the same to crowd-funding.

Now for some math:  In 2011, 46% of Kickstarters succeeded at getting funded. How many times have  you had a group of people gathered in a room, brainstorming, and thought around half of those ideas were so good you’d pay money for them?  Never?  Maybe twice in a few years? Kickstarter is like that all day, and it’s not because the games are a good idea, it’s because of novelty. Look no further than Tentacle Bento for proof of that.

Sorry for the tentacles

I’m not saying nothing good is going to come out of Kickstarter RPG projects; it certainly has. What I’m saying is that, like the early days after the OGL, there are a lot of garbage piles out there, a lot more than there are good games. And, much like the early 2000s, lots of people are just buying the garbage, instead of carefully sifting through it for truly unique and innovative material. Just like the OGL D20 games are no longer more pervasive than syphilis in a Los Angeles porn shoot, eventually people will get tired of Kickstarter, and we’ll have to wait a decade for the next big thing once more.

Until then, use your discretion in what you support. And give Duck Quest all your money. It looks hilarious.

 

Josh Snow is a skeptical transhumanist and some-time freelance writer. As much as he loves downing on Kickstartr, he’s always sharing cool ones on his Twitter @ArkangelWinter

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