Thoughts on Early Access and Kickstarter

There has been some growing controversy around Steam’s Early Access program and Kickstarter projects that are never implemented. Many consumers believe that they’re entitled to a refund due to the fact that their money didn’t lead to an intended result.

While they have a point, this highlights the misunderstanding from funding these projects: the consumers are being asked to fund a project. In essence, they’re the publishers.

Purchasing a game on Early Access or funding a Kickstarter project does not come with a guarantee of a finished project. Both programs carry disclaimers to remind people that they’re essentially funding a game that may or may not see a full release.

Here’s the Steam disclaimer:

Its up to the developer to determine when they are ready to 'release'. Some developers have a concrete deadline in mind, while others will get a better sense as the development of the game progresses. You should be aware that some teams will be unable to 'finish' their game. So you should only buy an Early Access game if you are excited about playing it in its current state.

Here is what Kickstarter has to say on the matter:

It's the project creator's responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.

Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator's ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers (you!) ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it. 

 Kickstarter's Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) This information can serve as a basis for legal recourse if a creator doesn't fulfill their promises. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

Both programs showcase fine print that says “hey, just as a heads up, even though you paid for this project, it may not be completed to please keep that in mind don’t be mad pretty please.” But who’s responsible if a project isn’t completed?

The creators are absolutely at fault, but each scenario is different. Sometimes projects fall under their own weight. Sometimes people bite off more than they can chew. Sometimes unfortunate circumstances come up. The backers need to understand what they’re getting themselves into as well, though. By essentially becoming publishers, gamers are taking risks with the games they purchase while still in development. Even big name publishers take risks that sometimes don’t pan out; games get cancelled, developers go under. No one is immune to losing money.

At the end of the day, it’s all about weighing the risk/reward of each situation. You just have to choose carefully.