Feature Article
Could Kickstarter Be Used to Fund Niche Sports Games?

Tim Schafer's Double Fine Production team (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend) wanted to make a new point-and-click adventure game.

Knowing that major game publishers would be hesitant to fund a new release in what's considered a "dated," arguably "dead" genre, Double Fine turned to its fans to subsidize some of their development costs.

Enter Kickstarter, "The world's largest funding program for creative projects." Kickstarter allows game developers to pitch an idea, set a fundraising goal for how much money it will take to get the project released, then see if fans on the Internet are willing to donate money to get the game launched.

For their support, backers -- the Kickstarter term for donors -- typically receive a free copy of the game, interaction with the game makers during the development process and other perks like getting their name listed in the game credits.

Double Fine's financial goal for their new point-and-click adventure game was to raise $400,000 in 35 days -- $300,000 would go to covering the internal development costs, while $100,000 would be spent on a professional video documentary crew to film the project.

Only 24 hours into the Double Fine Kickstarter project, and the funding reached over $1,000,000 -- more than twice the original projected costs. A month later, and Double Fine has raised a whopping $2,250,000 for their new IP.

Where did all these point-and-click adventure fans come from? Looking at the donation totals, there actually are only 65,000 "backers," meaning the average donation per backer is $35 -- about half the cost as your typical new retail game.

Why Not "Kickstart" A Sports Game?

How many people would be willing to pay $35 for, say, a new football game from Visual Concepts? Or a new hockey game to compete with EA NHL? Or some kind of college basketball game? At the $35 pledge level, it would only take 60,000 supporters to bring in over $2 million worth of funding. Surely there are 60,000 sports fans out there willing to endorse some of these projects that gamers want but game publishers refuse to fund?

Six of the 20 most-played Xbox 360 retail games are sports titles, according to Microsoft's Major Nelson. The sports of soccer, basketball, football, motorsports and hockey are all represented in the top 20, leaving baseball as the only major sport without a representative -- though that may change with MLB 2K12 and MLB: The Show 12 being released this week.

This data, along with yearly sales totals in the millions for long-running franchises like FIFA, Madden NFL, EA NHL, NBA 2K, et al., suggests there may be a market for more sports games that are currently being green-lit by publishers -- just not on retail shelves.

Retail sales for dead franchises like All-Pro Football, NHL 2K and College Hoops 2K were simply not profitable. But could these games reap some financial success in the digital space?

Image Caption: Would non-blockbuster sports franchises do better when removed from the retail evironment?

Visual Concepts' last football game, All-Pro Football 2K8, sold a meager 100,000 copies in its first two weeks. NHL 2K10, two years after its release, fell just short of 250,000 units in Xbox 360 and PS3 sales combined. College Hoops 2K8 places a bit higher at right under 300,000 combined Xbox 360 and PS3 sales.

All three franchises were canned for under performing at retail, and used copies of these games and other failed sports franchises like Backbreaker and Blitz The League take up much of the space in video game bargain bins across North America.

But Double Fine's most-recent adventure game, Psychonauts, sold just 100,000 copies in its first week, and only 400,000 units in two years after its release. Poor sales kept publishers from backing a Psychonauts sequel, despite fans' requests and Double Fine's internal desire to make a new one.

It's clear that game fans are reluctant to purchase these niche titles for $65 when they're stocked alongside AAA brands like Madden or Call of Duty, whose production budgets are in the tens, if not hundreds of millions.

By moving a niche game like Double Fine's Adventure into the online marketplace, and giving its buyers the ability to name their own price, Double Fine found a way to turn a project that game publishers deemed "untouchable" into a financial success.

Current Kickstarter Sports Projects

There is one notable Kickstarter sports game already in the making, the Tecmo Bowl-inspired Gridiron Heroes. With 96 backers and $7,613 raised (an average of $80 per donor), Gridiron Heroes achieved it's goal of raising $7,500 to cover development costs.

While gameplay in this sidescrolling football MMO is currently limited to "coach mode," the developer plans to add on-field control and human vs. human online gameplay as soon as possible.

Could more sports franchises join Gridiron Heroes in going the independent route? If so, what sports games would you want to "Kickstart?"

Member Comments
# 1 sactown_13 @ 03/20/12 04:27 PM
would love to see this utilized for a new college hoops game. 2k8 is a good game just the controls are dated to me.
# 2 brza37 @ 03/20/12 05:11 PM
Oh hell yeah. I'll help fund a new College Hoops 2k.
# 3 AndyAndAj32 @ 03/20/12 05:14 PM
I would be willing to spend about $100 to see a new college hoops 2k
# 4 maddguuns @ 03/20/12 05:17 PM
Not only would I be willing to pledge for a full-on management mode football game (a la Head Coach)...I'm at the point in my life when I'd give up the career and do this. Kickstarter has worked for a couple of my friends, and I am legitimately considering this if, and when, the NFL license is available again. I hate EA.
# 5 davefmurray @ 03/20/12 05:29 PM
The biggest thing with Kickstarter is converting fans to actual backers. The conversion percentage is so low that it is starting to turn off more indie devs.

In total, our project got over 1 million views. ONE MILLION. We finished in the top 100 in traffic, ever. We fielded 3000 emails. On and on and on, etc. Double Fine's stats are just mind-blowing.

With Double Fine and the recent Wasteland 2, Kickstarter has flipped upside down. These two projects are coming from full-on production studio environments and have zero 'indie' roots. Kickstarter used to disallow 'non-indie' projects and they have now progressed into it's current process of approving projects. Project success rates are at an all-time low.

I am ALL FOR Kickstarter projects, but without a super soild PR team, you are in for some serious self-promotion and not to mention a huge time investment.
# 6 jsg @ 03/21/12 12:26 AM
I like the kickstarter idea. Games that the fans want and the developers can make with total freedom is awesome. I definitely would support a college hoops game.
# 7 user_pick @ 03/21/12 01:17 AM
I would support a college hoops game.
# 8 deebo2246 @ 03/21/12 10:13 AM
I hope 2k is watching because I would give up some money for college hoops and a new fully customizable all pro football
# 9 GlennN @ 03/21/12 10:22 AM
Terrific idea! I'm in for a new hockey or football IP. The next generation of Front Page Sports, anyone? How about a new football or hockey game on the PC?
# 10 Dazraz @ 03/21/12 02:22 PM
Certainly an avenue worth exploring. The obvious concern is in final product quality. If someone has donated an amount to a cause but are dissatisfied with the final product, it is unlikely they will offer funding for future products thus bringing the longevity of such ideas into question.
# 11 stlstudios189 @ 03/22/12 05:10 PM
man that is actually amazing idea. Think about it just this site alone I bet there are at least 1000 people who would pay $10 or more for the project and then the download idea instead of retail stores etc..man lets do this OS lets make a game ourselves
# 12 foote92 @ 03/22/12 06:58 PM
This is actually a legit question
# 13 Flithy @ 03/22/12 07:13 PM
I'd so back college hoops 2k13!
# 14 dubbs88 @ 03/23/12 01:42 AM
This might be a way to get a CFL game for all of us Canadians!
# 15 LucianoJJ @ 03/24/12 02:13 PM

Kickstarter might be a good way to launch lacrosse or rugby. Licensing would prevent college sports like baseball or hockey from being developed. EA, 2K, and Sony are tough competitors, but we need alternatives for sports gaming.
# 16 Yrogergj24 @ 03/25/12 02:12 PM
Some people I know are using it to raise money for a Godzilla fighting game
# 17 pietasterp @ 03/25/12 02:50 PM
I'd be willing to kick in for a new College Hoops game, and for a new football game from 2k I'd donate my car...although come to think of it, $40-50 might be a better donation....

I also would love to see more niche games come out...like a home console online-enabled version of "Derby Owner's Club" (weirdo but oddly addictive horse-racing game). For that I'd pay $30-40. But there probably aren't 1000 people in the country who would be willing...
# 18 OverKick @ 03/25/12 03:28 PM
Great article Jayson.

I often thought this myself for sports games not backed by a Major Sports organization (i.e. a NFL 2k13 without the NFL). If any studio with sports programming know-how outside of EA/2K saw how much money people were willing to put into a "no-name" sports game, the hardcore gamers could find something to break the monopoly on Sports video games
# 19 macsomjrr @ 03/26/12 07:26 PM
I would totally back the following... 1) Mutant League Football, 2) An NFL coach sim that mirrors OOTP or Football Manager, 3) College Basketball 2K. Get on it all you talented computer programmer types!!!!
# 20 TDenverFan @ 03/26/12 08:08 PM
I bet you could get a part of the game funded. Problem is, some games can take millions. Still, using NBA 12 technology, all 2K would need is updated teams/stadiums, which wouldn't be too costly. I'd donate whatever amount is a pre-order of the game, up to $60

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