This year has seen a wave of independent video game developers competing for attention and money on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter. John Walker, one of the editors of the gaming criticism website Rock Paper Shotgun, talks to Bob about how he and his colleagues have opted to decide the fate of this field of hopefuls.
BOB GARFIELD: Schafer’s Kickstarter success has launched many, many imitators, mostly unknowns, competing for the case of game enthusiasts. In this crowded arena, a gaming website like rockpapershotgun.com can make or break a dream. John Walker is one of its editors. John, welcome to OTM.
JOHN WALKER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Having myself plied in the thumbs up/thumbs down trade for about 25 years, it’s no fun to think of the negative consequences; it eats at you. How do you deal with the level of power that you do have?
JOHN WALKER: You can’t allow yourself to go into the place which says: 150 people spent three years of their lives working their hearts out on this. They may lose their jobs if this game doesn’t sell well. You can’t let that get into your head because then you're going to do a disservice to the people that you are working for. That’s the readers. Your job is to inform the readers is it worth spending my money on this particular product? And if you allow anything else to get in the way of that then you’re compromised.
BOB GARFIELD: There are many projects that go up on Kickstarter but the only ones that seem to make it are those that get coverage by you or some of your competitors. Is that the way it should be?
JOHN WALKER: That’s a great question. Kickstarter’s still a pretty new concept for funding gaming. I’d like to see a time where it develops its own depth of community, such that there’s enough people visiting Kickstarter every day to just find out what projects are there, without needing our bringing attention to them.
BOB GARFIELD: List for me please the various ways in which developers try to bribe you.
JOHN WALKER: It really just isn’t a thing that I’ve experienced. Fourteen years doing this job and I’ve never once even had the offer of bribery to turn down. And you get sent some real strange crap in the post –
-but nothing that would influence you or make you want to change your opinion on a game.
BOB GARFIELD: Has there been an example of a game that you’ve written about positively based on, you know, a few screen grabs of developing narratives, then seeing the game come to fruition, only to find that - oh man, this, this game sucks?
JOHN WALKER: It’s too early for that. This phenomenon is only a few months old, and so there hasn’t been a development cycle that’s got there yet. But the point you're making is really important. We are not saying, “Go give your money to this just because we think it looks interesting.” We’re saying, “This looks interesting. You're an adult, you can go make your decision what you want to do with your money.” Hopefully, by the end of this year, the first famous Kickstarter projects will start to appear, and we’re gonna have some great ones and we’re gonna have a really interesting situation where the first Kickstarter that’s raised half a million dollars makes something terrible. That’s gonna be a really interesting time, and I think that will probably hurt the whole project quite badly.
BOB GARFIELD: John, thank you very much.
JOHN WALKER: That was a pleasure. It was great to speak to you.
BOB GARFIELD: John Walker is an editor of the gaming site, Rockpapershotgun.com