Thursday, March 7, 2013

Torment, Kickstarter, and the Brave New World of Crowdfunding

At the risk of alienating a few of you, I'm going to post about something different today. I know it's usually books, writing, publishing, and screaming goat remixes of Taylor Swift songs around here, but today I want to tell you about something that's a pretty big deal.

This is one of those things where the voice of one silly old man is of little consequence, but still:

First, watch this video, in which Amanda Palmer illustrates what the spirit of crowdfunding is far better than I ever could (pointed to me by Shaun Hutchinson):

See what I mean? The world is changing, Hobbits, and it's changing for the better. The days of venture capitalists, distributors, and publishers (this term means something slightly different in the software industry, but whatever) telling us all what we want are over. Or at least they're soon to be. It's time for power to the people. Time for consumers (think fans, it's such a nicer word) to tell the people who make awesome stuff (as authors, this can be us sometime very soon, dear readers), what they want, when they want it, and how much they want to pay for it.

I'm sure I don't have to explain how amazing this is to all of you, but think of it this way: when you want a green pepper, because you're cooking fajitas or whatever, what do you do? You hop in your gas guzzling vehicle, your tires scour the highway all the way to the local grocer, and you buy a vegetable that laid down such a fat carbon footprint to even get to your state in the first place, at least three fourths of the price you're paying is overhead, before you even begin to consider the social and environmental impact the agricultural-industrial complex.

Word to your mother.

Now imagine if you could invest a hundred bucks a month ahead of time, and if 100 other people from your neighborhood did the same, and that money created a co-op that provided locally grown vegetables at cost (sometimes slightly above or below, but with extras) to everyone involved? Pretty sweet, right? And on top of cutting out the environmental impact (not a huge factor with games OR books, but still important) we're talking about a new dynamic that eliminates the need for corporate greed, golden parachutes and all that capitalist nonsense.

The pepper thing is a weak analogy, I know, but that's how my simple mind understands crowdfunding, at least for now. And as far as I'm concerned, it's a revolution (Kickstarter, not green peppers).

So, finally to the actual point of this post, yesterday, at 10:02 AM, I took this screenshot:

What that means, for the uninformed, is that some friends of mine raised $250,000 dollars for a game they plan on designing, in just over one hour. ONE HOUR.

Before I get to how amazing that is, and how happy I am for them, let me give you some background.

In 1999, I played probably the greatest computer role playing game ever made. It was called Planescape: Torment. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. I loved it mostly for it's design at the time, but now, over a decade later, as a writer, I can appreciate it even more for the sheer genius of its storytelling.

Anyway, before I get all nostalgic, the point is they're making a spiritual successor. It's called Torment: Tides of Numenera (obviously) and it is going to be pretty amazing. I should know, because one of my best writer friends and internet homies, Adam Heine, is one of the designers. The lead designer, who I also know a little bit, through Adam and Facebook, is Colin McComb, who is also very talented individual.

Adam is a very dear friend to me. He's a critique partner of mine, and I've read a lot of his work, and as far as I'm concerned, he's got a very bright future as an author, regardless of what happens to him as a game designer. So ... I can't even really express in a blog post how happy I am for him, but this post isn't so much about a bro-crush man-gush as it is about what this means to all of us: we aspiring writers, we authors, and we publishing professionals.

More on all that in a minute. For now, I've got to do my shout outs.

Actually, I'm in so much shock over here, I'm just going to quote Adam's post about all this bizness (or paraphrase it, rather):

Adam, Colin, and Brian et al have 30 days to raise almost a million dollars, so go pledge now! GO! GO! GO!

Wait. What is this? Where are we?

You may recall Adam is a designer/writer for a computer game called Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is a successor to a game he helped make 14 years ago called Planescape: Torment. The new Torment will only happen if they reach their funding goal on Kickstarter. Hence the noise.

Planescape what now?

Planescape: Torment. A computer role-playing game from 1999 that won a lot of awards and became the standard for deep characterization and storytelling in PC games (a standard which many feel has not been met since). It didn't sell very well at the time, but it has gained a lot of fans since then.

Why should you give them money?

If Torment reaches its goal, it means Adam will have a job (the extent of which depends on how much Torment exceeds its goal).

You should give money to the Kickstarter if:
  • You are a fan of Planescape: Torment, or have even ever heard of it.
  • You are a fan of RPGs with deep, emotional stories.
  • You like what you see in their pitch video or on the Kickstarter page.
  • You like Adam's writing and want to see more of it (I should add here that one of the rewards includes a novella written by Adam - but this reward my be gone by now, check the website for more detail). NOTE: Matt here, I have read two of Adam's full length novels, and some of his other work, and I can tell you: they're awesome.
  • You like Adam and want to help him have something approximating job security. NOTE FROM MATT AGAIN: This dude is a modern day saint. I'm not kidding. In case you weren't aware, he lives in Thailand, and is the foster dad for like 40 kids.
Whether you pledge or not, please spread the word!

Actually I don't know what pledging is. Or Kickstarter.
I probably should've asked this first...

Kickstarter is a funding platform for any kind of creative project. You pledge money to projects that you want to see happen, because most of them won't happen without your help. If the project doesn't meet its goal, then they don't take your money (which is why they say "pledge" instead of "pay" or "donate").

Learn more about Kickstarter here, and read here for how it's been used in the recent past.

-----------------------break it on down-----------------------

Okay, so that was basically just a near-exact copy of Adam's post, (and UPDATE: a lot of that is moot now, since they're funded) but what I really want to blog about today is the whole concept of crowdfunding in general. In a world where corporations allow the bottom line to run everything with so much power that crap products like the shake weight, spray on hair, and chicken mcnuggets actually exist and thrive, crowfunding allows really cool shit to be made, with super low margins (that's an MBA term for that ass), because fans of that stuff can essentially invest directly in it's creation.

It's not quite that simple, obviously, but it is that awesome.

UPDATE: I wrote most of this post at 11 AM yesterday, but now that's it 3 PM, and my soul-sucking corporate day job shift is over, the project is over 99% funded (out of a goal of $900,000).

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes you shed a tear of joy for humanity. When you sit in a dull grey office all day, and you work your ass off for someone else's benefit, it can get pretty depressing. But then you see something like this, and you remember the human race is fucking awesome.

UPDATE TWO: Looks like they got funded by the time I got out to my car. Congrats, ladies and gentlemen!

UPDATE THREE: Torment: Tides of Numenara broke the all time Kickstarter record for the fastest time to earn a million dollars: Geek Native. If you think about that for a second, you'll feel high.

Also, I just realized, when I was young, I used to look a lot like The Nameless One, from the first Torment. I was like 19 here:

And here, which was like maybe 1997. Not long before Torment:

See what I mean:

I might not be blue, but I have the desperate, want-to-be dread-lock look down pat, don't you think?

And finally, something for the poets:


Adam Heine said...

Thanks for the shout-outs, Matt. I have a couple notes relative to the Kickstarter:

1) We are funded (got there in six hours!), but the more money we make, the better we can make this game (and, selfishly, the better a job I have).

2) You can get the digital novella compilation at lower, unlimited tiers ($50 and $80, specifically).

3) I believe they added more tiers to get the physical novellas ($125 maybe, and definitely $135).

Just to say that, you know, you can still pledge if you want any of this stuff. And we (I) would love it if you did :-)

Adam Heine said...

Oh, nope, I'm wrong about the physical compilation. That's only available at tiers about $250 at the moment. There's a new $275 tier; that's the one I was thinking of.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is really amazing. It was a great game and I wondered why there wasn't a sequel. And now there will be!

Weaver said...

I love your pepper analogy.

And I've been seeing a lot of kickstarter projects around the web lately. What an awesome idea.

Eliza Tilton said...

I'm so pissed. I tried to back it yesturday from my cell but the windows were all funky. So pysched that its funded. Can't wait to play.

Adam Heine said...

@Eliza: You can still pledge for your own copy of the game. The campaign will be open for another 29 days, and the more money we get, the better a game we can make.

So let me rephrase: please still pledge :-)

Meradeth Houston said...

I flat out love the idea of kickstarter and am very happy for your friends! For those projects that get funded, it is an awesome resource and I really hope the way of the future. Awesome that you showcased it here!!

Misha Gerrick said...

That's really interesting, Matt. I've been seeing a few crowdfunding tweets lately and it's really intriguing me when it comes to applications on publishing.

In fact... I think I see a plan forming in the back of my mind...

Want to mail me about it?

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's awesome and inspiring, Matt. Kickstarter is awesome. Cheryl Klein used it for self-publishing her book and Stacey Whitman when she started Tu Publishing and then Lee & Low made it an imprint of their publishing group and Stacey moved across the country to New York to head it.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Watching Adam's (and the team's) dream come true in such a thrilling gush of fan-love... it's seriously awe inspiring. And, like you, Matt, I'm giving Kickstarter a whole nother gander, thinking of ways indie authors can leverage this new model to reach fans and create what they love. #seriousawesome

p.s. my post to spread the love is tomorrow and I had my blog all clogged up with business stuff this week. This is way more fun!!

Andrew Leon said...

I've already seen the Amanda Palmer video. The whole kickstarter thing has been pretty incredible, especially for the gaming world (all kinds of games). I've heard of some authors doing it, too, but I suppose you'd have to be more well known before you'd really have a chance of pulling it off.

Steve MC said...

Best bro-crush man-gush ever. And Adam and friends definitely deserve it.

Shanna Germain said...

Thanks so much for the great article -- tackles a lot of what we've been talking about regarding Kickstarter and creative funding as we put campaigns together. It is a brave new world!

All the best,

WrightStuff said...

Agrrhhh.... blogger what did you do with my comment?? I'll give you 'error messages'.

Well, let's try again. I said something like this...

I recently helped fund a movie. It cost me just £25, but with a few people like me all joining in via Kickstarter, this film is now being made. It made me feel great!! Another great plus for the power of the internet and one in the eye for the banks!

(I'm going to make a copy of this comment before I hit publish this time!)

T.D. McFrost said...

Man I missed out on all this! WTF! I'm so sorry I couldn't be a part of histoy. This is an amazing time for artists of all kinds -- the world is at our fingers.

But guess what, Matt, guess who's going to be playing this awesome game!

farawayeyes said...

The Amanda Palmer Video is amazing. My first exposure to Kickstarter was when the boys from A Beer for the Shower used it to publish. The Times They area Changing' indeed. Thanks for sharing this.

Michael G-G said...

How tremendous! I was at a writing conference a couple of years back when the great Jane Friedman gave a talk about KIckstarter etal, so I am aware of its potential. It is sort of like the 99% getting in on the action for worthwhile creative things while the 1% continues to back Wall Street. Kudos to Adam and the gang for their vision and their moxie.

Deniz Bevan said...

Love Amanda! And yay for Adam! Off to pledge now...

Elise Fallson said...

I am regrettably unfamiliar with this game, I stopped at like tetris on my Game Boy. (; However, I think it's amazing what you guys are doing and holy cow you all raised that money fast! Wish you guys all the best!

Unknown said...

I'm part of an anthology that was funded by Kickstartr and while that was only a 1000usd, it was a big deal for the Malaysian publishers, where a dollar still goes some way.

It was heartwarming, this story. Thank you for sharing it.

cleemckenzie said...

After watching the video, I'm off to find a box and flower. It sounds like a good place to learn how to connect on a very meaningful level.

cleemckenzie said...

After watching the video I'm off to find a box and a flower. It seems the best way to learn how to connect with others on a meaningful level.

Stella Telleria said...

This was a great post. Especially for some of us authors (me) who feel the sting of failure when the road to traditional publishing may not be available. This has made the wheels turn in my head. Thank you!!