Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Rock Band 4 Crowdfunding...Wait. RB4 is Being Crowdfunded?

The video game crowdfunding craze is still rolling, but I think we're at a point where fans are starting to sour to the process, ever so slightly. The latest story to cause a ripple is Rock Band 4.

The first question entering your mind right now is 'why does Rock Band 4 need crowdfunding?' The second is most likely 'didn't they release that game last year?' Answering the latter question first: yes. The game did release last year for the PS4 and XBox One. So what's with the crowdfunding? Well Harmonix, the developer, wanted to make a PC version available and to finalize the Rock Band Network, which would allow users to port their own, original music to the game and play them. The music could then be sold on Steam as DLC add-on's for a cut of the profit. There's enough demand and feedback from fans that Harmonix felt that a PC version should be developed. However, profit has not turned enough to make it happen on their own.

The quick history of Harmonix: it was purchased by Viacom and then distributed to EA back when Rock Band and Guitar Hero were the 'it' games to have. A few years ago, Harmonix was able to buy themselves out of Viacom and become independent once more. The drawback is that the once large company is now small again, with a tiny staff and very little cash flow. Getting finances for Rock Band 4 was enough of a challenge that they may have tapped out on their resources. So what's a developer to do? Why they go to the public and ask for their money!

It's very much in the same vein as Psychonauts 2 and Shenmue. Developer's with a brand name, a recognition, well known to the public are now seeking their help to produce their next projects instead of going through traditional methods. One could argue that it's to help gamers feel more in-touch with the products being produced. You might get a name mention in the credits, but more often then not it's just a promise of a copy of the game at release. Unless you drops oodles of cash to actually be involved in the production (Psychonauts 2 you are looking at $10 grand before you can provide input). With Rock Band 4 that price was $25,000 and that was only to have your song built into the game. That's it! The rest of it is trinkets that are no better then a pre-order bonus. Funny thing here; Tim Schafer (see Psychonauts) was involved in the RB4 crowdfunding experience. Check out the rewards page.

Harmonix tried, but they didn't meet their deadline yesterday, asking $1.5 million from fans to develop a PC version of the latest release. It wasn't for lack of trying. They were hitting up every outlet on news and online to drum up support. (rimshot!) Based on the response of the crowdfunding, the comments seem to sway more towards "why does Harmonix need our support?" And it's a valid question. The company has sold $100 million worth of copies of the game this year so far, and while it wasn't enough to keep a struggling MadCatz afloat (whom created the peripherals for the game), that's still pretty good numbers for a franchise many thought was long gone. So the question now becomes, why does a known game company, with the financial capital at hand, need to borrow money from gamers?

And I don't have an answer for that. Even when you pay back investors and divvy up the remaining funds to fulfill contracts, music licensing agreements, legal fees, etc, there should be more then enough left to distribute $2 million ($1.5 from the crowdfunding and $500k from Hamonix) to cover the cost of making a PC version. Is this another example of corporate greed or a developer getting on the crowdfunding hype train? It worked for Shenmue, which did have studio backing, so why not them?

Whelp! The people have spoken. If Harmonix does want to fund a PC version, they'll have to go about it in a different way. But maybe this is also a sign? Are people starting to tire of crowdfunding games now that larger developers are stepping in to utilize the system?

Probably another crazy theory, but I'm just throwing it out there for you to puzzle over.

On the other end of the spectrum, a fan of Life is Strange attempted to start his own crowdfunding project to develop a squeal to the Dotnod hit game. The fan only asked for $20k and had 2 plans on how to spend the money. Option 1 was to go directly to Dotnod, hand them the cash, and ask them to make a sequel. Option 2 was if Dotnod said no, the fan would seek another publisher to sponsor and buy the rights to Life is Strange from Dotnod and SquareEnix (whom published the game). Pledge $50 and you'd get a copy of the new game. Pledge $1,000 and you could help write a character backstory. Lofty promises for someone with no game development experience, no stake in either company that released the original game, and no rights to the product.

The ending to this story should be fairly obvious: within a day the project was pulled from Kickstarter due to copyright infringement. So remember kids, even if you're a big fan of something the best thing to do is to send your requests via letters and e-mail to the developer directly. Don't jump in and try to start your own copy of the game. Copyright rules don't work that way.


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