Backer Beware: ‘System Shock’ Kickstarter Failure Highlights the Risks of Crowdfunding

Human beings tend toward optimism, for the most part. That’s why we tend to fall for things that seem too good to be true. One of the first companies to successfully monetize that too-good-to-be-true feeling is Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform where people contribute money to a project with the expectation (or at least hope) that it will be completed at some point in the future. Video game developers jumped on board Kickstarter pretty early on, eager for the promise of free money up front without the meddling of a publisher.

However, high-profile Kickstarter failures have plagued the video game industry, and we recently learned about the latest: a full remake of System Shock, the classic first-person shooter (and spiritual precursor to the Bioshock series).

The Kickstarter for System Shock actually looked like a sure thing: experienced developers, the backing of influential people in the games industry, and even a playable alpha demo that players could try out before deciding to back the game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to bring the project to fruition. It is now officially on hiatus.

The company behind the remake, Nightdive Studios, will have to come up with the funding itself if it wants to finish it, as they’ve burned through the $1.35 million they raised via Kickstarter. There’s no telling whether or not that will happen.

So, as a consumer, how can you protect yourself on Kickstarter? How can you support the projects you want without running the risk of losing your investment?

Well, honestly, you can’t eliminate that risk. Not entirely. But there are a few things you can do to make sure you come out on top more often than not.

Go with developers that have a good Kickstarter track record. If a developer has successfully delivered a game via Kickstarter in the past, there’s a much better chance they’ll be able to do so again. When Larian Studios made Divinity: Original Sin on Kickstarter, very few were worried they wouldn’t be able to deliver Divinity: Original Sin 2 the same way.

Look for developers with a ton of industry experience. This isn’t foolproof, as the System Shock story shows us, but a team that has professionals who know both about game design as well as the business side of things are more likely to manage their money responsibly. A company like Double Fine has grown beyond being a simple developer and now publishes games for other indie studios. I would trust them more today with a Kickstarter project than I would have several years ago.

Be willing to lose it all. By that, I mean don’t back something that you don’t really believe in. Sure, losing your money will hurt no matter what, but if you throw money at every indie developer on Kickstarter, you’ll end up far worse off than if you selectively choose the best of the best.

If you do your research and invest your money carefully, you’ll avoid most Kickstarter pitfalls. For every triumph like Cosmic Star Heroine and Broken Age, there are failures like System Shock and Unsung Story. If you’re willing to take the risk, you can be a part of bringing about some pretty incredible games.