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Kickstarter seeing steep decline in money pledged to video games in 2016, says analysis

Lack of big-ticket projects hurts, but is not entirely the cause

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Crowdfunding for video games on Kickstarter is down sharply for the first six months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015, suggesting that roughly the same number of video games projects are successfully backed, but at much lower amounts.

Kickstarter backers pledged $8.2 million to video game projects in the first six months of 2016, says ICO Partners, a U.K.-based consultancy specializing in market analysis for online games. Donors pledged more than $20 million to video games in both the first and second halves of 2015. That's despite roughly the same number of projects being successfully funded overall in all three periods.

It's true that Shenmue 3 raised $6 million dollars in a campaign spanning June 15 to July 15, 2015, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Nighttook in $5.5 million just one month before. But the 2016 dropoff appears not to be skewed entirely by the success of a single project. Both halves of 2015 (Jan. 1 to June 30, and July 1 to Dec. 31) saw more than $20 million in pledges. Removing Bloodstained and Shenmue 3's take from their respective halves of 2015 would still leave the $8 million of 2016's first half down about 40 percent from either half in 2015.

Still, the absence of "a couple big projects" is a major difference in video game Kickstarters' performance, ICO Partners says. ICO Partners split projects into six pledge tiers and found that the money pledged to smaller projects increased when compared to the same categories in 2015, with the top-earning category down dramatically.

The last half of 2015 on Kickstarter saw funding for The Bard's Tale 4 (at $1.5 million); Shenmue 3 ($6.3 million); Divinity: Original Sin 2 ($2 million); Battle Chasers: Nightwar ($850,000); BattleTech ($2.7 million) and Friday the 13th ($820,000).

In the first half of 2016, Battalion 1944 raised about $450,000, Fabulous Beasts took in about $230,000 and Knights and Bikes about $175,000. Those are the only successful video game projects above the $150,000 mark. A $700,000 Kickstarter for Blackroom, by Doom's John Romero and Adrian Carmack, was canceled before its completion.

Other crowdfunding sources may have cut into Kickstarter's take, too. Psychonauts 2 raised almost $4 million but did so through another platform, called Fig, which ramped up in August 2015. That project is still awaiting U.S. regulators' approval before Fig can release almost $1.8 million in small-scale backing to developers. Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch also took in $445,000 through Fig. And though the fund drive failed, when Harmonix sought $1.5 million for a Rock Band 4 PC port, it did so through Fig and not Kickstarter.

The lack of big-earning projects could also point to a general public skepticism for ambitious crowdfunding ventures in video games, or ones that are "spiritual successors" or direct sequels to games mothballed long ago by mainstream publishers. Kickstarter donors may also now realize that the higher the funding target, the longer it will take to see results, even past the two-year goal many video game Kickstarters set between funding and delivery.

Mighty No. 9's woebegotten launch, after a development history fraught with delays and excuses, has not helped big-budget video game Kickstarters' image with the public. At $4 million, Mighty No. 9 is the highest crowdfunded video game to launch so far. Pillars of Eternity, at $3.9 million, Broken Age, at $3.3 million, Wasteland 2 at $2.9 million (all funded in 2012) and Elite: Dangerous (almost $2.5 million, funded early 2013) round out the top five of that category. Elite: Dangerous launched two years after its funding. The rest took at least 29 months to launch their full versions.

One piece of good news from ICO Partners' analysis: The number of video game projects listed on Kickstarter in the past six months is down, and the number of "junk" projects, (that is, those with $0 pledged to them) also is decreasing, "possibly indicating the notion that Kickstarter projects are not easy to get funded is sinking in to the larger audience," ICO Partners wrote.