Crowd-funding: Generating a new level of development transparency.

When my parents bought me my first PC in 1994, it came with a Creative Labs bundle pack which included Syndicate Plus, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Strike Commander and Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi. It was the final two which really captured my imagination, and got me forever entrenched in to PC gaming, thank you Chris Roberts. Fast forward to 2013, and I am excited to see that Chris Roberts is back developing an new game called “Star Citizen” (http://robertsspaceindustries.com/star-citizen/). What makes things interesting is the fact that they are driving a serious crowd-funded investment to get the game development up and running, which by all indications has been incredibly successful. To date the effort has raised over $9.5 million USD (approximately $2.1 million via Kickstarter and another whopping $7.5 million via their own website).

What this means for companies like Cloud Imperium Games, the company which Chris Roberts leads, is a commitment to delivering everything that they have promised to the people committing funds. Now are they legally bound to deliver, it wouldn’t appear so, based on the wording of the commercial terms on the site (http://www.robertsspaceindustries.com/commercial-terms/), and I quote;

“3. For the avoidance of doubt, in consideration of CIG’s good faith efforts to develop, produce, and deliver the Game with the funds raised, you agree that any deposit amounts applied against the Game Cost as described above shall be non-refundable regardless of whether or not CIG is able to complete and deliver the Game.  In the unlikely event that CIG is not able to deliver the Game, CIG agrees to post an audited cost accounting on its website to fully explain the use of the deposits for the Game Cost.  In consideration of the promises by CIG hereunder, you agree to irrevocably waive any claim for refund of any deposit amount that has been used for the Game Cost in accordance with the above.”

While we hope that Chris Roberts and team do deliver, what is interesting is the level of transparency that the team is committing to during the development process. Even if it’s part of an overall marketing effort to continually generate awareness, it still makes people feel a lot closer to being part of something that is being created, and not just anything, something they feel incredibly passionate about. This is in stark contrast to the approach many other product developments have which is typically “It’s done when it’s done.”. In fact, the development of Star Citizen is actively taking people on the journey of the development process itself, going through every step from storyboards to community engagement (can be seen in more detail http://www.robertsspaceindustries.com/category/comm-link/).

Has this same approach been taken by other crowd-sourcing projects?

Let’s take a look at a poster-child project “The Pebble” (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper-watch-for-iphone-and-android/posts?page=1). If you take the time to read through the blog, you will notice the same level of transparency. The development team at Pebble had blog on Kickstarter as they went through the process, and one of their blogs made special attention to how communication was delivered to their backers, and what level of transparency would be delivered (the entry can be seen here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/597507018/pebble-e-paper-watch-for-iphone-and-android/posts/221074).

What about another one? The Ouya (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console?ref=most-funded), the development of a games console, trying to penetrate a market which some would say is already tough enough with the likes of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The development process which would be a closely guarded secret to ensure maximum impact when it launches, and yet, the process seemed extremely open, even down to specific hardware components (as posted in the blog here for the controller http://www.ouya.tv/its-all-about-control/#more-970).

So does crowd-funding ultimately make the product development lifecycle better, certainly the open communication process that is committed to backers makes it appear so, especially in terms of feedback through the process. What is clear, is that the consumer has had the opportunity to be more closely involved in the development process, and its the responsibility of every organization that participates in crowd-funding to ensure they commit to what they are doing, to ensure that this new approach, continues and thrives.

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