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Chris Crawford reflects on a Kickstarter gone wrong
Chris Crawford reflects on a Kickstarter gone wrong Exclusive
August 24, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

August 24, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
Comments
    109 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



These past few weeks haven't gone so well for Game Developers Conference founder and veteran game designer Chris Crawford. Like many other developers in the industry, he recently turned to Kickstarter to raise money for his latest project, but with less than four days left in the campaign, he's nowhere close to his $150,000 goal.

Crawford hoped to raise money to create Balance of the Planet, a serious environmental simulator that would teach players about sustainable energy, pollution, and other world issues. With his funding, he planned to make the game available for free on the web, and Crawford suspects that's one of the main reasons why his campaign went down in flames. After all, why would backers pledge money for a product that'll eventually be free?

"As it turns out, my model was only right for what Kickstarter used to be," said Crawford. "That is, Kickstarter used to be a semi-charitable operation in which people could assist worthy creative projects that might not make it commercially, but still ought to be done. But in the area of games and comics, this is no longer the case.

"What's going on now, which I did not comprehend at the time, is that Kickstarter is a marketing channel [for games], so instead of buying a game after it's made, people just pay for a game before it's made. It works in that context, but I had entirely the wrong context in mind, so Balance of the Planet's Kickstarter became a dismal failure."

At this point it's very unlikely he'll raise his goal, but Crawford says this experience was still helpful for his game. Throughout the campaign, he directed prospective backers to a a simple-looking, in-progress build of Balance of the Planet, and the players who tried it offered plenty of feedback that helped him tune and refine the title. Assuming the Kickstarter fails, he plans to launch the updated game as a standalone product on the Mac App Store.

Appealing to the wrong audience

While the public demo was useful for generating feedback and helping Crawford improve his design, he wonders whether showing the game too early just put another nail in his Kickstarter's coffin.

"In my case, I had a working game that was only halfway finished, so everybody saw a zillion flaws. There's an interesting question there: Is it better to show a half complete thing to give people an idea of what it is, or do you keep it all hidden until it's ready?"

He pointed out that most backers on Kickstarter aren't developers, so they're not used to looking past the rough edges of an unfinished game. While a designer might be able to ignore a few bugs, an average player will likely see little more than a broken piece of software, making them even less likely to pledge any money.

Crawford suspects that even if he had a polished demo, he still would have been at a disadvantage, as Kickstarter backers don't tend to show much enthusiasm for unusual or experimental projects -- particularly when they're focused on education or serious world issues.

"There are a great many unconventional games on Kickstarter, but very few of them are funded. The only ones that get funding -- regardless of the price -- are fairly straight forward ones," Crawford said.

"An interesting exercise is to read a brief sentence or two of the description, and every single one says something along the lines of, 'This is a platformer with a twist!' or 'Here we have an RPG with new rules for magic.' They all describe themselves as, 'It's this category of game, with these changes,' and that in itself bespeaks how set in its ways that community is."

Crawford's not sure if he'll ever give Kickstarter another shot, but he told us that if he did, he'd only use the platform to raise money for ports of existing games. If he ever needs to attract funding for another new, experimental project, he's convinced he'd have better luck trying something else.


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Comments


Ron Dippold
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Well honestly, it doesn't /sound/ like much fun. Which does go towards his 'this is something which should be done', but I think it's always been about Kickstarting things you can get excited about.

'The player sets tax rates on five kinds of pollution, and sets subsidies for five kinds of beneficial activities. ... The game is only one turn long: you set your taxes and subsidies and then turn the simulation loose to calculate the effects of your policies over the course of the next 60 years. It then presents you with your score, which will usually be negative.'

How many people are going to pay for that? Who's going to get fired up about that? I pledged $25, but only because I played Siboot and Balance of Power back in the day and know who Chris is.

Ian Uniacke
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I made a game like this once at an experimental day at work. It was actually pretty good fun but maybe only for nerds like me ;)

I don't disagree with what you're saying though, it's a hard sell.

Toby Grierson
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One could describe tons of really joyous, popular games that way.

But they don't. At least, not when trying to sell them.

Boxes say things like "Run an empire! Crush your neighbors! Bilk random bystanders!" and whatever.

Lincoln Thurber
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Your right, the game did not sound fun, nor was it pitched as interesting In other words, he was KickStarting a 'broccoli farm' for kids. "Its GOOD for you," does not work with most people.

I have to tell you I have given several hundred dollars to "You get nothing much in return" projects that I felt were worth causes by worthy people. I provided backing to them because the pitch was good, the need was reasonable, and I liked the people. They also were not asking for $150K for a "feel bad about the environment" game.

Jeremy Tate
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Yeah I have to agree. This just doesn't sound fun/exciting. He seems to say it is indisputable that his is the kind of game that ""ought to be done", which is a matter of debate. After hearing his pitch, I sure didn't get that feeling of excitement that makes me fork out money to make sure this project gets done.

Bob Satori
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Having followed Mr. Crawford through all the last couple of decades with the idrama group and his development of the Erasmatron I see this as a typical example of his acommercial thinking. You would have to be pretty familiar with his past efforts to realize how thorough his game designs are "under the hood."

Even if you pick up some of his projects, the depth isn't always apparent because he simplifies the output to the point of looking like some student's VB class assignment. It's the opposite of the smoke and mirrors show commercial games play, turning simple designs with optimized (simplefied and fudged for speed) game calculations into a multimedia extravaganza.

Joe Wreschnig
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It's a simulation... where you can't interact!

I think it says more about the community that we can't tell an experimental designer from a reactionary crank. I'm still not sure which Chris Crawford is, but this rant (and the funding goal!) certainly moves the needle towards the latter.

Ian Uniacke
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I think you're being kind of dismissive. What's wrong with the concept exactly? Do games have to fit a certain mould? I think there's room for ruminatory minimalistic games like this.

Joe Wreschnig
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Nothing's wrong with the concept. I think it's an interesting idea, though not one that needs anywhere near $150,000 to be realized effectively.

What I take issue with is his "Kickstarter was better in the old days and none of you kids can design games and you're all so STODGY" rant. Nothing is wrong with his game per se; nothing is wrong with platformers and RPGs either. Crawford is being unfairly reductive when his own game boils down in a similar way to an even more embarrassing statement.

Crawford has a history of dismissing everyone else's work because it's not as ? as his, but he can never explain what that ? is. It is getting reactionary and offensive. He needs to get over his attachment to an inexplicable ? and realize that his ideals are not the be-all-end-all of design, that other designers are doing interesting work, and it might be worthwhile to pay attention to them.

Maria Jayne
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A simulation doesn't have to be interactive, I would say a game does though.

I remember several years ago playing a flash based simulation of infection during a zombie outbreak. It was top down, using white pixels as humans, walking around a city represented by blocks with streets and alleys in between.

You could select one citizen to become a zombie, then you simply watched that zombie run about trying to bite people. Gradually the white pixels running about in a panic would come into contact with red pixels (infected zombies) and they would also turn red, as the zombie outbreak spread you could see the last few survivors trapped in a lone alleyway surrounded by a city full of zombies.

That was a simulation, it was fun to watch once or twice but i never wanted to "play" it more than that.

Ian Uniacke
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I guess I would see the game as meta. Try some values, watch the simulation. See the results. Try some new values. etc

Sure it doesn't fit the traditional definition of a game, but neither did Brain Training originally. (lots of people still don't think that's a game :D)

At least I would see this as more of a game than Farmville (for example).

Ian Uniacke
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For the record, there is already a "game" that is more or less this exactly. It's called Sim Earth. The gameplay involved tweaking numbers in a spreadsheet and watching the earth evolve.

Maria Jayne
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oopsy, wrong thread.

Stuart Brown
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Maria @1:58

Interestingly, the Zombie Simulation you describe was one of the influences that led to the creation of Atom Zombie Smasher by Brandon Chung (mentioned on a recent podcast by Three Moves Ahead). There is certainly a role for abstract simulations to be the inspiration for enjoyable games.

Maria Jayne
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@ Stuart

I have tried the demo for Atom Zombie smasher and I did see the similarities, although obviously they made it much more of a game.

David Navarro
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"I think there's room for ruminatory minimalistic games like this."

@Ian: There's most certainly room for games like this. The unanswered question is whether there's money for them.

Brian Linville
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It sounds like a "How to wreck the economy even more," game. When your target market exists of only Al Gore, you should probably rethink your game model.

sean lindskog
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If you're saying you disagree with Al Gore, fair enough.

If you're saying that you disagree with the entire notion of environmental protection, I find that sad.

Toby Grierson
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All the environment does is produce food, water and breathable air. It's the economy, stupid!

Maria Jayne
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As a professional idiot, I see several issues with your pitch.

First, If I knew who you were, knowing you've done stuff would not change my opinion of you, since I don't know who you are, spending most of your video trying to convince me I should care about who you are, rather then what you are doing, I see as a negative.

Your early game build doesn't work for me, the pages were broken in internet explorer. So again, a negative there when you provide no alternative visual examples. On it's own, not the end of the world, when it's your only source, it's not good.

As you rightly realise, telling potential backers you want to give your game away for free, and then asking for money? Oh you want $150,000 so OTHER people can get it for free, well i may aswell wait and be one of those people. Chicken and Egg scenario.

Lastly, it doesn't sound much like a game, it sounds like an educational tool, we all love playing those right?

There are definitely a lot of gamers that see beta as a free trial of a game and don't appreciate what it should mean, that is the fault of many a publisher cashing in on it as a marketing tool. However, there are a significant number of gamers that definitely can see a diamond in the rough, evidence of this would be Alpha Minecraft or the Day Z mod, the former looks like crap and the latter is buggy and near broken. Unyet hundreds of thousands of players persist in playing them anyway.

I think It would be better pitched to an education authority for funding, stop trying to sell it as something for fun or recreation and start trying to sell it as a means to teach in schools or colleges.

Ian Uniacke
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But who said that kickstarter is reserved for things that are fun and recreational? I think this was his other main point. It's become a distribution channel for pop culture, which seems like the opposite of the potential that kickstarter could be. :)

Maria Jayne
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@ Ian

It's not, but surely the "video game" section of kickstarter is?

A S
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@Ian: Maybe not kickstarter, but Gamasutra is for games. Crossposting this here indicates he wants to position it as a game, which it isn't.

Ian Uniacke
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Maria: Why do video games have to be all pop culture? That seems like a pretty small goal to me.

A S: I don't agree that it's not a game. See my comments above. :)

Joe Wreschnig
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I don't think you can derive that Kickstarter has become a "distribution channel [exclusively] for pop culture" from one project failure. (Which still raised $11k!)

Here are other possibilities:
- The funding goal was ridiculous.
- The game was uninteresting, even for its core design conceit.
- The reward tiers were pretty bad.
- The game encodes fundamental political assumptions one believes are inaccurate and/or offensive.
- Chris Crawford has no goodwill left in the game development community.
- The game is going to be made even if the Kickstarter fails, so why do they need a Kickstarter?

Joe Wreschnig
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"Crossposting this here indicates he wants to position it as a game, which it isn't."

It's a game. Come on. Stop being an exclusionist asshole. "It's not a game" is the weakest bullshit to pull out to try to dismiss something. It makes you even more of an asshole than Crawford dismissing genres.

Ian Uniacke
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Joe: It seems like you're rebutting my rebuttal of Maria's argument with a completely parallel argument of whether Chris is right or not. Maybe not...maybe that's just the way it sounds and you were just commenting generally. But to clarify, my point was only to say that the OP seemed to miss part of the argument.

Joe Wreschnig
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@Ian,

A sad consequence of Gamasutra's single-thread model, yes - a reply to you ends up in the same line as your discussion with Maria.

I agree with you that it's a game, and it's fine for e.g. Kickstarter or Gamasutra or anywhere dealing in games.

A S
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@Ian and @Joe: Thanks for the reply. I think we would agree to split the difference on this one. I personally feel interactivity is a prerequisite to qualify a software program as a game, but I guess things like Conway's Game of Life provide an alternative view. I suspect though, that a large number of folks agree with me.

Maria Jayne
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ok, what video games have you played that are not fun or recreational?

Ian Uniacke
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I don't think there is no interactivity. It's just 1 turn of interactivity. Like rock, paper, scissors, but much more complicated and in video form. I'm still sure that to some people this won't classify as a game but I certainly think it does.

Ian Uniacke
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We can't just draw a classification from only what HAS been. That's the point of experimental. You're trying to see what CAN be.

Ian Uniacke
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Also: Anything by valve. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. (I kid).

A S
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By sheer chance, I actually have some experience of weather simulation from doing some stuff related to arbitrary tesselation of surfaces for typhoon simulations.

It was the least fun and recreational piece of work I've ever done ><

Megan Swaine
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Actually, I kind of understand his point about where crowdfunding is going- because of some of the higher-profile kickstarter projects, everyone now expects that pledging money means you have to "get" something. So what if the final product is free? It's just as much about showing support.

Just because he's not throwing in like a signed autograph or a gold-plated version of the game or something doesn't make his project of any lesser value.

And secondly, it DOES sound like a game. And a game can be engrossing, emotionally moving, and intellectually stimulating without being "fun" in the conventional sense. (Or in the same way as, say, Leisure Suit Larry or something)

Danny Bernal
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"As a professional idiot ..."

best line ever!

Licentae Libertas
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I've been playing this amazing experimental game recently. Its called "Calculator" and I think it has potential to really go places. Its rather minimalist, but the player is expected to punch in some random numbers, hit a button, then more numbers appear! Sometimes nothing happens at all. Its all so experimental! Strangely, it seems slightly more entertaining and interactive than the Kickstarter project mentioned in the article above.

James Hofmann
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I think Chris has always had some great ideas, but he benefits from taking more outside direction. His games have always tended towards a very "unbalanced" mix - simulation taking precedence over everything else. Simulation alone only makes for a marketable product if the audience is already motivated to play with it, though. The hooks come from other angles.

Bob Satori
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Does Mr. Crawford take outside direction?

My experience suggests: not much, if at all. Or has he decided that, say, a competent story engine can ever be done with anything more than plain text?

I think that, because of that rigid view, especially of the presentation aspect of game design, his best contributions to the game industry will ultimately be conceptual/academic. I would love to see him just put the compiler aside and write books about the ideas and algorithms he's been tinkering with these last couple of decades. I'd pitch in for a kickstarter on that a lot quicker than a game he is programming, and with more faith in his ability to produce the finished work.

Adriaan Jansen
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Regardless of the issue if it really feels like a game or not, I didn't back the project not because I don't like the subject or the type of game (like Fate of the World), but because the pitch simply lacked in bringing the vision he had in mind. Aside from theme of the model, I had no idea about how it would look, how it would play, and how I would learn. The prototype seems like a good way to communicate the vision, but it was setting 10 sliders and reading numbers. That makes me less exciting then a pretty picture with the text: "You decide policies, and watch the planet evolve!" I crave for visual stimulation!

The playable prototype was actually hurting the pitch, maybe because it felt so complete... It seemed like the message was: "Yeah this is the game, I just need to tweak some numbers and it's complete." If the prototype had more stub-like feeling (like a 10 seconds visual simulation of stick figures dying of famine or doing some war over the planet, with the text "insert awesome visual simulation here"), I would probably be way more interested (if that is what you're trying to make).

Henrik Namark
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Wow, that presentation might be the worst I've ever seen. His conclusions might work on some games but I don't think that was the main reason this time. Also, where does the money go? Is it his salary or something else?

Christopher Hallett
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That was the worst pitch I have ever seen. Spending the first 1/4 of the video gloating about your previous games from a long gone era and then spending the rest of the video throwing in strange humour with no game play examples is just asking for trouble. The idea is a solid one but he went about it in the complete wrong way.

Funding Price was too high
Pitch was poorly delivered
Reasons for funding were weak
Incentives to back were weak

Adam Moore
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This kickstarter was missing the most important reward - PLAYING THE GAME!

Eric Spain
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I would add:
5) Bad marketting

I hear dozens of kickstarters per week, but hadn't heard of this one at all. I probably would have backed it too.

Often even when the pitch is fine and the rewards are fine, the funding fails because of lack of awareness.

Mike Jenkins
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""What's going on now, which I did not comprehend at the time, is that Kickstarter is a marketing channel [for games], so instead of buying a game after it's made, people just pay for a game before it's made. "

I always feel bad about Chris Crawford for the whole GDC thing, but here he could not be more wrong. This is extreme denial, blaming everyone but himself. The proof is here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1675907842/pathfinder-online-
technology-demo

Jonathan Osborne
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This game already exists: Fate of the World.

Only that one had a lot of interaction over a long time.

Nathan Baughman
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This article is excellent for indie game devs contemplating whether/how to do a Kickstarter campaign. Mine is already live, and has some similarities, but I think I've done a few things "right" (based on this article's opinion). I only need a humble $4,000, it's about building the player community (not all about me), I already have a fun/fully-playable/non-buggy game, the game has traditional/familiar RPG elements.

However, it's a new kind of player-created content world with unique gameplay. I wouldn't call it experimental, but it is not "just another RPG."

Please, please, please tell me my pitch comes across better than Chris Crawford's (with all due respect):

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1391235405/island-forge-estab
lishing-a-creative-player-commun

Robert Schmidt
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"showing the game too early just put another nail in his Kickstarter's coffin" it's sadly true. People have no imagination. I often give iteration reviews to my clients, showing where the app is in the dev process. With pieces that are partially complete I will start by saying, we are still in development so please disregard any bugs or performance problems. After the demo the customer will complain about the bugs and performance. I've even had users try to delay the current iteration until bugs in the preview for the next iteration are fixed. So my advice is, if you can avoid it, do not show buggy, incomplete code; only demo polished completed iterations. As a developer when we solve a problem with some proof-of-concept code we think, cool! and want to show it off like a kid with a finger painting. We don't understand that the end user doesn't understand the problem we solved, what they see is that for some reason the interface is going to be a command line that spews out lots of numbers, and they don't want that.

Joe Wreschnig
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"Spew out lots of numbers" was the final interface for this project as well.

Demoing too early is a real concern, but it's not what happend here. If anything it's demoed too late. Without a playable demo there are enough people unfamiliar with Crawford some might have assumed he would add anything other than sliders, spreadsheets, and terrible rewrites of Wikipedia articles.

Nathan Baughman
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Excellent comment. From a marketing standpoint, I think this is good advice. The other extreme is being a perfectionist and sitting on code until it's _perfect_, which will never happen, so no one gets to see any progress. From a software engineering standpoint, rather than releasing a dozen half-implemented features that all need more work, I try to introduce each new feature and implement it correctly and fully (while trying to avoid over-perfectionism) before each release. Certainly features will need to be revisited as new elements are integrated, but with a bit of thinking ahead, progress can be shown without releasing a bunch of broken gameplay.

Marc Cram
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I think I am probably the only person who has played a Chris Crawford game .. two actually - Paton Strikes Back and Balance of Power. Both were interesting but not very fun .. or good. I remember at the 90 or 91 Game Developer's Conference, Chris Crawford and Chris Roberts (Wing Commander) had a debate on what makes a good game. Roberts won ... Having said that .. Crawford was always an entertaining person at the early GDC's and has been dedicated to bringing the developer community together ..

Bart Stewart
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I played both. ;)

In fact, I replay PSB from time to time. It's a nice, short, and reasonably challenging game with interesting simulation bits. Remarkably, it has continued to run perfectly on all the Wintel operating systems I've used through Win 7.

Jeremy Reaban
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I played Patton vs Rommel (the first game) quite a bit as a kid.

Mac Senour
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Maybe I'm the only one that does this, but I also look at the number of projects backed, zero. That and the high amount make me think "money grab", more than passion for the project.

Marc, I assume you're kidding about being the only person who has played a Cris Crawford game. Sheesh.

Matt Diamond
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Anyone who thinks Crawford of all people is after a money grab is sorely mistaken. He has dedicated large amounts of his time and energy trying to expand computer games beyond their current narrow focus. If anything, he's an academic.

I also think that requiring someone to back other kickstarters is completely beside the point. What does it prove, other than the fact that they are spending their time on something other than the project they desperately want to fund?

And someone earlier complained that Chris's main point was that Kickstarter "used to be good". He explicitly avoids passing judgement on Kickstarter.

There are plenty of reasons the Kickstarter didn't do well, and Chris is not shy about blaming himself for much of it.

Mac Senour
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Matt,

I think you missed my point. If someone is not involved in the Kickstarter community, aka no backed projects, it gives the impression of a "money grab". I didn't say I required backing of other projects, just one factor I look at.

Chris Crawford
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I'd like to thank Tom Curtis for publishing this article; it triggered a number of contributions to the project. Those of you who have criticisms might want to look at an evaluation I just posted of the role that critics played in Balance of the Planet. Some of the criticisms were constructive and led to major changes in the design; some were negative and are answered as well. Here's the URL:

http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/GameDesign/DesignDiaryBotP/A
ugust24/August24th.html

Curtiss Murphy
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When I was a wee-lad, I played Balance of Power. I don't remember whether it was on the C64 or the Amiga, but I do remember one thing. It was confusing. I never understood how my choices impacted the game. Every game felt random and I never got any better at it. So, I stopped playing.

The problem in your designs is: FEEDBACK. To be fair, you are probably TRYING to give feedback, but as a player, the only reality that matters is my own. If I can't connect the outcomes to my actions, in a way that is clear, then the feedback might as well not exist.

And that is what prevents me from getting into Flow when I play your games. MMmmmmmm Floowwww.... Ye 'ole basics: clear goals, immediate feedback, no distractions, and balanced difficulty. No feedback, no flow! And not only that, feedback is a requirement for learning (see refs below).

I enjoy simulations, I liked Koster's premise that we play games to learn, and heck I even build training games for a living. But, without Feedback, there is no flow and no learning. And respectfully, that makes it a bad game.

You know, my son is 13. He's about the age I was when I first played your games. So, I offer this advice humbly and with respect. Focus less on the simulation, and more on the feedback. Make it totally clear. Heck, make it OBVIOUS! Make it so that my 13 year old son won't sit there, scratching his head, befuddled, before setting the game aside. Which is what I did, some 20 years ago.

PS - Want refs? Google "Why Games Work the Science of Learning". Or read Koster's Theory of Fun. Or one of Csikszentmihalyi's books on Flow.

Adriaan Jansen
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I see you took the time to present me with an answer, and I feel obliged to respond as well. :)

The visual stimulation I crave might have come over a bit wrong, reading your essay. My point is not that the use of photo's, or the lack of drawings is wrong in any way. However, I do feel I need visual feedback, especially in these type of games were you want to bring over a strong vision. Let me take your example of a smogged city. I feel that the game would be stronger, if when the simulation starts running, I can see, in any way, what is happening while the planet is evolving. This could be as pretty as a generated planet, or as "dull" as photo pictures of a city turning from a bright sunny day to a smoggy grey mass. It would be even stronger if this process showed me why this is happening (what are the main causes, during the simulation instead of only after it). That way I can see the changes kick in, I see the impending doom spreading, and I feel I'm watching my failure happen. I wanted to see that failure, or at least see that you wanted to show it to me visually, instead of only using numbers to show the facts.

Now, when you run the game these feelings pop up:
- At first I'm interested, and mess with the bars
- I run the simulation, and in no time, I get a bar chart with my score. My immediate thought was "Ow OK." There was no direct and clear feedback on how my policies went, and how my action fared, and there was no clue that you intended to do that either.
- After finding out I need to browse through charts to find the cause of my failure, I started out bravely, but soon found out that drawing the lines was pretty hard if you had to memorize charts (like finding correlations between my research and my energy price).
- I started again, but kept kind of clueless on what was actually happening.

I think that's the biggest problem. I'm sincerely interested in the subject, and I remember clearly looking something up after playing the game. However, I found that browsing through encyclopedia's was more direct, effective and attractive than the game. I loved 'Fate of the World' although it's mostly text. The big difference is that it told me (and showed me through a little mood setting picture) what the effects of my action were. Here, the information was hidden well somewhere in a chart, and I already had to be engaged in the theme to begin with to even care searching for it.

Chris Crawford
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Curtiss, can you suggest a book on the geopolitical conflict between the superpowers in the 1980s that would be appropriate for a 13-year old?

I agree that feedback is of crucial importance, and I have been looking hard at ways to improve the feedback. I keep coming back to the idea of little indicators next to the listings in the causal factors box that show the relative importance of each cause. But your point inspired me (I really DO think about well-reasoned arguments) to a new idea. I don't think it's possible, but I'm going to give it some thought. The idea is for a new display that shows the all the causal links in the webwork, with the width of each causal link proportional to the magnitude of its effect. Think of it as a directed graph (spaghetti diagram) with arrows of differing thicknesses. It can't possibly fit in its entirety onto a standard screen, but with judicious use of scrolling and magnification, something workable might be possible.

Adriaan, one of the central messages of Balance of the Planet is the immense complexity of our situation. Any simulation that shows you the solution in a few hours is teaching you the WRONG things. If the real world were that simple, we'd have solved these problems already!

This is one of the fascinating dilemmas posed by the design of Balance of the Planet. Should it suggest that solving the world's problems is simple? Would it be better if the player came away thinking that our problems are almost unsolvable?

I agree, however, that I could do a better job showing the causality, and the crazy idea I described above just might help -- but I'm not optimistic about making it work.

Adriaan Jansen
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I share your view in that the problem horribly complex, and I do see the dilemmas. I'm not suggesting cutting down on complexity, or that something else thought me everything in a few hours.

What I mean is, where would it hurt if the simulation actually showed parts of the simulation? "Mainly since air pollution taxes are low and resources are abundant, the economy is growing!" or "Mainly over reliance on oil, has caused an economic recession!". You could list the relevant charts up till that point below this message, so you could still dig in deeper to find all the causes, or the more indirect one (like "who's using all that oil", "why did the prices rise", and "why are they using oil?"). I think it would add drama (that I think fits very well in the theme), give the player more direct feedback of his action, and give him a hook to think about. Clicking on a button and then see "you screwed up!" will only appeal and stimulate a handful of people. I think the step by step introduction of the problems will also add to the comprehension of this complex system.

Have you tried Fate of the World? If so, what do you think of the level of complexity of that simulation? For me, Fate of the World did exactly what you're aiming for with Balance of the Planet: It showed the incredible though spot we're in, and how there is no easy solution in which everybody keeps his job, his rights or his head.

Jacob Germany
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I have two problems with the idea, personally.

It doesn't sound like very much fun to anyone but hard-core simulation lovers. I think I personally might like to play around with something that was a "one-turn" simulation, but it's certainly not going to have a wide player-base.

And second, how educational can something be about the environment when you can dial it up or down based on your political bent? If I wanted an educational environment simulation, I'd want the numbers to be as based on hard fact and statistics as possible, rather than providing a "reasonable grey area" that players can simply dial up one way or another to advance their own agenda to whomever is playing. Sure, there are some areas that have true uncertainty, but that's not how the video made it sound.

Ian Uniacke
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I guess because Chris wanted an educational tool, not a propoganda machine? He's presenting the facts and showing you all the options, not trying to convince you that (eg) "big business is evil! Go planet!"

Jacob Germany
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Presenting you the facts that you can then skew? Did you read what I wrote in my comment, like, at all? I was specifically pointing out how the game, as is, can be used to "teach" propaganda by simply tilting it in your preferred direction. This is the opposite of "presenting the facts", as it allows for those playing to either skew it in their preferred direction to reinforce their own ideology, or to show others, such as students, a skewed simulation.

As I said, there are uncertainties, but the video made it sound like the entire simulation can be skewed either political direction when it should be based upon statistics and facts.

In fact, after reading your comment a couple of times, I'm not entirely sure you did read my comment. So, there you go.

To reiterate, my problem is that being educational and being middle-ground, politically, are two separate and mostly contrasting ideas. Politics and perspectives constantly change, so trying to hit some political middle ground that can then skew further in either direction doesn't come across as very educational. More politically correct.

Jeremy Reaban
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Well, David Crane, who made Pitfall! and A Boy and His Blob is having even worse luck on his Kickstarter, Only 20k out of 900k

james sadler
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Maybe posting the game in the Video Game section was a wrong idea. Putting it in the Design section may have worked better and received a better audience. I think most people fail at Kickstarter, and other funding avenues because they just don't understand or take the time to research who they're pitching to. If one knows that other games being funded are of a certain type and do this or that, and their own product doesn't, why would one think that audience would want said product, especially when other products that don't follow "the norm" fail. Should have been a pretty big hint right there. The sad thing is that it seems Chris did understand this to an extent and still tried to put it out there. If one understands the market and the high likelihood of failure but still persists, why do we allow them the space to whine about that failure.

Chris Crawford
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I have put together a preliminary and unfinished mockup of the image I mentioned in my 2:32 PM post. You can see it at:

http://www.erasmatazz.com/Diagram1.png

Make sure that you look at it at full size, which is huge. Basically, the connections between factors represent the causal effects. I drew most of them 10 px wide to guarantee that they would all fit in the final version. The basic idea is demonstrated in the connections from the various energy sources to the total energy supply: each arrow is drawn in a width proportional to its actual contribution. You can immediately see that coal, oil, and natural gas dominate the mix, and that solar and wind still make up a tiny percentage.

This display would show you the situation at any break between turns; I could possibly set up an animation showing it changing with time, but that just pushes the delivery date back.

Curtiss Murphy
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Go crazy with it! You've got a nice illustration for a user's manual, but take the next step! Evolve it. Make that diagram your user interface - the game board.

Course, it's too complicated for beginners. So, simplify it - glom areas together. Keep the underlying mechanics, but simplify. Allow varying levels of interaction and all of a sudden, you have a resource management game! The classic story practically jumps off the page: "Welcome to The Consortium! The unseen hands that guide humanity." As players succeed, they level up, and unlock more pieces. This allows them to have more impact; to dive deeper into the simulation.

But, you still need feedback! The diagram becomes the game board, so use it for both input and for feedback. Animate the 'flow' of impact and also the outcomes. Pulsing green for growing, blinking red for decreasing, etc... Instead of typing in numbers, use dials and other controls - when they adjust a knob, show visually how the simulation MIGHT be impacted (pulse lines red or green). The whole thing becomes a toy - fiddle and watch the interactions pulse and change. Even better, make the whole thing REAL time - compelling and challenging!

The user is 'playing.' At first, they begin to develop an intuitive feel for how things work, but the more they play, the closer they get. If it's compelling enough, they'll persist until they see what you see.

It's just crazy enough to work.

Chris Crawford
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Curtis, most of what you've described is actually planned already. I got a lot of great feedback and I've come up with a lot of changes. Diagram1.png is in fact the sketch for the interactive component, which I have partly up and running -- although there's a lot more work to finish it.

Aaron Fowler
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He should have just pitched it to Al Gore. He probably would have funded the entire $150,000.

Mark Venturelli
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So his thoughts on why his project wasn't successful were "kickstarter is commercial now" and "people don't know how to look through rough edges"? No self-criticism whatsoever.

Chris Crawford
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You know, Mark, I think I'll take a moment to show just how callous your remark is. You read a little bit and immediately leapt to a nasty conclusion. Did you read my analysis of why the Kickstarter project failed? It's here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/544670315/balance-of-the-plan
et/posts

In it I write: "So why did Balance of the Planet fail? There are lots of reasons, but I think that the most important factor is that it's not good enough."

Did you read the detailed analysis I presented on my own website and linked to here, which started off:

"My attempt to fund the game on Kickstarter has been a total failure. There are a great many reasons for this, the most important of which is that the game was not good enough to present to the public."

I doubt that you read either of these items before you jumped to declare me devoid of self-criticism. I realize that flaming is common practice here, but do you have ANY sense of personal accountability for what you write?

Mark Venturelli
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I am sorry, I did not read the Kickstarter post, just this article. But I read it all, not just a little bit.

I am sure that Curtis did not intend to create a false impression of your opinion, but that's how it ended up for me.

Glad to see your heart seems to be on the heart place, and sorry again.

EDIT: Also, I believe your detailed analysis on your website is not linked in the article

Chris Crawford
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I must say, Mark, although flaming is commonplace, there aren't many people on the Internet who are big enough to apologize when they get something wrong. You're right, the detailed analysis on my website is not linked in the article; it's in my comment of 10:25 AM yesterday.

Best wishes,
Chris

Ben Taber
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Hmm. My perception of this situation is that Chris Crawford isn't making the games he wants to play, he's making the games he wants other people to play. This approach to design really hampers one's ability to assess the accessibility of one's work, I think. It's all about communication, and to sneer at aesthetically pleasing visual feedback devices seems, as an approach to educational software, fundamentally disconnected with the way that human beings actually learn.

Chris Crawford
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Ben, why don't you have a look at an essay I recently wrote on this question entitled "Eye Candy" and then get back to me with your thoughts. Here's the URL:

http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/GameDesign/EyeCandy/EyeCandy
.html

Ben Taber
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My thoughts are going to be a bit disjointed because I don't have time to compose them well right now. Sorry.

First: It seems strange to me that you lump all of these varied designs together under 'cartoonish', particularly since one of them consists entirely over the title over a picture of car headlights in fog and another the title over a black background. One is a design illustration which looks like it may be intended for actual physical production, which is particularly illustrative (heh) because it uses bright neon colors. Just because something is colorful doesn't mean it isn't real, and if reality is what you're trying to speak to then amplifying the bleakness of your images to emphasize that is, well, kind of getting into brown shooter territory. Just because it's desaturated doesn't make it realer, nor more communicative. There's no reason you couldn't show pollution at sunset, which would create both a more visually pleasing image and a more dramatic illustration of what you are trying to illustrate.

You seem to disdain the tastes of the audience you're trying to reach, and justify that with 'but it's good for you!' like, to borrow a metaphor from an earlier post, a parent trying to feed their children broccoli. Frankly, I like broccoli, but that's probably because my parents never tried to feed it to me that way. I like education, too, but only when I feel that I can implicitly trust the source of that education, and I don't know why I should feel the way about this project.

When a teacher told me that stories should contain messages, I initially rebelled against this idea. I dislike the idea of being preached to, lectured on morality. The author's capacity to reach an audience this way is predicated entirely either on their pre-existing respect for said author, pre-existing disposition towards the message, or on the author's argumentative ability, none of which I believe make for a good story. I only accepted this idea once I realized that the message need not be declarative: It can be a question.

So, in short, pedantry vs exploration. This is what I tend to find off-putting about the work of yours I have observed recently. I don't closely follow your work, so I could be entirely mistaken in this apprehension, but if I am then surely others are as well.

Okay. I've been rambling. Sorry. I did warn you that I was having trouble organizing my thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

Michael Joseph
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Mr. Taber, I think you've got it entirely wrong.

Chris Crawford is the proverbial "good guy." I find it overwhelmingly clear that he actually CARES about people and society.

A man like Chris Crrawford doesn't have disdain for the tastes of his audience at least not on a personal level. He has a forlorness about the present condition of society vis a vis games and the games industry. And in my opinion, it's for good reason. And that's why he's spent decades trying to be a champion for what I would call moral game design.

And I think he's also right that Kickstarter is filling in the gaps for the creation of 'more-of-the-same games' that attempt to recreate within the gamer the same old glossy eyed (mind barely on) gameplay state...where kickstarter isn't REALLY the place for outside of the box indie games... it's mostly a place for games that are just slightly retro and thus can't count on traditional funding methods to save them.

And I'm rather disappointed with a lot of the comments here. Some of us can stand to do better with seaking to understand rather than score points. Give the gaming mentality a break... Let's learn a lesson from this.

"Really decent people have a tendancy to bring out the worst in the rest of us..."

Joe Wreschnig
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@Michael Joseph,

"A man like Chris Crrawford doesn't have disdain for the tastes of his audience at least not on a personal level... that's why he's spent decades trying to be a champion for what I would call moral game design."

Which Chris Crawford are you talking about? It's certainly not the one who told Anna Anthropy to shut up and stop making personal games, which is the same one running this Kickstarter.

Maybe it's the one that said the whole 2006 IGF "looked completely derivative to me. Just copies of the same ideas being recycled. I didn't see anything Id call innovative... It was just straight amateurs trying to be innovative and even they couldn't be innovative."

Chris is not a proverbial "good guy". He is the proverbial kind of racist old uncle no one wants to talk about but can't kick out.

Ben Taber
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Caring about people and respecting them are not the same thing. We care about the welfare of children, but we rarely respect their opinions or abilities. As a result, we've created didactic and barely-functioning school systems that proceed to 'teach' material in a manner almost completely divorced from how people actually learn.

There's plenty to despair of in the video games industry, just as there is in the film and literature industries, but overlooking the genuine advances made even within those contexts of mediocrity invites irrelevance. When the filmmaking world is using jump cuts and fade outs to communicate a story and you keep writing stage plays for the screen, it doesn't make you a visionary, it makes you a throwback.

Steve Fulton
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Someone above said something like "no one here has ever played a Chris Crawford game" (I can't find the comment now). I would like to say that I have played several of Crawford's games over the years, and I've always found them enjoyable, or at the very least, interesting. I played Eastern Front to death on my Atari 800, and I was addicted to Excalibur for many months. I think it might be one of the most underrated 8-bit games ever made. I also played Balance Of Power and I thought the whole thing was intriguing. While Mr. Crawford has made some mistakes, I find the usual game industry "dog-pile" that materializes every time he does any thing really sad and disheartening.

Justin LeGrande
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I'm sorry to hear about the result of your Kickstarter, Mr. Crawford. I can slightly empathize with what happened... I was involved in an educational game project named 4see, a youth team building and organization game. The progenitors of the project were Nathan Maton and Ala'Diab. Our goal for the project was $16,500. We had tried to drum up interest in colleagues, both near and far. Nathan and Ala even attended public conferences, and had articles written about their project on Reddit! Despite their best efforts to find an audience, then explain the project to them, we only acquired support up to $8,000.

Your dragon speech in 1992 sums up the video game industry and it's customers perfectly. It did then, and it still does now. That probably won't change anytime soon. Sorry to say, but The Sims might be the closest we'll get to an evolution of Gossip within the first half of this century. The industry indeed follows the "engineer mentality" to a fault, focusing primarily on quickly producing whatever seems desirable, rather than calculating product sustainability which aims to challenge the sustainability of ancient games such as Chess or Go. Don't let that stop you, though. Maybe one day, more people will favor breadth over depth...

Just to make one contrary plug to the general consensus here: I thought Balance of Power had a lot of potential to be used in a classroom setting. It doesn't reveal the answers immediately- your course of actions are not immediately obvious. However, as you learn more about our planet's history in all nations, one's ability to affect the game space is increased exponentially. I believe Balance of Power held a key in it's design that is the answer to the "edutainment game contradiction". Instead of focusing primarily on the subject of learning a topic, Balance of Power only used whatever knowledge the player brought with them when they started playing. In my opinion, that's a brilliant realization of how to make video games applicable to cognitive learning principles in newer, experimental forms of school curriculum.

Troy Walker
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... to me it seemed there was a lot of substance missing in the proposal and answers to many of his own questions where vague, one sentence ideologues.

and ya, he obviously has the wrong idea about kickstarter, i think he should be looking more for a government grant then individual private funding.

Troy Walker
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and Chris, i see you are quite active here... if you happen to read this, i'm being serious about the government grant... which more and more these days seem to be "pre" prepared requests rather than "would like to have" type fundings.

Chris Crawford
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Thanks, Justin. You might be interested to learn that I have a preliminary version of Gossip up and running on my Mac; it's designed to run on a screen as small as the iPhone's. It's certainly cute. I'll get back to it when I finish up Balance of the Planet. Unfortunately, so many great ideas were suggested by critics that I have months of work ahead of me before I can wrap up Balance of the Planet.

Chris Crawford
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Troy, I've been urged to pursue a STEM grant from the Feds. I'll be looking into that, but I have learned one lesson: don't show ANYTHING until it's finished!

Troy Walker
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or atleast trademarked ;)

Joe kennedy
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Wow I found another picture of this dude's face

http://www.google.com/imgres?start=176&um=1&hl=en&client=firefox-
a&sa=N&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&biw=1026&bih=653&tbm=isch&t
bnid=1NQ2CjXiUEyGcM:&imgrefurl=http://expolounge.blogspot.com/201
1/09/star-treks-balok.html&imgurl=http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6
199/6113204474_ed646e0920_o.jpg&w=594&h=452&ei=0qo5UO6dEuak2gXN5Y
CYCg&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=580&sig=113515426330976850135&page=10&tbn
h=139&tbnw=170&ndsp=20&ved=1t:429,r:12,s:176,i:357&tx=102&ty=40

Michael Hartman
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Chris, I respect your career, but your Kickstarter video reminded me of Matthew Lesko (the guy with the question mark covered suits) who used to sell those books on tv with his crazy ads about "FREE MONEY" from the government:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKbE1I_ih9Y

Spending a couple MINUTES talking about how great you are made you come off extremely arrogant. You could have done it in 10 seconds and avoided that impression.

"Hi, I'm Chris Crawford. I have X published games including Balance of Power and . I am also the founder of the Game Developer's Conference."

That hits the highlights without making you look really arrogant.

Humor is a powerful tool. But if you aren't good at it, trying too hard comes off really poorly. Leave humor to the comedians and if you try this again just play it straight.

Also, as many people have mentioned, the #1 job of any game is to be fun. If you don't do that, none of the education will happen.

Good luck with your game,

-Michael Hartman
http://www.frogdice.com

Eyal Teler
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Was Kickstarter ever really a semi-charitable operation? Was there any project at any point which raised $150,000 without providing much benefit to the backers? Kickstarter at its core is about raising money for projects, unlike Indiegogo which also supports charities, and for example the current project "Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum" has raised over a million dollars there.

I've pledged a little bit of money to a few projects on Kickstarter where I didn't really get anything for my money, because the project will end up being free or not produce a consumer product, and I think such projects will still get pledges today. Only thing is, they won't get $150,000 or anywhere near. This is also true for almost all projects that do give backers something.

Chris Crawford
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Several people have complained that the opening 52 seconds recalling my past struck them as vainglorious. I did that because I expected that few potential contributors (including most younger gamers) would have any idea of my qualifications or experience; presenting a quickie resume seemed appropriate. I ran the video by a number of non-gamers and they all thought that the opening was excellent: concise yet establishing my credentials. I wonder if the critics of this section were already aware of my reputation?

Michael, you suggest that I'm not good at humor. I think I'll go hang myself.

Your further write: "Also, as many people have mentioned, the #1 job of any game is to be fun. If you don't do that, none of the education will happen."

Well, I suppose that pretty much discards our entire educational establishment. I can't recall having even a giggle in my quantum mechanics courses. Those colleges and universities 'don't get any education done', so we might as well shut them down and let the students play Wasteland for their educations. Or perhaps you overstated your case?

Ian Fisch
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I get the idea of wanting to prove that you're qualified, but why does that have to take up the entire first minute of your pitch?

Movie trailers manage to get this done in 1-5 seconds: "from the producers of.. and the director of...."

Imagine if the first 60 seconds of the Jurassic Park trailer was a biography on Steven Spielberg.

After watching the whole video, I'm not even sure I have a clear idea of what your game is about.

Duncan McPherson
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Hello, Chris. I don't think the failure of this Kickstarter campaign is necessarily a failure of your idea. There are some decent nuggets of critique here and there, and you bring up some good counterpoints along the way.

Your response to Michael's comment regarding fun made me stop for a second. Fun is a subjective thing, a component of delight... something that emerges out of a type of experience. Games, though, aren't often "fun" while we play them. Good games, rather, are challenging, compelling, and -- above all -- engaging. We can't feel a lot of different things at once, at least not for a sustained period of time. We're just not wired in that way. It's after the fact... in the wake of an engaging experience... that we most frequently feel as though we had fun.

I think a better question is how this game will engage the player. What will the experience be like? What will the players take away from the interaction? Yes, there's a concrete intellectual goal, but we also naturally seek visceral experiences; that is, interactions that make us care. That's a challenge that plagues most games, but I believe you could bridge that gap. I simply want to know how you will do that.

I say that like it's an easy thing to do. Explaining how a game will engage an audience is a tough task for even the most skilled orators. It _is_ good that you provide the link to the alpha product, and that _does_ speak volumes about your willingness to get the product out there. A good sim is hard to find, and I think the genre in general is underrated. (Of course, I also like adventure games, so what do I know?) Given that you're already providing access to the product, I think that raises the question of what do people really get for their money? Kickstarter does have a transactional assumption underlying the funding process. Because you're breaking traditional transactional expectations, I think a little bit of cognitive friction is created. This isn't an insurmountable obstacle, though, as compelling ads convince people to make strange decisions all the time.

I hope you have a chance to regroup and set out again on Kickstarter (or through some other viable alternative). Best of luck!

Dave Hoskins
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Chris, the video is the problem IMHO.
You sound like you're talking to children, amongst other things already mentioned.
Perhaps educational software should be sold seriously to parents and teachers, with better explanations on costs and business plans.
Wearing a silly hat and talking like Bullwinkle didn't really sell it to me!

David Linn
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You are making a video game, of course it has to be fun. It is not a school thesis or college assignment. It is a video game and has to be fun. May be you overstated your case and put this project in the wrong category.

And the video is really bad as others have noted. If you are so interested in serious world issue, creating an amateurish silly video doesn't really help your case. Leave humor to the comedians as others have noted.

Also, you need to hire an artist for your game. Leave the art to people who know art.

Michael O'Hair
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"That doesn't sound fun."

You know what's fun? Running around in a maze shooting at things.
What know what else? People are getting sick of that fun. They're getting sick of the same old thing, the novelty is wearing off, and fewer players are buying games.

Games are growing more and more creatively bankrupt. There are too many clones and mutations of Doom rather than games that expand upon great ideas that happened to appear decades ago. They're "fun" games, but there are just too damn many of them.

More and more people will be looking beyond "fun", or it's standard definition, just as action movies get stale after a while.

So "fun" shouldn't be the only target anymore. Do something new, or expand on ideas that haven't come around in a while. Worst case scenario: disappoint players with something that has never been done before.

Ron Dippold
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Even if you're not making something 'fun', you need to sell it properly. If you're going for an NEA grant, it has to show 'artistic merit.' If you're going to a publisher it has to show saleability. If you're going to Gates Foundation it needs to be some empirically superior, cheaply implemented improvement to third world health. If you're going to Kickstarter it has to have a pitch that gets people enthused.

You need thousands of people to buy in. Hundreds if you're frugal. You always have.

I pledged, but based simply on the Kickstarter page I would not have done so. You could easily describe this game/simulation in much more appealing terms. I could redo that Kickstarter page to be far more appealing, so imagine what anyone with any talent at sales could do. It's not a failure of the concept, it's a failure of the delivery. There's always a customer, and if you need their money you have to keep them in mind.

When I said 'That doesn't sound fun' I am putting the blame squarely on the presentation, not on the actual simulation.

Rik Spruitenburg
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(Yes, I read all the above comments time stamped before this one and Chris Crawford's links)
I think the idea would make for an interesting game. I think the idea could be reworked from what you have to make such a game. But I think Chris Crawford needs to figure out if he wants a game or if he wants an Educational Simulation.

If it's an Educational Simulation then it doesn't need to be fun. It doesn't need pretty graphics. It doesn't need to be much more than an excel spreadsheet that provides interesting data. But then it's a narrow niche product that appeals only to a few and is played with only by those few and the people who have science teachers that made them. If you want to do this, try the Kickstarter again but list it under Open Software instead of Video Games. (Not my only suggestion on what to change, but a good start.)

Conversely, if it's game then it has to be interesting and engaging right away.. It could benefit from graphics and sound. It would be great if the interface "comes alive". (I for one found the interface for Starcraft II to be more enjoyable than lots of other games.) It needs feedback that encourages people to try again. I could see voice actors and different endings like from Princess Maker. I could see a huge list of achievements. (You have Unlocked Dead World - Population Zero) Then it has a potential to reach lots of people, change lots of minds; maybe sell some t-shirts.

I may be misreading, but I feel there is a hesitation to take the project down the game path. The article on "Eye Candy" is dismissive. Castle Story is going to teach probably over 50,000 people, and a lot of them will learn things about planing ahead. Looking iconic doesn't mean it's empty calories. Something can look like a game people would play and still have something to say. In fact most do, even if they didn't intend to. I'd recommend books by James Paul Gee if you haven't already read them and second the suggestion above to read Raph Koster's Theory of Fun. He feels there is a strong connection between learning and fun, and I am inclined to agree.

Chris Crawford
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Rik, thanks for taking the time to read some of the background material; it's certainly frustrating to read criticisms that are directly addressed in the basic project proposal. However, you seem not to have noticed that the subtitle of the project, presented in 24-point type, is "An educational simulation of environmental-economic issues." Throughout the materials, I make it very clear that this is an educational simulation, although I know I slip at a few points and use the word "game", largely because "game" is a lot faster to type than "educational simulation".

I did contribute to the confusion over this by placing the thing in the games section of Kickstarter; I looked over the other categories and the games category seemed the best fit, even though it *is* a poor fit. It's certainly a better fit than Films, Comic Books, or any of the other categories I found.

Lastly, I reiterate a simple point: it is just as silly to compare Balance of the Planet with an action-packed videogame as it is to compare a book about evolution with a comic book. Sure, the comic book is a lot more fun to read than the book about evolution -- and the book about evolution is a lot more educational than the comic book. The most apt comparison is between Balance of the Planet and a comparably-thorough book on environmental issues. I think Balance of the Planet comes off pretty well in that comparison.

Curtiss Murphy
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@Rik - "If it's an Educational Simulation then it doesn't need to be fun. ... Conversely, if it's game then it has to be interesting and engaging right away"

Where does this lead? To 'Broccoli ice cream.' My wife made a bowl of it, if you'd like to see:
http://www.goodgamesbydesign.com/Files/Broccoli_Ice_Cream_1.JPG

Love that picture :). Games work for the same reasons that learning works, and vice versus (paper here: www.goodgamesbydesign.com/?p=59). Without engagement, motivation, balanced difficulty, and other aspects of fun, an education game doesn't educate. It's just a bad game.

Rik Spruitenburg
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@Curtiss, If I understand you correct, I agree.

@Crawford. Yes. I saw you call it both a game and a simulation. I am suggesting that you see this project that straddles game and educational simulation and embrace the idea that it could, in fact, become a video game instead of a "Serious game". If your goal is to reach more people, that would be the path that does it. Diagram1 is fantastic. There is a lot of passion here; a lot of Truth. A game doesn't need to be "action packed" to be a good video game. Minesweeper isn't action-packed. Heck, is Portal even action-packed? Your game seems to be at it's core more of a puzzle. I don't see any reason it can't look like a Pop Cap game. Well, that's not true. I could see someone argue that it would not be taken seriously. But I think that's worrying about the wrong thing. The things I learned from Civ II were things I learned strongly. When later Jared Diamond writes "Guns, Germs and Steel" and says somethings that I learned years earlier, it resonates.

Write your simulation but don't try and make it look dull so that it will be taken as scientific fact.

Rick Gush
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This is a typically clueless response from a charlatan who has been pretending to be a game designer for decades. Great game concept Chris! Golly, I wonder why absolutely nobody was at all interested in it. Chris has done yeoman work with the GDC, and we should all thank him for that, but his game design concepts are and have always been an insult to real game designers.

Zsombor Berki
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I think the concept itself could be interesting, since many games are built on complex moral concepts, and globally affecting decisions, like Civilization, Populous, etc.

It's just really the thing that people before me have already mentioned: the interface itself is not very intuitive, or user friendly. A lot of things are textual. Using universally understood visual symbols, and streamlining features of the game into a better flowing UI is not an evil way of dumbing down the game.

Games of older times did every feedback and info through text, because there was no other way, but I believe that using visual symbols is more instinctively recognized by people, because we are surrounded by them in our everyday life, and our brain is more accustomed to deciphering visual clues.

The Le
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Interesting that he seems to be blaming everyone except his own game concept -- it's very possible that his idea simply sucks. It could be the same reason the "sequel to Bad Dudes" failed miserably.

Chris Crawford
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I'd like to thank Tom Curtis a second time for posting this story. It has been echoed all over the blogosphere and has resulted in a surge of contributions to the project. Not enough to close the gap, but I'm still very impressed with the generosity of the gaming community. It's a very disparate group of people.

Chris Crawford
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I'd like to offer a comment on the common observation here that a game must be fun in order to have any educational value. The value of making learning fun is not a new concept; I was touting it as far back as 1982. I built my first educational game in 1976, and most of the games I've built since then were in some manner educational. So I know a thing or two about educational games.

The question here that seems to have been overlooked is "What are you trying to teach?" There are some things that are easy to make fun, and some things that are hard to make fun. For example, multiplication is really hard to make fun. There have been hundreds of attempts, most of them rather pathetic. On the other hand, orbital mechanics is easy to make fun. Quantum mechanics is a lot tougher, although I have a few ideas for how it could be done. My point is that the amenability of any topic to "fun-icizing" varies. If you want to teach hand-eye coordination, resource management, or simple spatial reasoning, it's REALLY easy to make that fun.

Therefore, the claim that "it must be fun to be educational" is not supported by experience. It depends upon the subject matter. The point that a number of people here seem to miss is that Balance of the Planet tackles a subject that is complex and difficult; making it fun is vastly more difficult than, say, making it fun to blow up monsters. And Balance of the Planet is still a hell of lot more fun than a college textbook on environmental issues.

Rik Spruitenburg
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Most people learn multiplication from repetition, which is to say they don't learn it, they memorize it. The sort of learning you are talking about, where the light bulb goes off over your head and you realize something you didn't know a second ago: That's fun. If your game is more fun than a text book then it already is fun.

Corey Cole
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My issue was that it is a "learning game" with little or know opportunity to learn. Perhaps this would have been added in a later build; I'm not sure what Chris's intentions were/are. It isn't useful to see a graph showing that the world got better up to a point, then began to decline. I'd want to see a decade-by-decade explanation of what is going on in the model.

This is also why people want multiple turns. Currently the vogue in government and economics is active management - If you see that pollution is becoming a problem, you increase taxes for polluters. In practice, it works very poorly, but conceivably it might work better if such fixes were applied as soon as a potential problem is spotted. Players certainly want that hands-on management to see if they can safely guide the lunar lander to the ground. (Usually most people couldn't. :-) )

I played the original Balance of the Planet back in the 80's. It wasn't much fun as a game, but at least it had the spreadsheets so that the player got more information about what was happening turn-by-turn.

Michael O'Hair
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"with little or know opportunity to learn"

I'd be remiss if I allow this to... know, I think I'll just let this one go and assume a lesson has been learned.


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