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Monaco designer: Kickstarter "stretch goals are total bulls**t"

Andy Schatz on his "unpopular opinion of Kickstarter"

Pocketwatch Games' Andy Schatz, designer, art director and coder for new game Monaco, has suggested that crowd funding platform Kickstarter's trend for "stretch goals" is a bad thing for game design.

"I have a little bit of an unpopular opinion of Kickstarter," he told Penny Arcade.

"I'm really glad for the people that have been really successful on Kickstarter, and don't get me wrong, I really like the idea of free money, but I'm of the opinion that designing a game around a variable budget is a terrible way to design a game. To be frank, I think that stretch goals are total bullshit."

Monaco's financial backing is coming from the Indie Fund, and the game was actually the first project selected by the outfit. It received $100,000 which it will pay back with revenue from game sales.

Schatz believe this is a better method of supporting your development than by allowing backers to dictate features through the amount of money raised.

"This is the idealist game designer in me speaking now," he explained.

"When you're designing a game, the way I think you should do it, and not everyone is the same way and I recognise that, but the way you should do it is you figure out what the game is, you figure out what the game needs, and you should make that."

Schatz later admitted there was a chance he could still use the Kickstarter platform in the future.

Pocketwatch Games was founded in 2005, and its titles include Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa and Venture Arctic. Monaco: What's Yours is Mine is described as "Gauntlet meets Hitman" and was the winner of the 2010 IGF awards for Excellence in Design and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

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Latest comments (11)

Tim Browne Game Studio Design Director, King.com3 years ago
I think it's a very valid point from a game point of view depending on how flexible the game you're making is.

If for example you're making a game to the budget of 100k and you know you would be able to add extra features / content / eye candy in the same time with additional funding due to extra staff thatís fine.

Having not been involved in a Kickstarter I'm unsure of the implications. Is it actually possibly to state there are no stretch goals and once your funding goal is reached no more funding is allowed? Surely this is in many ways the better model for some developers.

I think what DoubleFine did showed just how much experience they have and that they had clearly planned additional stretch goals that were practical and achievable had their project been a success which as we all know at least from the funding snowball effect it was.
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James Boulton Tools & Tech Coder, Slightly Mad Studios3 years ago
Personally we always design games quite modularly, which fits in very well with "stretch goals" as they have been termed. If you can do your game for $100k, that's great. But surely there's always more you want to do with an idea. So if you had $200k, then you could realise a lot more of your overall vision for a project. As long as you set your initial goal sensibly this is a good model for growth.

Being idealistic in the current economic climate doesn't strike me as a very good idea.
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Anton Pustovoyt Game Designer & Developer 3 years ago
While I can see the angle Andy is coming from, I am not sure I agree. I see nothing wrong with enhancing the experience with additional content, which does not affect the core game design. I have yet to see a project (granted, I am not a frequent visitor of kickstarter) that promises a different design or an experience altering mechanic depending on the stretch goal. Stretchgoals are mostly visual things and additional content that doesn't affect gameplay much, and if developers promise an additional features (which is a very rare case), the game usually been already designed with that feature in mind.
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Show all comments (11)
Tim Browne Game Studio Design Director, King.com3 years ago
@James I agree to some extent.

The thing is at some point it doesn't matter how much money or bodies you can throw at something you won't have time to do it. Yes design can be very modular but there is a certain point where the core of the game, the design pillars if you will shouldnt be touched or at jeopardy.

I think Anton raises a very good point though. Ultimately you can just start merchandising everything rather than changing the game. I've seen plenty of projects offer localisation, additional SKU / platform support like Mac and mobile versions but then it does come down to things like, t-shirts, signed posters, original artwork, name a planet/monster/boss/character after you.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Browne on 29th January 2013 5:20pm

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Andy Schatz Owner, Pocketwatch Games3 years ago
In the full interview, I tried to hedge the argument quite a bit. I do think it's possible to add a feature without subtracting from the core design. I also believe that some things, like a Linux port or a cloth map make for great stretch goals. But adding characters? Changing teh size of the world? Those seem like huge mistakes. Partly because they will screw with the design, and partly because you need to remain flexible with the design at least through the mid stages of the project. Locking yourself into features, which are by nature optional features, before you've begun working on the game in any serious capacity is a huge mistake. Designers need to remain flexible, developers need to be willing to cut things that don't work. Stretch goals fly in the face of this in the worst possible way.

And for the record, I think Double Fine will be fine with theirs, they have been around for a long time, have shipped a lot of games, and will probably be able to work around these problems. But as a general statement, of which there are exceptions, yes, I think stretch goals for game design related features are a huge mistake.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
I'm with Andy. Been a professional game developer for 25+ years now, I cannot think of a single game I was involved in that didn't have at least one "this really must go in" feature cut, often lots.

As you progress, it becomes apparent that some features just aren't worth the effort, whilst other ideas present themselves as you go along. Being flexible with what you spend time on is a key part of development and I can't imagine working for a master that won't allow any deviation from a doc made in isolation two years ago.

Promising features and then not delivering them will bring you a lot of grief, especially if people already paid for them, so this model is not ideal. It takes a "flexible as possible" indie and turns them into an EA style production line.

Mind you, I still don't see what's wrong with using previous profits to fund the next title anyway. Is that old thinking now?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 30th January 2013 9:35am

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Adrian Herber3 years ago
I've watched a lot of game KS and often the stretch goals are carefully selected items like ports to new platforms or adding more voice acting etc. But sometimes they are to add specific numbers of extra areas, characters etc, and like Andy I can see the danger in this. It's locking in quantity, which could mean quality suffers if resources get tight. Or it may push the designer into a corner where something isn't working but they'll have a hard time cutting it.

Interestingly, backer understanding of this issue seems to actually be pretty good. For example, during the last hours of Obsidian's Project Eternity Kickstarter, Obsidian asked fans what the final goal for $4mil should be - a $500K goal since the last goal had been at $3.5mil - and the overwhelming feedback was that fans wanted it to be 'polish the whole game'. Essentially, what they actually did was voted for no $4mil stretch goal, as they were worried about Obsidian over-extending themselves on 'feature' stretch goals (and backers put up money for this non-stretch goal too, Obsidian got the $500K in the less than 24hrs remaining).
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters3 years ago
The problem with stretch goals is that KS provides that all-or-nothing system for the initial target, but not for stretch goals. If it fails to reach its target, no one is charged. But what if the target had already been reached, but the stretch goal hadn't, and the stretch goal was, say, a Linux version. If you run on Linux, you could back it, but you wouldn't know that the stretch goal would be met, and you may end up being charged and not getting the game after all on a platform you can play it.
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 3 years ago
Dear Andy, Paul, and James,

Hire me. You guys obviously really know your stuff, and I'd love to work with executive level people who share that agile view of game development.
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Magnus Runesson Senior Programmer, Rovio Entertainment3 years ago
Stretch goals are not inherently bad.

There are plenty of ways stretch goals can add to a game without breaking it. As many have mentioned, stretch goals can be more languages and more platforms without breaking the game design. But it can also be additional content that provide more variation with the same game play, like an extra track in a racing game.

Just like Paul I have been involved in plenty of games that have had "must have" features cut. And that is basically what stretch goals are. Stuff that is cut if there isn't enough money. The difference is that you'll know before you start making your game if that stuff will be in or not.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
That's kinda my point, Magnus. Once you've promised them to people who paid money then you can no longer cut them. Even if a replacement better idea came along.

The cynical side of me is assuming that people started mentioning stretch goals to keep on milking people once their target was achieved and the habit just stuck. Better to say nothing and thank your lucky stars imo.
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