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Harmonix: People felt insulted when we turned to Kickstarter

Uncoupled Kinects and Kickstarter struggles, CEO Alex Rigopulos on a strange year for Harmonix

It is the journalist's lot to understand more about their chosen field than they can ever offer up to their audience. In any industry - particularly those worth billions in revenue every single year - collateral damage is the unfortunate reality of making tough decisions. Progress for one company often creates a sterner test for another, and being on the losing end of that dynamic is frustrating, to say the least.

But actually expressing that frustration is another matter. Sincerity isn't always good for business, and it's bitterly ironic that the more a situation seems to merit a genuine or honest response the rarer a commodity that becomes. That's what made the aftermath of Microsoft's decision to remove the Kinect as an essential part of the Xbox One so refreshing. Here was a hard decision, one all but demanded by the market, and one that would leave a number of invested developers at a real disadvantage.

When something like that happens, 99 times out of 100 everyone will keep quiet and maintain composure. This time, however, there was a response. Harmonix took to Twitter.

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Latest comments (7)

Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
The unbundling must have hit Harmonix as hard as anyone, so it's great to see such a positive outlook from Alex.

I really hope Fantasia works out well for them this Christmas - I really loved it when I played it, probably my favourite Kinect experience after Child of Eden, it deserves every success.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes7 years ago
Think I believe John and Nick more than Alex on the unbundling thing . . .
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 7 years ago
I agree with a lot of Alex's views on how important perception of a company is on Kickstarter. Sounds like they have had a massive learning curve but I'm pretty surprised that they weren't a little more self aware about how people viewed them.

We're talking about a company that churned out a lot of titles that for the most part built on content rather than major extensions to gameplay, which gives the perception of that company a certain flavour. Obviously not helped that a lot of people psychologically bundle a lot of the music games together. From that point of view, in the heyday, there seemed to be a new game coming out all the time for the clade of companies attached to the genre.

Rightly or wrongly, I can see how from the perspective of a consumer that that would make Harmonix in a very different group to the developers that have seen so much success on Kickstarter. It paints quite a stark contrast to the Tim Shafers etc.
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Show all comments (7)
Pascal Clarysse Executive Consultant, Scale-Up Consulting Limited7 years ago
Food for thought on the Kickstarter topic:

When the Kickstarter community outcry happened about the Oculus acquisition by Facebook, I couldn't resist thinking that this was the crystallization moment for the masses of how precisely a backer differs from an investor. Not in perception, but in raw reality. If you're an early angel investor in a start-up, a 2-billion dollar acquisition of that start-up is usually taken as good news, because a chunk of that increased value goes straight into your wallet. In the case of the Kickstarter backers, they helped bring Oculus to the point where the FB acquisition is even a possibility, yet they still get pretty much the same deal as before, meaning what they preordered, except now the thing is going to be altered by Facebook's strategic vision. For better or for worse, that's another debate entirely. What's important is that backers are more than just early adopters, they think of themselves as a community, and they like the fact that successful projects listen to their input. That bond is very important to them (in general). What they don't like is seeing their voice diluted by such a big money acquisition... without even getting a taste of it. There is no consolation prize, so to speak. In my opinion, there was an opportunity for Oculus to deal with this differently and turn it into positive spin. By offering for example an easy-peasy 150% refund program to all backers who want out, and for those who stay in a 30% rebate + privileged access to a monthly participative online conference about the project new progress (getting them excited again). Or something else. The idea being: giving the community a personal taste of the win (as well as an opt-out exit if they don't feel like it's a win) would have dramatically decreased the level of vitriol imho.

The Oculus moment came and went and speculating about what could have been will not lead us anywhere. However, reading this insight from Alex Rigopulos about how this big event (and others) have ramifications across the entire platform, I'm wondering if the ball shouldn't in fact ultimately be in Kickstarter's hands. If you think about it, if Kickstarter is here to stick around for say 10 or 100 years, this is just the first of a long series of projects that will end up in disagreement over shift of vision, between founders and backers. I'm certainly not building an argument that backers should be treated as traditional investors. I'm only saying that Kickstarter could improve the back-office tools and options for after sales management of projects. One thing would be to simply allow, enable, facilitate and simplify the voluntary run of vast refunding programs by project owners throwing the towel and miraculously still solvant. Furthermore, these "refund offers" could be optional if the disagreement is about vision, game-changing contract or M&A related matters. Second would be to give project owners the ability to generously offer more than 100% refund if they think it's appropriate (with a maximum cap set at their funding capacity and will) + possibility to offer rebate or gift to those who opt to stay. And finally, third and final step (possibly much later) would be for a community of backers to have some sort of veto-by-referendum capacity where they can request a massive refund program to be studied by the project owner if say 50% (or 75%?) of them vote in favor of that (prior to delivery of goods, naturally).

The long game is all about maintaining trust.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Pascal Clarysse on 17th July 2014 7:55pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
I think that enthusiasm from the gamer part of the Kickstarter crowd is understandably tempered by the fact that those high profile projects we funded a few years ago arn't finished and we can't see if our original excitement paid off. Double Fine ran out of money, smaller projects like Code Hero burnt out and are stuck in limbo. There won't be the same excitement until we see some results.

Also, that crowd is largely made up of people who remember the anything goes creativity of the 90s PC gaming scene, and feel they aren't being surviced. It is totally a PC scene. It is an unknown quantity for console gaming, and add to that we are in a generational transition where a lot of people haven't got a new console, so won't plan for PS4, but know they may before the project is finished. A PC version definitely would have been sensible.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
I definitely see. Kickstarter being a source of more runs of Rick band instruments, or of compatibility hubs for existing controllers (adapting the Microsoft PC controller puck should be a snap). There's no way they can afford new runs of instruments without someone behind them. Of course, supporting us vocalists is cheap ABD easy!

I also definitely see potential in app based instruments, at least for drums and keys so that all they have to do is a new run of guitas. The survey I got definitely says they want to do something.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 7 years ago
If your project is so big that KickStarters target will only help fund a small part of development, the project is to big for KickStarter IMO.
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