As Kickstarter has taken off like – well, a popular Kickstarter project – over the past year, especially in the gaming sector, backers have noticed a few inconsistencies with the platform. For one, projects aren't vetted for plausibility or quality outside of a standard registration form; your grandmother could accidentally promise the world 500 pounds of brownies if she raises $5, and there's nothing holding her to following through or using that money for brownie-related purposes.
For another, Kickstarter is US only. Creative ventures outside of the US can't begin a crowd-funded project, though anyone with a major credit card can donate to a project and watch its success with yearning in his heart. Also, Kickstarter caters to a wide range of products and ideas, making its reach broad but its expertise in handling any one industry dim.
Gamesplanet Lab is a new crowd-funding platform that handles only gaming projects, has a strict vetting and follow-through contract, and is based in Europe but is able to host projects from around the world. Yes, that does sound like everything you ever wanted in Kickstarter. The only thing Gamesplanet Lab needs now is proof that it can work – it needs a breakout crowd-funding success.
Gamesplanet Lab is starting with two games from established, proven indie developers, 3AM Studios (of parent company Frogwares) and Pendulo Studios. Both are based in Europe and therefore can't use Kickstarter to raise money for their new games, but that's not the only reason they chose to work with Gamesplanet Lab.
"Gamesplanet is really pushing the project, offering us all technical support, talking about it everywhere, giving a lot of advice," Pendulo Studios' Josue Monchan tells Joystiq. "When we met them, I had no idea that crowdfunding meant so much for them."
Gamesplanet Lab is a "crowd-creating" platform and appears to act more as a project manager for its games, rather than as a third-party fundraising site. Gamesplanet Lab contracts with each project and helps them set up reward tiers and betas, interact with the community, and manage players' expectations with more transparency than is possible without such a close relationship. The Lab also helps projects with creating and distributing a final product after it's been funded.
"Gamesplanet Lab is European by birth but we really expect to submit our projects and ideas all around the world," Gamesplanet's Pierre Forest says. "What is important are the projects we propose, not the platform which is hosting it. Thanks to the Internet, we think that if you make the effort to speak different languages and try to understand people's expectations, you can overpass borders."
The Lab itself is the brainchild of Gamesplanet, an independent games distributor based in Paris but doing business in five languages and across three currencies, and Ulule, a European crowdfunding platform. One of Gamesplanet Lab's biggest draws for consumers, its vetting process, isn't a strict, streamlined ordeal – but it is intensive.
"At that step, I have to admit there is no real process, no guy with a tie reviewing project holders' curriculum vitae that you can contact, I'm afraid," Forest says. "We discuss a lot of the project before, we discuss about the budget, the calendar, what kind of rewards we would have to create, based on what creativity and what kind of proximity the project holder can offer to the users. We also like to find some silly, new ideas, like the one not to release the game if the backers are not 80 percent happy with it. This is the process we set up with Magrunner, for instance."
Magrunner, the Gamesplanet Lab title from 3AM Studios, is a first-person puzzler set in a futuristic 3D world. It's looking to raise €100,000 ($122,570) – on top of the €800,000 ($980,560) it already has. Magrunner is almost entirely complete, with 25 of 41 levels developed with Unreal Engine. The extra cash would allow 3AM to add more content: €100,000 adds a PVP mode, €200,000 makes it available on Mac and adds 10 extra levels, etc.
Magrunner has so far raised 76 percent of its goal and has 30 days left to raise the rest. If it is successfully funded, Magrunner will follow a calendar that includes a demo around the sixth or seventh month. At the end of the demo will be a survey, scored from 1 to 5. If Magrunner doesn't earn at least a 4 out of 5 in 500 surveys, it will be reworked until it reaches at least that score. Gamesplanet Lab is handling the survey, ridding any cries of foul play.
"Gameplanet Lab was ready to help us and make it happen for the financing phase, and also to provide guidance and support during the crowd-creating part: Sharing with players, organizing tests and betas, delivery of the game for the backers when complete," 3AM's Olga Ryzhko says. "And all this for the time between the end of financing and the release, or however many months. It's a lot of logistics that we would have to organize by ourselves if we would go with Kickstarter."
"Alliance: In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third."
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
The second title on Gamesplanet Lab is Pendulo Studios' Day One, a dark, adult-themed point-and-click adventure heavily influenced by Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary. It has raised €28,000 of its €300,000 ($367,710) goal, with 51 days remaining, and offers many of the same "crowd-creating" rewards as Magrunner. Backers will be able to submit their own art and ideas for the game, and will have the opportunity to vote on certain game-changing aspects.
Gamesplanet Lab offers its site in French, German, Italian, English and, happily for Pendulo Studios, Spanish.
"We wanted a platform that could support our project page in more than one language," Monchan says. "Of course, our main communication is in English, but we're Spanish; a lot of our friends, family and fans don't speak English. And then a lot more, like me, speak English but make a lot of mistakes. We wanted to provide them with something that they could easily understand without the help of Google Translator."
If Day One doesn't make the crowd-creating cut, Pendulo Studios will take it in stride – not that it's very worried about that possibility.
"If gamers don't think that Day One is worth it, then what would be the point in developing it?" Monchan tells us. "However, that isn't likely to happen: The start of the campaign is going pretty well if we compare it to similar crowdfunding projects that have appeared in the last months, and we have a long time to go. Day One is shaping out to be a great game, funded and created by its players."
Not that Pendulo would pass up certain other funding outlets: "OK, if tomorrow Matt Damon comes and says, 'Hey, I want to turn Day One into a film, let me give you a million bucks,' we won't say no – with the condition that none of our commitments to backers get touched. Those are sacred words for us: exclusivity of rewards, IP 100 percent Pendulo, participation in forums, other decisions."
Part of Gamesplanet Lab's security comes in its 10-point charter that holds, by contract, all project holders, publishers and studios to a set of commitments, including a guarantee on the delivery of rewards, a DRM scheme that prioritizes customer experience over systematic control, and a 70 percent final-product satisfaction minimum to carry the Gamesplanet Lab label.
This is all great to Monchan and Pendulo Studios.
"Backers will be able to decide actual aspects of the game, from character design to the actual logo, and even to show their talent and us their creations so they can become part of the game. We know it'll be mad. But we've been making adventures games for the last 18 years. Now that's what I call madness."