That Dragon, Cancer, and the Role of Crowd Funding

Even a quick glance at the home page for That Dragon, Cancer reveals the origins of the game. While originally a small-time endeavor, many donations through Kickstarter, a crowd funding website, allowed the game to achieve the style and recognition that we see today. It’s not surprising, then, to see the home page for the game littered with messages giving thanks to those who have donated and multiple options for more people to buy the game. There are also links to the corresponding documentary and soundtrack. All of this may seem to some like monetizing a terrible event, but I think we can view all of this as some sort of coping mechanism, and a sincere desire for parents to share their story with anyone wanting to sympathize.

What I find really interesting about this entire process is what this could mean for the future of some indie game developers. To a genre of gaming that inherently struggles more with funding than the big producers, could the sort of crowd funding exhibited by That Dragon, Cancer become a new venue for success? The critical acclaim might indicate so, but we should be mindful of some of the issues facing future games that decide to try this method, especially if they employ the same sort of gameplay as That Dragon, Cancer.

In game, notes like these were created by those who donated to the game’s creation.

Though the route to success for That Dragon, Cancer may not be indicative of any trend, if there are future games looking to find funding in this way, they must be mindful of legal challenges to some past crowd funded endeavors. According to Kickstarter’s Wikipedia page, some of their recently funded projects have run in to issues over copyright, fake contributors, and even rights to certain aspects of the product once it has been funded.

That DragonCancer, also allows for people to experience much of the game without actually buying it. The game’s page mentions that there are several “Let’s Play” videos for the game that allow viewers to watch someone else play the game and experience much of the action themselves. This particular game suffers more from this aspect than most, I think, since the actual action of playing the game is rather barren, and someone could get a lot of the narrative and metaphorical impact simply from watching someone else. Future producers will have to make some sort of choice in this matter, knowing that some will donate to their cause, but others may find alternative routes to experience the game play.

What do you all think? Will we see more games attempt funding through Kickstarter or other sites? What sort of issues might arise?

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2 thoughts on “That Dragon, Cancer, and the Role of Crowd Funding”

  1. Kickstarter has been a very interesting catalyst for a lot of great titles, and from an analytic standpoint, gauges the potential market size of the customer you’re targeting. It has its flaws, and of course there are going to be people who fail or are there for the wrong reasons, but I believe it is truly a great avenue to get less sellable titles going. While reading your blog, I couldn’t help but think about the other interesting trend in gaming currently: The massive proliferation of “early access” games. But, it seems as if more and more indie titles are released unfinished on purpose so “players can help the developers iron out kinks” which can also translate to monetizing a glitchy mess.

  2. Hi Mark,
    You bring up some great points about the changing landscape of gaming in Kickstarter and Let’s Plays. You mentioned that the official website of That Dragon, Cancer actually discussed the popularity of Let’s Plays for the game. I thought it was interesting that the creators seemed to have a negative outlook on Let’s Plays because they saw a direct connection between poor sales and people watching videos instead of actually playing the game. Let’s Players who chose to monetize their videos then could earn money from their gameplay of That Dragon, Cancer, while the creators didn’t profit. When Let’s Players make videos of AAA titles with large replay value, then their videos might generate sales for the game creators, but with story-based games with little replayability, this benefit evidently doesn’t materialize. Though I understand the appeal of Let’s Play and gameplay videos, game creators — especially those of independent studios without much financial security to fall back on — deserve to profit from their games, and how creators, reporters, Let’s Players, and others work out this dilemma will continue to evolve with the gaming landscape.

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