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VR vs. Kickstarter

Kickstarter can be a brilliant thing. As an innovative website that lets people pitch product ideas and have fans pledge donations of their choosing, it makes all kinds of unique videogames, peripherals and just about everything else possible when investor’s risk assessments don’t turn out favourably. Not to mention that it allows creators to retain complete control of their vision and, for better or worse, reduces financial pressures upon those makers.  Indeed, virtual reality (VR) itself owes a huge debt to the platform; without it we may have never seen the Oculus Rift VR headset that has spearheaded the technology’s revival following a 2012 campaign that raised over $2 million USD.


We can trace the Kickstarter revolution back even further to earlier that year when Double Fine stole headlines with its wildly successful campaign, raising over $3 million to develop the title that would go on to become Broken Age. Since then we’ve seen countless indies place their eggs in this basket, with plenty of similar success stories. But we’ve also seen cruel examples failure. As the website has become more and more saturated with hopeful projects and dream titles it’s become much harder to standout and get funded. Even with sufficient press coverage a large chunk of titles only manage to raise a fraction of their initial goal. And so some developers have started to use tricks; carrot and stick methods that they hope will entice fans to dig just a little deeper into their pockets. Unfortunately, this is where VR comes back in.

Since VRFocus started back in February of this year we’ve covered an overwhelming number of Kickstarter projects. A lot of them are Oculus Rift-dedicated campaigns that promise support for everybody’s favourite VR headset right from the off. However, there’s a worrying amount that manage to get those magic words onto their campaign page without actually confirming support for the device. There are a handful of reasons one might do this. Firstly, you’re going to attract a very specific, hardcore audience that craves new VR experiences to your Kickstarter page. You’re also bound to get more coverage; VRFocus leaves no stone unturned in VR reporting and similar sites appreciate getting to report on an Oculus Rift title for a change.

Now, this isn’t such an issue if you really do end up supporting VR in your project. Indie dev Dylan Browne, for example, is currently seeking funding for his sci-fi horror project Caffeine on crowd sourcing alternative IndieGoGo and initially stated that he’d be interested in implementing Oculus Rift support. Browne quickly followed through with confirmation that VR would be coming at launch. Mentioning support before confirming its implementation isn’t ideal, but at least the developer has made good on such a tease.


But there are others out there that haven’t set such a good example. Farjay Studios has seen huge success with its Kickstarter campaign for Bear Simulator, which has raised over $50,000 more than its initial $29,500 goal with over a week left to go. The campaign page twice makes mention of possible Oculus Rift support. Granted the developer has gone to lengths to stress that the support isn’t for definite, but then why list it in the first place? Surely you can only use Oculus Rift support as a reason to back a project when it’s definitely in?

All that said, this method of attention seeking remains fairly innocent when stacked up next to the other issue. When developers secure the funds to make their project and there’s a healthy amount of time left on the Kickstarter clock, why not try to raise a bit more to expand your project’s feature set? These are known as Stretch Goals, additional targets put in place by the creators that promise more features for more money.

It’s not hard to see why a developer would implement an Oculus Rift Stretch Goal once it’s passed that first goal as it’s a great feature to have in almost any PC title. That said, some seem to be taking advantage of VR fans with inexcusably high goals. Earlier today VRFocus reported on the launch of a Kickstarter for a seemingly modest indie FPS named Trapped! The developers are asking for a very reasonable $15,000 to fund the project, which is easily one of the lower goals we’ve seen in our time.


That good will is squandered somewhat when you look at the Stretch Goals. The developer is looking for $30,000 to hire more programmers and 3D artists. That seems fair enough, right? Then there’s a $45,000 goal for mobile ports, which strikes as a little strange considering that PC version would arguably be the preferable platform for play. Oculus Rift support? $60,000.

For perspective, it costs $350 to secure the new Oculus Rift development kit, which comes with all the hardware and software support you need to get started. Granted, this won’t include the developer’s own costs for optimisation of titles and compensation for any added development time, but will those added issues really stretch that cost by another $14,650?

Well, how about $40,000? That’s the gap between the initial goal of $60,000 and the first $1 million Stretch Goal for Oculus Rift support in the recently-launched campaign for an HD reboot of Outcast from Fresh 3D Inc. Again, bear in mind that the original Outcast is a huge title and will likely require a lot of fine-tuning for effective Oculus Rift support, but will it really require two-thirds of the original goal added onto it? Keep in mind that there are services such as the Oculus VR Share Beta in which developers release Oculus Rift projects for free, even if they are bite-sized experiences.


It’s not VRFocus’ wish to condemn Kickstarter projects for including Oculus Rift support. We’re sure you’ll agree that the more Oculus Rift supported titles there are out there, the better. In fact, if any of these titles do reach their Oculus Rift Stretch Goals then it speaks encouragingly to just how hungry fans are for VR content. But it’s hard not to view this as being taken advantage of. Kickstarter is a platform that runs off of people’s generosity as much as it does their money, and to see VR being used as a tool to take that generosity feels like a betrayal of everything this technology has rebuilt in the past few years. So next time your open your wallet to help bring another VR title into the world, make sure you weigh up how much you really need to pay.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

  1. Developers have been taking advantage without Kickstarter, what makes you think they wouldn’t with it?

  2. Oh, quit the bitching already. If you don´t like it, DONT DONATE TO IT. And here is the magic word… DONATE.

  3. @Dan that’s obviously good advice, and certainly I’m one of those that didn’t donate to certain games because what they asked for their Oculus support seemed ridiculous to me. But that doesn’t mean that a site like VR Focus can’t have an opinion piece on this. Because if nobody complains maybe game designers will just think it’s normal and then wonder why none of them are reaching their stretch goals 😉

  4. You don’t really want to calculate stretch goals for their real value, do you? Kickstarter isn’t a preorder service, stretch goals cannot be compared to a catalogue for additional automobile accessories. It’s a symbolic return, a sign of appreciation. You could also say it’s a pars pro toto, it stands for several smaller optimizations, be it difficult to understand subtleties (e.g. technical improvements) or simply tasks requiring great diligence. Also, you don’t recognize that VR support sometimes could mean additional need of human resources and QA. Personnel costs are by far the biggest expense for a developer. Last but not least, Outcast not only offers Oculus support as it’s only improvement for the VR stretch goal, but other things like additional game content, too.

  5. “Well, how about $40,000? That’s the gap between the initial goal of $60,000 and the first $1 million Stretch Goal for Oculus Rift support in…” Did no one reading this before publishing it notice the missing zeroes there? That ought to have been $400,000 and $600,000.

    Regardless, this whole ‘it shouldn’t cost $X0,000 to implement VR in the game’ argument is completely misleading. No, it doesn’t actually cost however much money the stretch goal is to put VR in the game, just like it doesn’t actually cost however much money a company is asking for on Kickstarter to make the game in the first place. A good chunk of that money goes into the other rewards, like physical copies, t-shirts, and whatever else they offer to backers.
    Thankfully this isn’t as big of a hit for digital rewards, like Steam keys or downloadable soundtracks, but even they usually have a marginal cost that have to be kept in mind when running a Kickstarter, and setting a stretch goal at ‘exactly what it’ll cost to add a feature’ should be the first sign that the people behind the project don’t know what they’re doing, so I beg you not to act as if that’s the way things ought to be done.

    I seem to be rambling, though, so I’d better cut it short. Nice article, could use some deeper thinking.

  6. This is a quick turnaround: I’d like to take all of that back, if it’s okay.

    This site looked so professional, and had so many articles, that I assumed a large group was behind it, and was judging it far too harshly. It only took a few minutes of poking around to see that behind the curtain it’s really just two guys who are really passionate about virtual reality, and knowing that puts everything in a different light.

    For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, and I hope you’ll understand that I didn’t realize how unreasonable I was being.

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