There were a few reasons for thinking that the Kickstarter campaign for Fable Fortune would do pretty well.
For one, the free-to-play card game was associated with an iconic brand, Fable, and was being made by former Lionhead developers who, since the studio's closure, have formed Flaming Fowl.
Historically, this kind of pitch has been lucrative on Kickstarter; just look at the successes of former Rare developers Playtonic with Yooka-Laylee, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune's Mighty No.9 and Yu Suzuki and his new entry in the Shenmue series, to pick just a few examples.
Second of all, it was a collectible card game (CCG), a genre that has risen to the fore in the last few years thanks to Blizzard's Hearthstone.
Yet, for all the reasons why it should have succeeded, Flaming Fowl cancelled the Kickstarter after just 22 days, having raised only 23 per cent of its modest 250,000 funding goal.
The game's performance on Kickstarter may have a lot to do with its free-to-play business model – one that does not necessarily gel with crowdfunding.
Free-to-play games are historically incredibly hard to get crowd funded,” says Ico Partners CEO Thomas Bidaux. The most notable exception is probably Hex Shards of Fate, a free-to-play CCG, that raised more than $2m three years ago. We can count less than 20 successfully funded free-to-game games on Kickstarter, and I would certainly advise against trying to fund this type of game this way.”
(Above left to right) Flaming Fowl's Oman, Square Enix's Elliott, Playtonic's Robinson and Ico's Bidaux
Square Enix Collective boss Phil Elliott adds: Free-to-play is a big challenge. Because there's just a real hard value calculation that the backer has to do. You have no context to understand what you are really getting for your backing. With a ‘premium' game. you have an equation there; your money equals something.
With free-to-play, making that value judgement is actually really challenging. Explaining it from
the perspective of the developer is equally hard. You're trying to say that there's no cost of entry to this game. This game won't get made, potentially, without this crowdfunding campaign, but anyone that waits is going to be able to play it for free, assuming it gets made. It doesn't seem like a compelling argument.”
Andy Robinson of Playtonic agrees: Anyone who considers themselves a crowdfunding expert will tell you that one of the most difficult genres to crowdfund is free-to-play,” he says. Card games are probably one of the few exceptions.”
He adds: Talking personally, you can see how it would be extra difficult to present a value proposition to players who are putting their money on the line for something that is essentially being built up to be free. I can see how that would be challenging.”
The free-to-play model may not be the only reason for Fable Fortune's struggles. While Flaming Fowl CEO Craig Oman does concede that this business model did present problems, he says that it was the messaging around the title that may have created some issues.
Ultimately one of the complications around the Kickstarter was that it was a Fable title,” he says. Obviously there's a lot of people in the community looking for the next Fable RPG.
We also had a hard time with the messaging around actually who we are, what we are doing and why we're doing it. Some people made some assumptions about what the game was going to be based on very little information and ended up judging the book by its cover.”
Both announcing and launching the Kickstarter at the same time also created problems for Fable Fortune.
Doing both simultaneously is quite a challenging thing to do. You really need that momentum going into the project's launch,” he explains.
"Free to play games are the most difficult to get funding for on Kickstarter."
Andy Robinson, Playtonic
You need to spend more time building that community and not to underestimate the importance of building that ahead of a Kickstarter. Obviously you want those big numbers on day one. There's a mentality where people stop backing something because they don't think it's going to succeed, which obviously works against you. You really need that momentum in the first few days to start to get the confidence of: ‘Yes, this is going to happen'. It's ironic that the more you need the support, the less likely you are to get it.
Regardless of its failure to secure funding via Kickstarter, Fable Fortune will still be coming out after attracting private backing, which proves that the platform works as much as a promotional tool as a means to fund projects. It also meant that the studio was able to develop a community around the title.
It gave us a great opportunity to learn a bit more about the game and the reception that Fable Fortune is going to get and gave us the opportunity to sit and watch people on Twitch and see them play the game,” Oman says.
Ultimately, people seem to really enjoy it when they play it. Doing a Kickstarter is a bit all-consuming but it is rewarding from the level of interaction that people get with the players and fans, and actually hearing the support level that's out there for you.”