Atari's RollerCoaster Tycoon crowdfunding drive in danger of going off the rails
Reaction has been...well, mixed.
For the moment, news on the Ataribox -- a celebration of wood panelling that still remains somewhat mysterious -- has been rather thin on the ground. However, Atari have still been busy, and they've turned their attention to the biggest franchise they still have on their books, RollerCoaster Tycoon. The latest plan for the series is to bring a version of the game to the Nintendo Switch, which on the face of it seems like a no-brainer -- and yet, the move has caused little but controversy so far, mainly because Atari are seeking crowdfunding in order to make this port a possibility.
It should be noted, from the off, that the sort of crowdfunding Atari are using is not the more traditional Kickstarter way of doing things -- they're utilising a site called Start Engine, a different style of crowdfunding where pledging actually means you get a return on investment -- the minimum pledge is $250, which will also grant you part of a 50% share of the game's profits until you make 120% of your original investment, followed by a 25% share for 18 months following the game's release. All of this is potentially subject to pro rata decreases dependent on the success of the game, mind you -- but this style of crowdfunding is gaining traction, having been popularised by the website Fig.
With this in mind, the hefty $250 minimum pledge might just be a slightly less bitter pill to swallow. However, surely the big question is whether a company like Atari truly need crowdfunding or not? This is a question that has often come up in the world of crowdfunding, especially when established names come to the table. In the case of established industry individuals, the results have been variable -- there is no better case example of this than when David Braben and Peter Molyneux both came to Kickstarter under something of a cloud, due to both of them having a long history in the industry that had given them a personal fortune that people thought would surely help them fund their projects without having to turn to the consumer. Whilst Braben delivered on his Kickstarter for the ultimately successful Elite: Dangerous, Molyneux presided over one of the worst failures in the history of the crowdfunding platform in Godus.
And yet the case of Atari is even greater -- this isn't an individual, it's a company with a long history. While we all know that Atari are not the juggernaut they once were, they still have a pretty strong portfolio -- one that allows company CEO Todd Shallbetter to boast, in the campaign video, of the $2 billion that Atari's franchises have generated. While this is certainly an impressive figure and one that the company should happily take credit for, is it really a good look to say that in one instance, and then ask for investment from the consumer on the other? Such are the difficulties of crowdfunding -- while you would certainly highlight this figure to a traditional investor who is purely interested in seeking a monetary return, the language you would use to a consumer who is perhaps more interested in actually playing the end product than making money from it is still yet to be mastered.
There are plenty other vaguaries in the campaign that have been somewhat scrutinised -- such as lines in the small print that deal with the "Irregular Use of Proceeds" from the campaign, including such things as travel expenses, salaries, back payments and the like. On one hand, Kickstarters are not necessarily open about this sort of thing, especially when it comes to the more major projects are keen to participate in the mutual illusion between campaigner and backer that all money generated will go purely towards the development of the project. Atari are again, open about this in a way that, in the world of traditional investment, they would be required to -- and yet, of course, the resulting feedback has been highly negative. It is virtually impossible to sell such things as necessary to the project to the consumer.
And in the end...the final outcome is a port. A port of a much-loved game to a platform that it would be perfect for, but a port all the same. The campaign has currently reached its minimum goal of $10,000, with $20,850 generated at the time of writing with 89 days remaining - and yet the goal itself is very flexible indeed, with a specified maximum goal of $1.07 million that feels somewhat optimistic. This is quite the interesting crowdfunding campaign to examine, then -- it feels in many ways as if Atari are applying the old, traditional ways of procuring investment to a new and still yet to be firmly understood platform, and the results have not necessarily been positive. In the end though, the proof will be in the product itself, when and if it arrives to the Switch.