"It's been an amazing experience," Double Fine founder Tim Schafer told fans via a live stream that celebrated the closing moments of Double Fine Adventure's success on Kickstarter. The project generated over three million dollars worth of donations in a month. Double Fine had asked for $400,000. It wasn't just amazing. It was magical.

Not every studio sees this kind of outcome. Lead artist and the brains behind Playground State, Barry Collins, is walking us through what his studio looks like, and what has happened to his game, after his project failed to receive funding.

Playground State was founded two years ago by Barry and his brother Brad to explore and express the ideas that Barry has had floating around in his head since childhood. If you look closely at its web site, you'll notice that there's no physical address. It's just a collective "willing people" across the globe coming together to build a series of sci-fi titles called Knights. A PC title called Knights: Spiral Islands was to be the first.

Spiral Island became a known project thanks to Kickstarter and a warm reception by PC enthusiast web site Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which featured it in an editorial in February 2011. Spiral Island is described as an episodic online action-adventure game in which you, as a knight in the game's sci-fi universe, battle evil across the cosmos. Its hook, outside of its UDK visuals, is its lack of boundaries: in one mission, you'll be hacking and shooting Vikings, in others space bees, mushroom zombies, robots, and large crabs.

It has the look and feel of something incredible, especially if it were to be expanded as planned. Spiral Island was pitched to potential donors as game design in motion, as it would have seamlessly integrated new scenarios and enemies in a constant steam.

For whatever reason, it didn't receive sufficient support. The Kickstarter effort ended with a thud later that April. Playground was looking for $10,000. A hair over $1,500 was pledged across 36 serial donators. One pledger, for example, has backed 48 other projects.

It's easy to see this as a knockout shot, but to Barry, it's just a glancing blow, and now the team is looking to iOS and its vast audience to continue.

"The lack of funds was frustrating, but it didn't really kill our ambitions or desire to make this work," Barry tells TouchArcade. In the ultimate show of confidence, the studio grew. It picked up an artist, a musician, a sound designer, and a couple of programmers following the failed attempt at funding.

That Playground is reacting in the exact opposite way you'd expect isn't lost on Barry, and he explains that the reason is tied into how deeply his core team believes in what the studio is trying to accomplish.

"It's our baby," Barry tell us. "Amazingly, after maybe an hour or two of rambling with the various team members, they all irrevocably become hooked on the concept and what it has to offer, and slowly but surely begin to own it. Right now we have a team of guys all on the same page and all excited about the small steps as much as the bigger one that will come later -- Knights as a whole."

While the team grew, so did Knights. It's now more than a game: it's a series of mobile titles based in the same universe that spans multiple platforms and genres. Barry has an idea for several projects, some of which are in early stages of development. The most important is an Epic Citadel-like preview title, built specifically for iOS to show off what his team can do.

But even though the team is growing and excited about the games Barry wants to make, it has a horrible issue: it's hemorrhaging programmers. It can’t keep one on staff, and this is putting a kink in the size and scope of the Knights games Barry wants to make. Barry says they're in a spiral of simplification, as no one has the expertise to implement complex content into builds. The lack of a revenue stream is undoubtedly one of the culprits here. It's also the reason why it's bothering with a showcase project in the first place, and opening its doors for outsourcing work.

"This constant tug of war is what pushed us to our current goals of producing a very basic, free to download visual demo -- a means of walking around a crazy environment full of eye candy and talking to basic scripted actors within the world. This will lay the ground work for follow-up episodes to come afterwords," Barry tells us.

That Knights is blowing up, too, isn't lost on Barry. He says this game has two goals: to nab exposure and be a launching board. Barry believes it'll generate new ideas for future Knights games, and argues that the scope in this game is much more manageable than the one he put out there with Spiral Island.

Another game is another iPhone and iPad-specific title called Knights: Arena. This is also a victim of the rotunda of programmers cycling through the studio. It's an FPS that revolves solely around online play: team deathmatch, capture the flag, and so on. Barry, with a lengthy Internet sigh capping off what he tells us about Arena, says the studio's goal is to establish a revenue stream as quickly as possible. It needs to hire at least one, dedicated programmer. "But that in itself is a Catch 22," he says. "Need a programmer to make revenue, need revenue to get a programmer."

Playground State's ability to keep its legs churning in the mud seems unreal, but it’s a human reaction. With a teeth-gnashing kind of pride, Barry plans to continue marching on beyond his studio's funding failure. He doesn't just want to make games -- he wants to see his dreams realized.

"I don't quite know how we managed to grow in quality, strength, and numbers. Faith in Knights among the team is stronger than ever today, despite everything," he tells us.

"Knights is one of many projects I dream of making. So this is the blood, sweat, tears part of paving the way to eventually being able to produce these with a real budget and fully paid team. This is it. This is what I love. It's what I want to do for the rest of my life."

That's why Barry is up for using Kickstarter again. He has at least two in the works right now. One is for an extensive indie bundle that features developers in the Vancouver area. The other is for Knights: Arena or a single-player variant of that idea, which he wants to launch "at the same time that we launch the free demo, so people can see or play it and discover it that way."

Barry talks about Knights: Spiral Island in his Kickstarter promo.

Spiral Island's crowd-funding failure didn't come without costs in terms of people and revenue. There were lessons learned, though. The first was scalability. "No need to come out of the gate with a massive universe to embark on hundreds of small stories in other universes. A single story is good enough, or if finances and or programming get in the way, as we are discovering, there are still options," he tells us.

"We did not go into this expecting it to be quick and easy, and it has not been quick or easy either," he says.

And let's say these Kickstarters don't pan out? Barry isn't worried. "We will keep pushing along until we are earning revenue on our own, find the right investment deal or get the attention of a publisher that wants to work with us."

"But no matter what, this project will see the light of day, and as a series of mobile games to start."

Towards the end of our Barry conversation, we pressed "pause" so we could ask what makes him so idealistic. His vision for these Knights games still seems almost too ambitious considering the lack of funding. The risk of what will happen if these ideas die could be monumental to the studio’s future and Barry. These games are the realization of his dreams, after all.

Knights in general is an extremely ambitious concept,” he says. “It started big and the scope of the games we want to tell based in this setting have been cut back for the sake of getting something to market sooner. “

“The concept of Knights being so grand just means we always have room to grow. We realize that we may only ever produce the Knights preview or only ever get as far as Knights: Arena because there’s a real possibility that Knights is lame and we are all crazy people working away on an idea nobody else likes. “

“For me this would just be a continuation of exactly what I have done for 11 years, which is to just hire myself out to whatever studio wants to pay me, and doing so in mass with others is old hat. The grind of tracking down clients and deadlines, milestones, massive delays in payment and so on... it’s all a part of the job. But, Knights, to me, is a way out of this, to finally get all the ideas my brother and I have been brewing up for decades. It’s time we produce things we want rather than the things that pay the bills.”

Barry says that he likes to focus on what could happen with some success. He could hire programmers, no more lost time on contract projects, and the people he’s surrounded by could be supported.

“I just really hope people want to play a game about the Knights -- the ultimate saviors of all things, the definition of heroic. Not a bad bone in their bodies, watching them take on any bad guy we can dream up and throw at them, across all history in any universe and time. I really want to play that game.”

When a Kickstarter fails, it’s not necessarily a catalyst for disaster. Barry is idealistic, and maybe too ambitious, but he’s not a quitter. He’ll keep creating. The success of Double Fine was magical, but the intensity of at least one man who didn’t win big is special, too.


While Barry's story stands on its own, we are covering something larger here. This is part one of a two-part series of articles. In the next, we'll introduce you to three more studios who haven't had the greatest experience on Kickstarter. We'll also discuss why we don't normally cover games on the service and why we're not certain of the long-term viability of crowd-funding sources like Kickstarter.

  • subshell001

    I've noticed there is a direct correlation between the quality of the video and how much of the project gets funded. Something that looks like it was shot on a cell phone isn't going to cut it. Anyone who actually wishes to get a project funded on Kickstarter needs to spend the money to rent a nice camera, if that's what it takes.

    People want to have confidence in what they are giving money towards. A badly filmed video with bad audio gives a bad impression.

    • bslayerw

      that's simply not true. It's all about the presentation and the actual idea. That being said, you're going to have to work 10x (a made up number) harder if you're looking to create an FPS. The trends seem to point to game genres and IP (intellectual property) that have been all but ignored by big publishers.

      In those cases, Kickstarter is being used to great effect to circumvent publishers dictating the genres, IP, licensing, etc.

      I really hope that some of these recent, high profile funded Kickstarter projects are successful and make a huge impact. Big publishers might start taking more risks and allow game developers to really push their creative limits.

  • TomCrown

    Kickstarter seems completely viable for funding into the future, especially if you are a proven entity that has delivered in the past. That is a key point, "proven". These are not donations but investments that people expect return on and that trust in execution is based on past history.

    The failed attempts seem to have been unproven studios and or concepts that would never have been achieved at the funding that was being asked. Which again falls back on historical ability to produce.

    • http://twitter.com/PocketTactics Pocket Tactics

      This is a great point. Remember all the speculation after Radiohead released "In Rainbows" on a pay-what-you-like model? People fell all over themselves to predict the death of the music industry, but it mostly worked because it was *Radiohead*.

      That said, I've seen plenty of unknowns with good pitches or good demos get massive funding on Kickstarter (FTL for example), so prior success is not the only valid predictor.

      • JPhilipp

        Thanks for the info... do you have more examples like FTL? I find it interesting to see how the other successful projects approached it.

      • http://twitter.com/PocketTactics Pocket Tactics

        Star Command (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/starcommand/star-command-sci-fi-meets-gamedev-story-for-ios-an) is another good example of a successful Kickstarter with no big names attached - it wasn't the runaway success that FTL was but it also was soliciting funds last year. It seems like Kickstarter has really blown up this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6844547 Lars Kelley

    great article, I completely agree. While kickstarter is excellent for experienced entrepreneurs to hedge risk, for first timers, learning how to get a good product out on the market through nickel and dimming is worth a lot more than a few 100ks.     

  • Gemutlichkeit

    Sorry game developer lumber jack guy, but I can't buy into a game that's not finished. The gaming world has been burned (especially iOS world) when it comes to promises on future content.

    Here's how it works, game dev promises steady episodic content. game gets released. you see 1 update and the studio disbands or starts working on game 2.

  • $6618284

     Just wrote a very relevant article yesterday on this topic.

    http://www.dinofarmgames.com/eas-madden-13-kickstarter-makes-8-5-million-in-five-hours/

  • http://twitter.com/TheMightyRabbit Mighty Rabbit Studio

    It's really awesome that these devs were not discouraged by an unsuccessful campaign!

    This doesn't really relate to the article, it's more a response to some of the other comments. Creating a successful Kickstarter is HARD. You need a good video, compelling rewards, and a STRONG unique selling point for your project. If you're making something that is too similar to other products on the market, don't try to Kickstart it. You also need to have friends and family that will contribute - they will start the pot and once that happens other people will check it out - if the USP resonates with them you'll probably get a pledge. It's also important to ask for a funding goal that can actually be met. People will actually get discouraged from pledging when you ask for a lot and it doesn't look like you'll hit it.

    Our Kickstarter, Saturday Morning RPG was thankfully very successful; however, we literally spent a year setting up the campaign! Then, we somehow launched 3 hours before Double Fine and were still active when Wasteland 2 started. We couldn't have launched at a better time! Our success was in a large part luck, but it was also due to meticulous planning and consideration (and it had a focused USP that serviced a specific niche - nostalgic JRPG fans).

    • Barry Collins

      Hey! Barry Here, Thanks for the support!Yea, I really did learn a lot about kickstarter in general, Ill probably get ahold of you guys just before we launch our next kickstarter, if we do.
      One big bonus is that there is now a huge spotlight on kickstarter now, it went from having maybe 100 people on kickstarter who cared about games to now like 85,000+ people who are avid gamers who can rally behind the croudsourced concept... It just makes things so much easier for them to support developers now and us to potentially be suported.

      Well done on your kickstarter!

  • pajman sarafzadeh

    We have seen this guy and his video before, here at toucharcade.

    Anyone who looks at this project with a critical eye will question its viability.very little work is done and much of what is done, is of pour quality, including the water, the animation and rigging of the model etc, etc. Not to mention, their is no sign of level design, story, game concept, playable mechanics etc etc.

    Its just a beach with a lobster and a gun in what looks like UDK. Thats = to nothing.
    So many indie gamers work on their projects during spare time and keep their day jobs, If this guy was serious about his dream, he would have been done by now.if they had wanted success, they would have been done by now, without contributions. The problem with dreams is that they go away when you wake up. wanna see the truth about how we in the industry see people like Barry, check out this youtube, its funny and accurate.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGar7KC6Wiw 

    • Barry Collins

      Pajman... Poor Quality? You're just trolling.http://youtu.be/mlsueY7m9cESay Poor Quality again.
      http://youtu.be/9VdRzxHtN1I
      Say bad rig again.You clearly did not read the article, You're just trolling.You mention that it would be done by now yet fail to notice that its a team of artists working (in our spare time, if/when we have it) without a steady programmer, That is the major set back for this team.How "you people" in the industry see me? Are you kidding? Did you fail to read the fact that I have 11 years game industry experience?
      How somebody can look at the hard work of my team and our desire to continue is beyond me, you bitter troll.A point you clearly missed is that we _are_ continuing to develop even without contributions. I and many people on my team are working one or two contracts at a time. I am often working on 3 different games at a time for 16 hours a day, and have little to no time for my girlfriend, friends or family or personal projects such as Knights...
      You dont understand that we are all busy people looking to make a go of this.Way to try and belittle all the hard work we are doing, way to go.
      *Barry Pats Pajman on the back for a job well done*

  • http://twitter.com/touchgameplay TouchGamePlay

    Well I didn`t back up the Project when I saw it the first Time on Kickstarter and I won`t do it a second Time.

    The Reason is as simple as it can be:

    Taking a look at their Website/Blog/Twitter doesn`t show me anything that would change my Mind that the reason why i didn`t funded it did changed. 

    I can clearly see that they don`t love their own Project overall since right after their Kickstarter Project didn`t got funded they abandoned it.

    If someone truly loves something he would keep working on it in it`s Free Time and provide new Information for an Article like this One.

    He would stay in Contact with those that did support him or at least keep up with providing new Information ever now and then...

    Nothing of that did happen...

    And since we are getting the same Pictures and the same Video like last Year it`s hard to believe that any of those things mentioned above could be true or even become true in the upcoming future.

    They got a lot of coverage during the Time the Project was open and still didn`t manage to get it funded.
    Their Kickstarter Project didn`t got funded because of the Video or it`s Quality. Even the requested among of Money wasn`t the reason for what had happened.

    I have funded Projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo that had worse or even less Information provided.

    But all those had something in common that the Boys from Playground State seem to lack from the Beginning and I don`t even know if they have got in the last few Months...

    It was the lack of passion to create something New that hasn`t been there yet and the drive to push them to a new Level with that to create something outstanding. 

    Sorry Guys but this Interview didn`t convinced me even I really hope for your own good that I`m wrong this Time...

    Sidenote:

    Happy Easter :D

    • Barry Collins

      Unfortunately I can only do so much. I personally run the website, work 8 to 16 hours a day on contract work for other studios around the world  and I Run the facebook and edit the videos and am the lead artist, which leaves me also producing all of the environment assets, high poly and low poly, and character meshes, a lot of the concept art, The Rigs, Animations, Textures and overall vision. Unfortunately i have next to no time to do any of these things, so if i have time, I tend to work on art for the game rather than do PR/marketing stuff which i dispise. So yes, a big flaw is poor marketing / Public Relations. But there is only so much i can do.
      Wow, Also, I Tend to not talk about our projects as we work on them because of the utterly negative feedback we get constantly. Its far easier to make this stuff because we love it and want to see it happen all while not having to deal with this negative crap all the time.

      And no, we did not abbandon the projects ever, they have always been in the works. 
      The only real down time was the 4.5 months  I took for myself to prepare for and recover from traveling across Canada and America coast to coast and still the team continued to work on it.

      Its hard enough to keep working on this stuff as it is, i do not know how much clearer I can make that. but negative feedback really is a wet blanket. You wonder why there is radio silence at times? Now you know.

      • Wizard of War

        I dont mean to be rude or anything but when I look at your page the last update (besides the tweet) is almost a year old.

        Then again, its a FPS, and from my point of view the video just didnt deliver a selling point. What is so different? Huge world? Well, any sandbox game has this today.
        Big story, anybody can promise that, how do we know you can tell good stories?
        Coop and Multiplayer, well, almost every shooter has this today.
        So again, what makes your project unique?
        Just see what a hard time the SWAT shooter "Takedown" had, and there were some people on board who have already delivered such thing in the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xXsMakeMeCoolx Justin Baldwin

    I am in the process of designing an indie iPhone game and it does pose challenges trying to do so while also working a fulltime job, I design online games and advertising so by the end of the day if I want to work on my game it's a 16-18 hour day. Kickstarters are a great resource for people like me with a dream of doing this for a living. Having your own creative freedom without the outside influence of publishers, and producers is a godsend. But rare and hard to accomplish. However before you start one you may want to take some steps to actually market it, generate hype... Which isn't an easy task.

    Yeah I can understand the problem here being that the video doesn't really show you much as to what the game is going to be. There isn't much to get hyped about other then some concept art and a render of the island. It's just a little vague, I'm sure their art director has some great ideas and is passionate about this game, however I just don't hear it here. He comes off a little bored. I'm sure it's just because he is layed back mellow kind of guy. But you gotta sell it. If you're not excited, why should anyone else be? Don't get me wrong, I'm trying to be constructive here.

    I really do wish them luck, I hope they get it out there and get some success.