September 18, 2019
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It’s been a decade since Kickstarter was itself kickstarted back in 2009, putting a powerful new funding tool in the hands of video game developers. Since then, over $1 billion has been pledged towards video-game projects, thousands of which have been successfully funded and launched.
While Kickstarter projects don’t receive the amount of media attention that they once did,the number of games that are reaching their funding goals remains steady. In the first half of 2019, 193 games reached their targets, the fourth-highest amount in a half-year period over the last seven years.
Collectively, those 193 games pulled in just over $10 million, nearly double the $5.97 million successfully funded during the second-half of 2018.Still, that’s a far cry from 2013 and 2015, when over $40 million was pledged towards successful game projects.
With publishers more eager to finance indie projects and backers seemingly less eager to commit huge sums to those same projects, it appears that the golden age of Kickstarter-backed video games is over.
Let’s look back on the ten best games that came out of that era, kickstarting an indie revolution in the process.
Divinity: Original Sin
Funding Received: $944,282
Divinity: Original Sin is the first of several RPGs that found eager audiences on Kickstarter at a time when publishers weren’t as keen on the genre. DeveloperLarian Studios didn’t mince words on that point when listing some of the game’s intended features, claiming that list couldn’t make it past the marketing department of a single publisher.
That list included it being an isometric CRPG that takes place in a highly reactive world that prominently features choices to be made and the resulting consequences to be suffered. A turn-based tactical combat system and vast character customization options would round out the package.
Divinity didn’t disappoint upon its release, being praised for its great graphics and music, challenging and diverse combat, and the nearly unlimited freedom players have when it comes to exploring and interacting with the world. A sequel was later funded through Kickstarter as well and enjoyed a similarly positive reception.
Funding Received: $311,502
Shovel Knight promised to be a modern ode to classic 8-bit side–scrolling games like Mega Man and Castlevania, featuring tight, action-packed gameplay and challenging bosses.
It delivered on those promises upon its release, is one of the most acclaimed games of 2014 thanks to its stellar gameplay, great level design, and riveting music. One area Shovel Knight differs greatly from 8-bit games is in its tremendous depth, as there is upgradable equipment, loads of secrets to uncover, a new game plus mode to wade through, and over 50 challenges to test your mettle on.
Funding Received: $313,337
Darkest Dungeon aimed to deliver a harrowing rogue-like experience that made managing all aspects of the characters’ wellbeing and mental states (including their stress levels, fear, and irrationality) of prime importance.
Players must develop their town and build a party of heroes that can withstand the immense challenges of the dungeon. There are many classes to explore and missions to tackle, and the game has a great sinister vibe.
While Darkest Dungeon likely caused many a controller to be hurled in frustration after a player’s party was mercilessly wiped out (permanently destroying those characters), that was pretty much as advertised and part of the game’s appeal, which is why most gamers loved it.
Funding Received: $250,798
What initially started as little more than a demo made for a game creation challenge eventually morphed into a full-blown game after it received an incredibly positive response.
Superhot’s developers wantedthe game to stand out in the crowded FPS field and did so by brilliantly melding first-person shooters with tactical gameplay by making time move forward only when the player moves. To compensate for players’ ability to dodge bullets and take out foes like a god, FPS conventions like ammo drops and regenerating health were removed. A separate VR version of the game has since been released.
Funding Received: $3.85 million
While it didn’t raise the most money, Mighty No.9 may be the most hyped game to ever come out of Kickstarter and was an early example of the promising projects that could see the light of day through the platform, being spearheaded by Mega Man creator KeijiInafune.
Mighty No.9’s (the character, not the game) ability to dash into weakened enemies and transform into different shapes that grant him new abilities were some of the game’s leading innovations, being paired with classic Mega Man-style gameplay. While the game didn’t ultimately live up to the hype, it was generally well-received as a solid action game.
Funding Received: $2.93 million
As with Divinity, Wasteland 2’s devs weren’t finding much publisher interest for a game that wanted to remain turn-based and tactical rather than a shooter or hack n’ slash. They also wanted it to be filled with moral dilemmas and consequences.
Wasteland 2 delivered on all counts, providing a lengthy squad-based romp through a satirical post-apocalyptic world filled with lots of dialogue and player choices. This is what Fallout 3 might have looked like if it hadn’t gone the FPS route.
Funding Goal: $1.1 million
Funding Received: $3.99 million
Pillars of Eternity sought to meld the best features of some of the greatest CRPGs of all-time, including the exploration found in Baldur’s Gate, the great combat system of Icewind Dale, and the writing in Planescape: Torment.
While lofty, it did well to approach many of those goals, being a game that was praised for its classic gameplay, character customization, and a fascinating world filled with hidden treasure and terrible dragons. A sequel was released in 2018.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Funding Received: $5.55 million
This spiritual successor to the Castlevania series with a focus on 2-D exploration was finally released in the middle of 2019 after a lengthy development process that was greatly expanded after it pulled in a record (at the time) $5.55 million in funding.
The wait was well worth it, as Bloodstained has been met with high praise for its gorgeous graphics and music, loads of loot to collect, and a vast world to explore. Each of a dozen different weapon types can be used which feature unique skills and traits like enhanced movement speed. Combat is further enhanced by the shard system, which includes the ability to unleash familiars to accompany you into battle.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Funding Received: $4.19 million
Torment: Tides of Numenera is yet another isometric RPG that found a large following on Kickstarter, pulling in over $4 million with the goal of creating a story-driven game in which player choices would factor heavily into how the game unfolded.
And story-driven it most certainly is, as the game revolves almost entirely around dialogue in the two major cities as opposed to fighting. Torment’s story explores various themes and was widely praised for its sharp writing, though some backers felt there weren’t enough substantive choices or branching paths.
Funding Received: $723,886
This strategy game was conceived with the goal of combining an intriguing Viking narrative with beautiful hand-drawn art and a challenging tactical battle system.
The Banner Saga has you manage a caravan of people that requires making hard choices about who to let in, choices which can and will change the story in various ways. Over two dozen playable characters are available spanning seven classes, while various systems like hunger and morale add further wrinkles to the gameplay.
The Banner Saga was widely praised for its art and story, though some of the game’s features were criticized for being rather basic. Two sequels have since been released, with more reportedly on the way.
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