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Opinion: What Does Square-Enix’s Collective Crowdfunding Do?

Crowdfunding has been an absolute boon for the video game industry. It has allowed small time developers who would never have been looked at twice by a publisher to get their games out to the public. It has allowed jaded former AAA stars like Keiji Inafune to rekindle their love of making games independent of the bureaucracy involved with investors and shareholders. It has allowed “dead” properties like Torment and Wasteland to make triumphant comebacks and has allowed struggling indie studios like Lab Zero to continue working on games after being screwed by publisher deals. Simply put, it’s been one of the best things to happen to game development since 3D polygons.

So it was only a matter of time before a AAA developer/publisher tried to hop on this gravy train, and that’s exactly what Square-Enix is doing with Collective. Made possible through a partnership with Indiegogo (the crowdfunding site that allowed Skullgirls to develop its DLC), Collective is billed as a “curated platform” that will allow game creators to post their ideas and have the gamers themselves decide whether or not those ideas should be fully fleshed out into games. The idea is to have something akin to the Steam Greenlight process, where a dedicated community of core gamers decide what games succeed. If an idea is approved after a 28 day processing period, then it will be eligible for Indiegogo crowdfunding.

That’s an OK idea I guess. It allows gamers to have Indiegogo projects placed right in front of them, when otherwise they might be buried under all the other projects that hit the site. But, there’s something about Collective that is worrying. Specifically, Square-Enix says that there will be an “evaluation phase” where they decide whether or not a project deserves to go through the Collective greenlightning process. Essentially, Square-Enix has veto power over what shows up on Collective, and even if Collective manages to greenlight a game it’s not guaranteed to get funding. It still has to go through a normal Indiegogo campaign afterward.

Essentially, there is very little difference between making your own Indiegogo or Kickstarter and going through Collective, except Square-Enix can tell you, “nope, your project isn’t worth it.” Isn’t this what crowdfunding was helping us avoid? Isn’t the whole point of crowdfunding that small developers can work on their projects without being “curated”, without being told “no” before their project even gets off the ground?

What is Square-Enix even doing with Collective, other than vetoing projects they don’t like and showing these projects to a core group of gamers? What assistance are they actually giving that can’t be gotten by simply going to a crowdfunding site directly? Granted, they are letting a group of dedicated hardcore gamers tell you whether or not your project can succeed… but don’t these same gamers do the same thing when they choose whether or not to donate to an independent Indiegogo or Kickstarter? Aren’t they just voting with their money?

Quite frankly, it’s hard to see what Square-Enix is actually adding to the crowdfunding process, and the idea of AAA publishers getting involved in crowdfunding is more than a little worrisome. In fact, it feels like it is undermining the spirit of crowdfunding. If these indie developers wanted a publisher telling them what they could and couldn’t do, they would have stuck with traditional publishing methods. I’m a fan of Square-Enix, but until they tell us what they are doing to actually make the crowdfunding process better, Collective will continue to feel like a blatant cash in, or worse, an attempt to control the current crowdfunding wave of success.

Angelo D’ Argenio is a freelance staffer at Arcade Sushi. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the staff at Arcade Sushi or Townsquare Media. (He also thinks that Square-Enix might want to try crowdfunding a Final Fantasy 7 remake.)

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