Eric Johnson

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Why Can’t This Breathtaking Game Get Funded on Kickstarter? (Update: Funded!)

urlThe promise of crowdfunding is alluring: Creative people can turn their ideas into reality democratically, without having to compromise or sell their souls to a big corporation.

And certainly, more than a few projects live up to that dream, a notable recent example being the super-cool 3-D printing pen 3Doodler, which AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes wrote about earlier this week.

But as in the real world, democracy doesn’t guarantee success to those who seemingly deserve it — it only guarantees the opportunity of success. And in the gaming world, innovation doesn’t come easy, as Throw Trucks With Your Mind is learning.

url-1Like the film “Snakes on a Plane,” Throw Trucks With Your Mind is exactly what it says on the can: Players wear a NeuroSky headset (pictured, left) that translates the brain’s electrical signals into commands for a multiplayer telekinetic battle.

Instead of guns, brain-powered modes like “throw,” “pull” and “high jump” are all players have to attack and defend themselves, and depending on how they either focus or relax their minds, those modes become faster and more powerful.

So, with a little bit of concentration, a player can lift a light barrel, but with concerted focus, it’s possible to stand on top of a heavy vehicle and levitate it off the ground. The titular trucks are extremely difficult to move, but guaranteed to kill targets in one hit.

VentureBeat’s Rus McLaughlin has written a much lengthier account (with some NSFW language) of his hands-on experience with the game. But I can say from having tried a limited demo of Throw Trucks With Your Mind last weekend that it is, indeed, a thrilling glimpse of what being a Jedi must be like.

In a more grounded sense, the game is proof positive that both wearable technology and novel game mechanics could underpin whatever the future of non-mobile games will be. In that way, it’s like the extremely well-funded Kickstarter project Oculus Rift, which Peter Kafka recently demoed live onstage at D: Dive Into Media.

imgresBut with less than two weeks left in its campaign, Throw Trucks With Your Mind is just barely over the halfway mark to its goal. If it’s so great, then why is it not blowing up on Kickstarter? A few reasons:

  • The video: Kickstarter loves, loves, loves a good video, and Throw Trucks With Your Mind has a perfectly fine one (embedded below). But the difference between watching people play the game and actually playing it is like comparing apples and watermelons. And unlike other, simpler games, no one will be able to play a demo of the game unless they already have access to one of NeuroSky’s $80 MindWave headsets. Which takes us to …
  • The price: $80 is already far more than you would pay for a game from an established, reliable series like Halo or Call of Duty. But here, that only gets you the hardware. The lowest tier for Kickstarter backers that nets them a copy of the game is the $25 level. Unlike the Oculus Rift campaign, rewards for cheapskate backers — like t-shirts and posters — are nowhere to be found.
  • The headset: To put it bluntly, the MindWave is not a gaming device. At least, not without this game, it isn’t. NeuroSky’s online application store offers nearly 50 games, but they mostly seem to be crude ports or imitations of existing games, with some brain control tacked on. Throw Trucks With Your Mind’s creator, Lat Ware, readily admits that brain-controlled devices have earned a “bad reputation … over the years” with products like the Star Wars Force Trainer.
  • Kickstarter itself: When it works, it’s great. But by design, Kickstarter’s powers to endorse specific projects are limited. The site’s editors named his game a “Staff Pick,” but Ware said it “hasn’t really provided much support beyond that.” Save for those few that explode into Internet phenomena, most crowdfunded projects are all about the people you know in meatspace and the ones you can reach online via social media.

On top of all that, browsing the rosters of successfully funded Kickstarter games suggests that backers are more readily drawn to nostalgic titles that revive game mechanics the big AAA publishers have long since left for dead. Point-and-click adventures, 2D RPGs and side-scrollers abound.

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 2.03.16 PMOf course, there’s still time for TTWYM to meet its minimum $40,000 goal. But at the time of this writing, it seems very unlikely that it will reach its “stretch goals” that include (at $100,000) Oculus Rift support.

Ware compares the whole process to a panic attack that lasts 30 days rather than a few minutes. And if it fails, he has already made up his mind: “I will have proven that there is not enough demand for it,” Ware said. “I will start work on something else.”

Here’s the video introducing the project:

Update 3/11/13: Throw Trucks With Your Mind has passed its $40,000 minimum goal. But, as noted above, its stretch goals of $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000, each of which would have offered more robust features, seem to be out of reach.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald