The Storybricks project has taken to Kickstarter, in a move that's as fascinating from the business model perspective as the tool itself.
A Twist on Kickstarter
The traditional Kickstarter model is to ask for funds because you need the funds to complete the proposed project. For example, Ferrel needed about $4000 to publish the Raider's Companion because he wasn't able to risk fronting the cash needed for editing, art, and other costs. Goal reached, book published. As Tobold writes, relying on this model for funding to develop an MMO is problematic - even Storybricks' $250K ask is very low in an industry that spends more than 100 times that on a triple-A title.
Reading Psychochild's post about the campaign suggests that they're going in a slightly different direction - what I'd suggest we could call emergent gameplay in the world of Kickstarter. They would like $250K in funding - as would any independent project - but what they're really after is $250K in revenue. The theory - I'd suggest this is the same model that led to the two recent multi-million dollar game campaigns on kickstarter - is that revenue demonstrates to investors (either third party or within the studio itself if it has the means) that they will potentially profit from putting up money now, at a comparatively early stage in the project.
The Storybricks project itself is a similarly quirky approach to MMO development. The hope is to develop an artificial intelligence system for modeling NPC reactions to other characters first and then hoping to eventually build a game - and a system for player-generated content around that. I have little idea how that will play out in practice, but it would hopefully result in something that looks different from the rest of the MMO pack.
The campaign runs through the beginning of June and has currently amassed over $9000 in pledges from more than 200 donors - a lot by most standards but only a small step towards $250K. Like most Kickstarter projects, backing this effort is a kind of purchasing decision - you will not be charged if they fail to reach the goal they say they need to fund the project, and you should in principle receive the promised goods if the project is funded. Of course, the value of some of the longer term subscriptions will likely be diminished if the team does not eventually secure additional funds, but I'm guessing that most backers know what they're getting into - a longshot that, if successful, would be genuinely innovative in a genre that hasn't shown much interested in that activity precisely because of the large amounts of money involved.
Whatever the outcome, this is a campaign to watch - both because of the actual project and because of its implications for future attempts at Kickstarter-funding MMO's.