I'm Glad I Spent $500 on a Video Game Kickstarter

By Keza MacDonald on at

Amplitude - one of now-famous music-game developer Harmonix's first rhythm games - was one of my formative games in the early '00s. It was my introduction to the rhythm and bemani genre, which I have adored ever since, and the first twitch game I ever loved. I spent a good chunk of my 15th year of life sat in front of it with a blue DualShock controller that I'd bought specially, because the R1 button on my normal controller was a teensy bit sticky, and whatever chemical stimulants I could find.

When Harmonix decided to try to revive it, through an ambitious $775,000 Kickstarter campaign, I got a bit carried away. Initially I pledged $100. But after a week, when the campaign started to falter, it looked like my dream game wasn't going to make it. I upped my pledge to $500 - on some level, I probably thought it wasn't going to succeed, and I wouldn't have to actually pay up. But it did - Amplitude was funded, and I felt an odd mix of joy and self-admonishment as £305.33 exited my bank account.

That was in May 2014. Here is what I got for that:

-Early access to the game
-My name in the credits, along with thousands of others
-Original art print
-Vinyl soundtrack
-PS2-style case with new box art
-'Rad' t-shirt
-Access to the Song Senate forums, where I would supposedly get a say in which music made it in

One of Amplitude's trophies involves getting a 3-bar score on every song. I nearly cried when I got this one; it's the final song of the game.

I was one of nine people who pledged at that level. I never visited the Song Senate forum even once. None of the physical rewards have arrived yet. I did get early access to the game, but other European backers weren't so lucky; PSN issues meant that plenty of people who'd pledged at an early-access level and lived outside of the UK or US still had to wait until the game officially launched in January. Despite all of that, though, I'm happy I spent that money.

I've always been slightly puzzled by the entitlement that sometimes get attached to spending money on a video game: "I've spent £40, why isn't it exactly how I want it?" But when you spend over £300 on a game, entitlement is inevitable. It is a ludicrous amount to spend on a video game. When Amplitude got delayed, then delayed again after the Kickstarter campaign succeeded, I felt stabs of ire that I'd never felt before. When a game's delayed, it's because it's not good enough yet, and I'd rather have a great game than an almost-great one any day. But when a game you've paid that much money for gets delayed? It felt different. I felt like Harmonix was personally accountable to me, because I'd spent all that money (which, although a lot for me, is a laughably trivial amount in the context of game development).

Luckily Harmonix was very good at communicating with backers. More importantly, though, when Amplitude did come out, it was chuffing excellent. I spent many nights of January twisting my fingers around the new songs on Expert, sinking into the uniquely pleasurable trance that comes with mastery of extremely difficult rhythm games. I'm on the verge of unlocking Super difficulty (I need to be able to reliably score a teensy bit more on one song, then I'll have it.) I am in the top 1% of the global leaderboards. Forgive the brag. I have never been as good at anything as I was at Amplitude when I was 15 (I was in the top 10 in Europe) and I am unlikely to ever be as good at anything else ever again. It is near-religious for me.

That time my hands tragically gave out at the end of a perfect Freezepop run.

I am playing a game that I love, but it's also something that I feel a part of. Amplitude wouldn't exist without the 14,112 people who spent their own money on it on faith, and as one of those people I feel a unique emotional attachment to it. It's boosted the enjoyment I'm getting out of it. Perhaps this is just an example of how we tend to self-justify our own purchases, especially the extravagant impulse ones, but either way I'm happy.

I spend a lot of time reading about - and writing about - Kickstarter disasters, but this experience has illuminated for me why it is that people take the chance and pledge for things they believe in. When it works, it's wonderful.