Professor Paul: from what I've seen, quite lesser projects have gotten lots more budget, I humbly submit. Some folks that seem barely able to code at all, and have pre-Quake-II-looking art have managed to get $60k+ by making extravagant promises they can't hope to keep.
In our case, I'm going to present the facts and let people decide. The fact is, making games costs a lot of money. Another fact is, there's a lot of repetition and staleness in games; we genuinely try to do something new, and we put our own budget to that at the expensive of art. We don't have budget to do both.
Since some people gripe that the art stinks, we're offering them a chance to help change that via a kickstarter. If they don't find the idea appealing, they can simply vote by not funding it. On the plus side, unlike a lot of kickstarters people will know exactly what they are getting: the game already exists, and the prototype of the new graphics will be complete enough that people can fund it if they like it.
At worst it can help to bring to light the costs of art development in games: if people want to bemoan the lack of innovation in games while at the same time demanding AAA quality out of anything they play, they're going to be perpetually disappointed. The people with the AAA budgets have corporate overlords that won't let them take the sorts of creative risks we do. People like myself don't have the AAA sort of budgets, and so there's no question of my being able to fund it at that level.
I'm not sure what is distressing to you about the costs I mentioned above. Did you think it was free for us to create a new enemy? All the art and coding just pops magically into place? Even if we were paying coders only $15 an hour (which we do not), $20 for an enemy is incredibly cheap. I bet you the average enemy in a AAA game costs over $10,000 to create when all is said and done. And that's probably undershooting it when you figure the concept artists, the modelers, the riggers, the animators, the coders, the AI, and whatever else. A lot of AAA games have something like 20 unique enemies but took 10+ years and millions of dollars to create. It's not like all their time was spent on enemy creation, but that's certainly a big part of it.
We're incredibly lean and efficient about the whole process here at Arcen, but the fact is we're not one of the ultra-tiny indies that do 4-bit or 8-bit graphics and a small game, or even one of the teams of 6 people who are 1/3 artists and they do something that looks pleasing but which also gives you a couple of hours of playtime.
But if your enthusiasm is dropping like a stone when you contemplate the huge costs of each enemy added when it's all custom art that looks nice, that's pretty close to how I felt early into this project. There was no way that was going to be sustainable on my budget, and so hence the stock art approach with myself doing all the lighting and post-work and such. Since that has been met with derision, I'm offering those who seem to want to like the game but don't like the graphics a way to get what they want: the game with graphics they like.
If there aren't enough people who want that, then the kickstarter won't get funded, and I'm only out a few thousand dollars, and life moves on. I won't be offended; in some ways having the kickstarter NOT get funded would be a vindication of my past choices, wouldn't it? But if it does get funded then presumably we're reaching a larger audience and making more people happy, and having a better-looking game to boot.
Depending on what style and what studio we go with, our ongoing cost-per-enemy could be quite a bit lower than the $400 high water mark I mentioned, of course, as well. But that's likely to be a lower-res pixelart style that will at least look pleasingly cohesive (and probably load faster and be better on RAM, I expect).
If anyone thinks that designers/programmers are incompetent because the art they produce looks like what is what is in AVWW based on the budget we've had, then I don't know what to say to that. Those sorts of folks aren't reasonable and likely already hate us anyhow -- certain people already go out of their way to do things like sign up on metacritic just to give us a 0/10 review for the game. So it's clear there are some haters one way or the other.
In the end, I think it's about choice. There's no way I'm going to gamble and try to fund a major art overhaul myself. That would be madness, and could end the company if the gamble didn't pay off. That would be incompetence. On the other hand, I see relatively little harm in offering players (prospective or actual) a choice of whether the art is worth it to them. There are already plenty of people who think I'm highly incompetent anyhow, so a few more won't make any difference. The lucky thing is there's a lot of people in the world.