Thoughts on Crowdfunding
Traditionally, gaming involved a company releasing information about their latest title in drips and drabs to the public until the release date. Game development is a competitive and volatile market, and popular games are often cloned. Being the first to market in a popular genre or with unique gameplay can garner a large portion of fans, so developers are hesitant to give too much away to their competitors while they are trying to excite their fans before they launch.
Big publishers spend millions on advertising and marketing to stir up hype and input from gamers is often limited to voting with their wallets after the game was released. As Indie developers usually barely have enough cash to make a game, let alone market it, they have to come up with more creative solutions to impress gamers and take more risks with project transparency.
In the US, funding sources are somewhat restricted. It’s not as easy as asking your friends and family to invest in your game if you are an Indie, unless your friends and family make more than $200,000 a year or have more than $1,000,000 in assets not including their home. Indies also run the risk of larger funders refusing to invest in the future by taking unregistered investor’s money, not to mention the expensive piles of paperwork that need to be filed.
Developers can approach publishers for support but due to the risks involved, big publishers tend to prefer franchises, with proven track records of big sales and concepts that they deem mainstream enough to be profitable. This is obviously a very stifling environment for what is supposed to be a creative industry, which is why so many studios are following the Indie approach. Instead of trying to convince people who often have no interest in the industry beyond how much money it can make them, developers can pitch their ideas directly to the people who are excited to play them.
One method of generating cash as an Indie developer is by involving players with your game, instead of simply selling it to them. This is done through crowdfunding options such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo or schemes such as Alpha funding and Early Access. These avenues are often necessary as, contrary to popular belief; Indie games are not cheap to develop, the budgets are just a bit more creative than at big box studios.
With services such as Kickstarter, developers can explain exactly what their goals with a game are, and how much they need to achieve them, and then the public can pledge money. The pledge amounts usually depend on the reward tiers, with higher pledges rewarding players with extra goodies. Kickstarter has seen a lot of success stories with titles such as Torment: Tides of Numenera, Project Eternity, Double Fine Adventure and Star Citizen making millions in pledges. Of course, these are projects from developers that are well known and respected in the industry and not your typical small, unknown Indie team. With Kickstarter projects, backers usually have limited input on the development of the game and often have to wait until the game is complete in order to play.
Alpha Funding and Early Development on the other, gives players access to the game as soon as they have purchased their copy. The benefit is that players can immediately start playing and give their feedback, which the developers can then use to improve the game. Perhaps the most famous example of Alpha Funding is Minecraft, although other games such as Don’t Starve has experienced considerable success using this model. Kickstarter has its merits, but delivering on all the reward tiers can take away time from what matters most, completing the game. With Alpha funding, developers can focus on creating a great game and incorporate feedback from buyers who are already involved with playing the game.
Crowdfunding is a useful avenue for generating revenue for Indie developers that would otherwise not have been able to complete their games. Digital distribution has made it easier for Indie developers to get their games in the hands of players without relying on publishers, but there are still a lot of costs involved. Gamers, instead of relying on marketing hype that all too often leads to disappointment, check out some Indie developers before they make it big and support their campaigns. Not only will you help encourage creativity in the industry, but you may also learn some valuable insights on how games are created.