Indie Game Crowdfunding 101 (or two)

On June 22, 2011, in Business & Industry, by Steffen Itterheim

These days the game Interstellar Marines is making news. It’s an FPS that rivals top titles like Halo but it started out as a four-man project in 2006 and is entirely funded by the community. The game is available for free as chunk-size bites called chapters that can be played for free. And it’s being developed with Unity, probably the leading game development framework for indie developers.


Interstellar Marines – unbelievable but crowdfunded!

Crowdfunding platforms

The successes seen by crowdfunded games have created a demand that several crowdfuning websites try to fill. The latest addition is GamesPlant, founded by game business experts where projects can be created in any currency and relies on the Paypal platform.

Other indie game crowdfunding platforms include 8-Bit Funding, the Indie Fund (only selected projects) and Playism (Japanese, english version in Q3 2011). Of course there are more general purpose platforms that have also worked for games, like Kickstarter (creative projects), RocketHub (creative projects), Pledgie (general purpose) and Indie GoGo (general purpose).

Should you aim for a crowdfund?

It depends.

One indie developer nails it down to driving traffic. Obviously, just putting your game up on a crowdfunding platform and hoping for the best isn’t going to work. Hope is not a strategy. I cringe when someone uses the “hope” word in a sentence about the future of anything. If you have to rely on hope, you could as well start playing the lottery.

Driving traffic is the core issue, and I believe many developers seem to forget that. You have to have a website dedicated to your project and depending on where you are in your development cycle, it should be a seperate website apart from your personal blog and past projects.

You can have lots of “fans” of your project in someone else’s forum or website. But ultimately you want that traffic to go to your website. And once you have that, you can start thinking about funding your project. If you have a tight-knit community, then donations or pre-orders might work great for you. Or any of the other funding options. Or you could try crowdfunding as your primary option and simply direct your fans and drive your traffic to the crowdfunding website. It’s rarely going to be the other way around.

In any case, you will have to drive the traffic to the desired destination. Traffic does not come by itself, and without traffic there is no funding and no revenue. And for crowdfunding specifically, the more you have to show from your game the more likely it is that you are going to see a return in investment. It’s a constant give and take. Don’t expect to take first, then give sometime later. It’s the other way around, and this may be the ultimate misunderstanding of crowdfunding.

You do have to make payments in advance yourself. Without investing anything you won’t be getting anything back in return. That initial investment doesn’t have to be money though, it’ll be time and dedication that you’ll have to invest at a minimum. And you’ll have to show that with convincing screenshots, trailers, podcasts or vodcasts, frequent blog posts and so on. Convincing in two ways: one, you’ll be able to pull this off and show enough dedication for the project. Two, the game should promise to be fun and exciting and offer something new or refreshing.

Those are the ingredients for starting a game that can’t be completed without external financial support.

Prerequisites To (Crowd) Funding

I believe investments are often misunderstood by those who have never received an investment. To receive investment of any form, you first have to invest yourself. Quite literally: invest your time into the project, and if you can, your money. The more you do the more you show dedication. That’s step 1.

If you can’t possibly finance the whole game and you have to have an investment of some kind, your focus immediately has to shift from programming and creating game content to marketing. Only program and create content that you can show the world in some form or another. Anything that creates interest or buzz. A randomly generated world. A fun-to-watch teaser trailer. Anything you can make a story off of.

You will have to market something that doesn’t exist yet, except in your dreams and in your mind. I think this is giving some developers a bad stomach feeling, after all you’re taking money from others just on a promise. If you have that feeling, please re-consider your dedication for the project. If you don’t know whether you’ll be able to keep your promises and deliver, you may not be as invested in the project and convinced of yourself as you need to be. That’s what I mean by investing yourself.

Of course there will always be phases of doubts, so don’t stop on the first sign of doubt but know when you have to stop. Your best cure will be to keep on working. If needed work on something else that you’re not currently stuck on. I always have something else to work on, and some other website to post on, in order to be able to shift focus and just keep on working on something I feel like working on at the moment.

Make progress as often as you can – contrary to common project management wisdom what you work on does not always have to be goal-oriented or even useful. After all, we’re in a creative business, and creativity can not be had if you strictly follow instructions – whether they’re your own or someone else’s (your boss, your investor, your community). Just don’t piss them off too much. Quick bit of wisdom: it is much easier to apologize afterwards with something to show for than it is to ask for permission with only a promise and potential risks.

Finally, show that progress. That’s step 2. Rinse and repeat step 2 for as long as it gives you enough satisfaction. Notice that I said satisfaction, not revenue – unless your investor(s) call(s) for that. In which case you’ll have to be 100% ok with revenue generation being your central goal from the get-go. Don’t expect to be able to mix pleasure and business – it can happen but you can hardly ever plan for that, and business has a tendency to take away pleasure and fun from a project in the long run.

Luckily, in that regard you’re mostly off the hook if you use crowdfunding. And I believe that’s where its power lies – it requires a good connection between customers and developers from the start.

What’s The Best Investment Option?

Plain and simple: invest in yourself. Everything else follows from that.

Disclaimer

Take a time-out if needed to focus on other things. Don’t feel bad about that. Continuing to work for the wrong reasons and despite growing discomfort will result in the ultimate failure – be aware of the warning signs!

Burnout can happen everywhere, not just in big corporations!

The rise of the amateur professional

On March 19, 2009, in Good Advice, by Steffen Itterheim

In this deceptively casual talk, Charles Leadbeater weaves a tight argument that innovation isn’t just for professionals anymore. Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can’t. Link to this Talk.

Why would you want to view this 20 minute talk? If you want to be re-inforced that open source, communities and “consumers as producers” will be a big part of our future and in some areas already is the main competitor to large, if not monopolist, corporations.

Please wait for the ad at the beginning to be over.

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