The bane of every indie developer is financing. Most indies have deliberately forsaken the traditional publisher-funded model in the name of creative freedom. Most other sources of funding, such as venture capital, are either beyond our reach or would put the same restrictions on our creativity as the publisher agreement. So the big problem is how to fund the game.
Many indies are self-funded. This means they are typically financing the game themselves. While some indies may take out personal loans or second mortgages to provide some funds, many are simply working full time somewhere else to pay the bills and developing their game during spare time. Others are surviving on contract work and squeezing time in for their own game whenever possible. In either scenario, it can be difficult to balance the need to survive with the need to create.
Then there is the problem of other team members. It is difficult to get qualified talent who is also so enamored by your game idea that they are willing to work on your game for free while they also hold down another job. At some point, you are going to need money, whether it is to pay people, contract services or purchase the latest version of your favorite software.
Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon that allows indies to raise funds from the general public. Started as a way to fund music and art projects, crowdfunding has now become a viable method for raising funds for games. Several websites have popped up that allow indie developers to create and promote their projects with the sole goal of raising money.
Here’s how a typical crowdfunding project goes. First, you start a project at the crowdfunding website of your choice. You will create a profile for the project that includes information about the game, screenshots and even video footage. The idea, of course, is to drum up excitement about the game, so hyperbole is welcome!
Most crowdfunding sites allow users to browse their catalog of projects, so once you have created a project, it becomes part of the catalog of projects seeking funding. This includes games, films, videos, music, art and other types of projects. Some crowdfunding sites tend to attract users from one particular area, so it is worth doing a little research before choosing the site that is best for your project.
There are variations on how crowdfunding sites work. Typically, once you set up your project, you establish a fundraising goal. Some sites require a deadline; others don’t. One key point to be aware of is what happens if you don’t reach your goal. At some sites, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any money, even if your supporters have pledged money. Other sites allow you to keep whatever you have earned. All charge a small percentage for their services. The lesson is: Pay attention to the small print!
Build it, and they will come — NOT!
So, you just set up a site at the nearest crowdfunding site and then sit back and watch the money roll in, right?
Like any business endeavor, success is determined by what you put into it. You can’t just expect people to stumble across your game project and start sending you money. The crowdfunding website is your platform, but you still have to deliver the message.
This is where you will leverage the power of your social network. Now, instead of promoting your game, you will be promoting your crowdfunding site (which indirectly promotes your game). You will want to utilize all of your networks, be it LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Foursquare, Twitter, Blogs, email campaigns … everything you can think of to get the word out.
There are other things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your campaign. Some ideas might include the following:
- Free copies of the game (at least!)
- Early previews
- Signed art
- Specialty items such as T-Shirts (SWAG!)
- Access to a special forum to provide game input and feedback
The key to a successful crowdfunding campaign is to give your supporters a sense of investment in the game while providing some rewards to them for believing in you.
There are several popular sites where you can start your crowdfunding project. The list below is not comprehensive.
- Kickstarter (http://kickstarter.com): Kickstarter is probably the most popular site for game crowdfunding. With Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal within the designated time limit, your supporters pay no money, and you receive no money. Kickstarter provides space for a variety of projects, including games, music, film and art.
- IndieGogo (http://indiegogo.com): With IndieGogo, you can keep the money you raise even if you don’t meet your goal. However, you will pay a higher percentage to IndieGogo if you don’t raise your goal. IndieGogo hosts a variety of independent projects ranging from games to bands to kite surfers.
- Digital Coproductions (http://digital-coproductions.com/): Digital Coproductions differs in that it focuses entirely on game projects. It provides several support features, including a blog, Wiki and forum designed to help your supporters be easily involved and informed.
- RocketHub (http://www.rockethub.com/): RocketHub is one of the newer guys on the block. RocketHub provides a platform for any creative project, including entrepreneurs, actors, artists, poets and game developers. It even provides a special “Extra Credits” fund specifically targeted toward games.
- Ulule (http://www.ulule.com/): Ulule is more geared toward the fine arts, hosting projects from comics to books to sports and video games. Ulule’s model is based on pre-sales. Prospective supporters are basically pre-buying your game, and if your game doesn’t get released, then no money changes hands.
- 8-Bit Funding (http://8bitfunding.com/): 8-Bit Funding also focuses only on game projects. Contributions to projects are donated directly to the developer’s PayPal account, and no refunds are given, so this is one of the more direct ways for developers to raise money quickly (but a little riskier for the investor).
The above descriptions are not intended to be comprehensive, nor are they intended as endorsements. You should do your homework, investigate each website and then decide which site works best to achieve your goals.
What have you got to lose?
So, what are you waiting for? Crowdfunding has brought the patronage system of the Renaissance to modern times. You may be able to tap into a vast source of funding, and there is absolutely no risk to you as a developer. Crowdfunding, coupled with your social network and some old-fashioned elbow grease, could mean real money for your game project.
Robert Madsen is a game industry evangelist who also happens to run his own independent studio, SynapticSwitch. You can reach Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and questions.