Kick-off: How crowdfunding changed games development forever

Kick-off: How crowdfunding changed games development forever
In February 2012, an iPhone dock became the first Kickstarter campaign to raise more than a million dollars.

It was an impressive feat, but just one month later, that record was smashed by a gaming project. Tim Schafer and Double Fine's Kickstarter campaign raised $3.3 million, and prompted an explosion in videogame crowdfunding.

Since then, gaming projects have raised millions in crowdfunded capital every month. The funding revolution has tempted industry luminaries back into the fray, provided a new platform for indies to gain support, and served as the launching pad for an entirely new console.

Indeed, such was the success of gaming crowdfunding campaigns that Kickstarter officially declared 2012 its "Year of The Game," noting that "in 2012, more dollars have been pledged to Games projects than to any other category."

Light blue touch paper…

Double Fine's campaign may have been the catalyst for this industry-wide bout of crowdfunding fever, but the studio's staggering success has already been eclipsed by other gaming projects.

For instance, the Ouya – a low-cost games console running the Android OS – raised more than $8.5 million through Kickstarter in August.

Then, in October, backers pledged almost $4 million to enable US independent developer Obsidian Entertainment to make a new PC RPG.

That may be a relatively small budget by modern development standards but, crucially, it allows Obsidian to create a game without publisher support, and therefore (the thinking goes) without compromise.

That's an ideal that gamers love, and they're willing to support it with their wallets.

So, when Charles Cecil announced he'd be bringing Broken Sword back after a six-year hiatus, his Kickstarter pitch emphasised the "creative freedom" that a crowdfunded development budget would allow him and his team.

It helps that Revolution Software is a developer with pedigree, of course, and that Cecil is known as the series' auteur. All these factors persuaded gamers to part with more than $750,000 to fund the development of Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse for desktop and mobile devices.

Pitching up

Since then, Kickstarter has officially launched in the UK, giving other veterans of British game development the chance to revisit their beloved early work.

One such developer is, of course, Peter Molyneux, who's revisiting the god-game genre with Project GODUS. In order to bring his 'reimagining' of Populus to PC, iOS and Android, Molyneux raised £483,051 through Kickstarter, narrowly beating his £450,000 target.

It goes to show that even industry celebrities aren't guaranteed their slice of the crowdfunding pie, and there's increasingly a sense that established figures should use established methods to bring their games to market - leaving the likes of Kickstarter open to indie upstarts.

But even, if some claim, Kickstarter is now home to an excess of high-profile, big-money projects, it's worth noting that Kickstarter isn't the only crowdfunding option.

Other platforms cater to different niches, different budgets and different models of funding. As such, it's worth exploring the options carefully before you launch your hundred-million dollar crowdfunding campaign.

Different strokes for different folks

Kickstarter is comfortably the largest and best-known crowdfunding platform, and home to most of the multi-million dollar crowdfunding success stories. Based in the US, Kickstarter recently began accepting projects based in the UK, although backers can be based elsewhere.

But while Kickstarter is home to plenty of big-money projects, the quality bar for pitches has been set formidably high, and competition is stiff.

IndieGoGo, meanwhile, operates in much the same way as Kickstarter, but has been around for a few years longer, and is perhaps home to an ever broader range of crowdfunding projects – including games.

To date, the highest sum raised in an IndieGoGo campaign is just under $1.4 million, so it's not the place to go seeking multi-million dollar funding, but slightly smaller projects might stand a better chance of standing out on IndieGoGo.

Gamesplanet Lab is another alternative, and one dedicated entirely to gaming. The platform hopes to distinguish itself by vetting all submitted projects for quality – therefore ensuring that only the most promising projects make it onto the site.

The Lab also emphasises collaboration between developers and backers, in the hope of creating an "unprecedented relationship" between players and studios.

Interestingly, unlike many other platforms, those seeking funding must "commit by contract to design a game whose feasibility will have previously been assessed by both parties."

While all of the aforementioned platforms only allow users to 'back' projects, UK-based Gambitious allows users to invest in games, too. Studios can offer equity in return for financing, thus turning crowdfunders into genuine investors in the company.

Similarly, platforms such as Seedrs and Invesdor enable entrepreneurs to crowdfund capital in exchange for equity – although these services are focused on start ups rather than individual projects.

FundersClub is another equity crowdfunding platform, albeit one with a 'crowd' of 'accredited investors.'

No sure things

So there are plenty of options to explore, and plenty of potential backers out there looking for projects to get behind.

But it's also worth noting that, despite all the optimism surrounding crowdfunding, success is by no means a sure thing, and there's a low tolerance for wobbly pitches or the slightest whiff of over-reaching.

The Oliver Twins may be respected veterans of the UK development scene, but backer simply weren't interested when they asked Kickstarter for £350,000 to reboot the Dizzy series.

Perhaps gamers were put off by the fact £350,000 sounds like an awful lot of money to develop a 2D platformer, and there was a sense that backers are being asked to take on an overly large chunk of the project's financial risk.

Whether true or not, this perception hurt the campaign's chances, and goes to show how easily these projects can come a cropper – even when old pros are at the helm.

It's a difficult process, and that's why PocketGamer.biz has produced its report on crowdfunding.

Using examples of real world success and failure, as well as the latest crowdfunding facts and figures, the Mobile Games Briefing contains useful data, considered insight and practical advice for those considering crowdfunding.
Staff Writer

PocketGamer.biz's news editor 2012-2013


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