A decade ago, nobody took crowdfunding very seriously, but there have now been over 2,500 video games successfully funded through Kickstarter and similar platforms. In fact, games are more successful in this context than anything else – they make more money, with several getting over the million-dollar mark, and they’re more likely to reach their funding targets, with over a third doing so – twice as many as with crowdfunded projects as a whole. What makes this such a successful funding model and why have gamers embraced it so enthusiastically? What does it mean for the gaming industry in years to come?
Developers and Kickstarters
Perhaps the single biggest factor in crowdfunding’s success is that the gaming industry was crying out for new funding models. Sure, the traditional approach produced some great stuff and we all have big studio games that we love, but the games with the most staying power and overall appeal tend to be those that come out of left field, with very odd – and therefore very fresh – central concepts. Gaming also has a lot of niche markets, with groups of fans passionate about subgenre stuff that the big companies consider too risky to pour money into. Small developers with vision tend to produce the most innovative, exciting games. Now that they can fund their projects directly through crowdfunding sites, it’s much easier for them to work without studio interference, and it’s now the fans who get to choose what does or doesn’t sound like a good idea.
Show me the money
If you were reading the above carefully, you might have noticed a little problem. Over a third of crowdfunded games meet their targets. Close to two thirds don’t. Some of those manage to get off the ground anyway – there’s nothing like hard work and perseverance if you want to be a successful developer – but others stumble even after they’ve raised what they initially requested, because being a good developer is not the same thing as being good at managing finance. This means that if you’re thinking of funding games you should look out for kickstarters where the developers have set realistic goals, often approaching them stage by stage as funds accrue. Make sure it’s clear just what the money will be spent on and if they come back later asking for more, make sure you’re clear on just how much additional work needs to be done before the game is read for release. Ideally you’ll get to test bits and pieces of it along the way so you can get a clearer idea of how it’s shaping up – and provide feedback, of course. You can also try getting a finance specialist like Patrick Dwyer, Merrill Lynch advisor and longstanding gamer, on board.
Mighty No. 9
With its inventive platform action and endearing similarities to Mega Man, Mighty No. 9 was always going to have fan appeal, but nobody expected its Kickstarter campaign to be quite as successful as it was – raising $900,000 in just two days. Of course, the presence of Keiji Inafune may have helped, along with the promise that funders could get to see his team at work and some would even get to have dinner with him.
One way to attract funding to a project is to give fans a further taste of something they’ve enjoyed in the past. Despite Double Fine’s impressive fundraising record, everybody thought they were overreaching themselves when they set a target of $3.3m for a sequel to platform game favorite Psychonauts, but this January they reached that goal and now development is underway. What made fans ready to engage with this given the problems they had previously with Broken Age? The key seems to have been that it was only part of the budget. By contributing their own money too, the developers confirmed their commitment, and fans were excited enough to be willing to share the risk.
Alongside these exciting new games, old favourites like MechWarrior (Battletech) are being revived. While it’s difficult to imagine many big investors understanding their potential, fans want them and fans, now, get to choose. Kickstarters are enabling gamers to reshape the industry on their own terms, and the future is looking bright.