Matthew Sawrey

a portfolio of videogame writings

A Fine Investment

What could the fan funded model mean for the future of videogame development?


If you could make any videogame what would you choose? It’s an indulgent fantasy that often occupies the pixelated imaginations of gamers. And as it turns out a rather fervent number of you would answer that with “Whatever the hell Tim Schafer would make”.

Double Fine’s Kickstarter project has now raised over $1,500,000 from upwards of 50,000 fans, far exceeding the original goal of $400,000. In return for a donation pledgers will be rewarded with an unprecedented insight into the development process through all manner of videoblogs, goodies and even a studio tour and lunch with Schaffer himself, depending on the generosity of your contribution.

Prior to this Minecraft creator Marcus Pearson (A.K.A Notch) had engaged in public twitter conversations with Schaffer offering to fund a sequel to Double Fine’s critically lauded yet commercially lacking Psychonauts. Notch himself being no stranger to a fan funded development structure. Minecraft was made available to purchase during its alpha and beta stages, giving consumers the option to pay a lower price point for earlier entry. The incredible momentum and publicity that Minecraft received not only made Notch a millionaire practically overnight, but gave a small indie developer a probing army of paying playtesters.

Free to play might be the current buzz phrase in terms of release model, but fan funded could easily have a comparably significant impact on the typical publisher funded business model.  A quick scan of Kickstarter reveals a wonderfully diverse array of film, music, gaming and other artistic projects based upon simple yet creative premises not only meeting their targets, but far exceeded their initial goals.

The fan funded model isn’t just constrained to smaller indie projects either. Slightly Mad Studios (developer of Need for Speed Shift and Shift 2 Unleashed) has created its own platform, named World of Mass Development, through which fans of a project proposal can actively participate in its development. Much like the Double Fine kickstarter adventure project varying levels of investment are rewarded with varying degrees of development insight. Only this time investors can actively participate in that development with access to monthly builds, developer meeting minutes and the ability to submitting feedback and changes to the game. Once the title is finished they are rewarded with a free final copy and compensation based upon sales.

Undoubtedly then the fan funded model is gaining momentum. As a method through which fan investment can dictate what gets made it seems far more empowering than studio’s simply predicting the market. Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence of a creative medium constrained to a business model in which safer sequels are the inevitable choice due to financial security.

Not every project will have as passionate a fan base as that Double Fine has accrued over years of trusted quality though. And if the funding model takes off there is a danger that oversaturation of low quality projects asking for too much money could quickly stifle it. Still it is just as easy to envisage that the next great creative mind, the next Notch or Schaffer will emerge from such a melting pot of raw creativity if we give them the chance and invest in them.

So what game do you want to help make? Personally I’ve just sold my car for the Beyond Good and Evil 2 fund.

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2012 by in Articles, Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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