Zero Point Software has raised upwards of $125,000 to make their game, Interstellar Marines. In an experiment they are calling “AAA Indie,” their fans are actually funding the game’s development.
This is not an entirely new concept. Musicians have used fan-funding, or crowdfunding, to fund record albums and concert tours. Crate Entertainment has used fan-funding to fund it’s game, Grim Dawn. Markus Persson has used it to a large extent to fund Minecraft. Spiral Studios and it’s game, Orion: Prelude, has also been funded by crowdfunding they obtained through Kickstarter.com.
The upside is, of course, studio control over the project. For the price of involving the community in the making of the game, which actually creates rabid fans of your project, studios maintain control over their IP, their profits, and the making of the game itself.
Unfortunately, every upside has a downside. The money tends to trickle in instead of coming as a lump sum. Some of the crowd-sourcing websites, such as Kickstarter, will not give you the money if your goal is not met. Delays in funding can create production delays and make it hard to pay workers. That is potentially a large downside. However, when it works, it seems to work very well.
There are several ways to go about fan-funding your project. Like Spiral Studios, you could pitch your project to fans on Kickstarter, 8-Bit Funding, IndieGoGo, or RocketHub. Since most of these sites do require you to reach the goal you set before you actually get any money, this may be the best source of seed money to begin your project, but it is probably not the best way to sustain your project.
To sustain the project, then, a community site, such as Zero Point Software’s Interstellar Marines page, will be the next step. This gives investors an active role in the community, continual access to the studio, and updates of the game’s progress. In return for investing in the studio and the game, the games funded in this way usually offer tiered rewards. For a minimal investment, players may get upgraded forum access and forum enhancements that identify them as investors. As the fan increases investment amounts, the investment packages improve to include concept art, t-shirts, access to slices of the game, access to demos, the opportunity to be chosen as a beta tester, promises of in-game rewards and access to exclusive content and, ultimately, a copy of the completed game.
As stated earlier, this kind of access to a game and game development creates rabid fans. Similar to developer diaries, this level of communication between developers and consumers enhances an environment in which players care not only for the game, but for the studio, itself. Players want a say in the game. They enjoy giving feedback. Being able to take part in communicating with the company as a game is made gives them a feeling of inclusion in the outcome. It also opens up a line of understanding in which players no longer question decisions made by a developer regarding game mechanics or assets because the developer is already sharing their reasoning.