[In this, the first part of a two-part series, Gamasutra takes a look at whether indie developers can get the money they need from crowdfunding, speaking to successful and unsuccessful developers, as well as investigating whether popular site Kickstarter is the only viable option.]
Funding a game isn't easy. And that's especially true for small, independent developers. Unless you happen to have a nest egg of savings laying around, manage to catch the eye of a publisher, or are lucky enough to live somewhere with readily available government funding, your choices are limited. And one of those choices is to ask for donations through crowd-sourced funding services like Kickstarter and 8-Bit Funding.
These services let creators of all stripes, including game developers, list their projects, a funding goal, and a deadline. Potential donators can browse these projects and decide which, if any, they want to donate to and how much they want to give. If a project manages to reach its goal by the deadline, the creators get to keep the funds.
But even though this option is freely available, not every project manages to successfully score enough funding. Different factors determine why people will decide to donate to one game, as opposed to another.
Whether or not a developer already has an audience, for example, can be a big determining factor. As can the project itself: different types of games attract different levels of interest.
Zeboyd Games recently managed to successfully fund a project on Kickstarter. After releasing the parody RPG Cthulhu Saves the World on Xbox Live Indie Games to some acclaim, the small studio decided to get to work on a PC port of the game. Problem was, Microsoft pays XBLIG developers on a quarterly basis. And since Cthulhu was released at the end of 2010, that meant that Zeboyd wouldn't see any royalties until May.
So, after a recommendation from a friend, the studio decided to try utilizing Kickstarter to fund the project.
The initial funding goal was $3,000, but in just two days the project managed to surpass the $2,500 plateau. And after a little over two weeks that number more than doubled, with over $5,300 raised.
"I thought $3,000 raised over a month was pretty ambitious on our part," said Zeboyd's Robert Boyd. "I had no idea that we would end up raising that amount in just a handful of days."
Cthulu Saves the World
Boyd puts the success of Cthulhu down to a variety of factors, including the popularity of the character in internet culture, as well as the studio's already existing fan base. But it was also a matter of convincing people that what he was working on was something worthwhile.
"You really need to prove to people that you're worth taking a chance on and not just another wannabe game developer that isn't going to actually finish anything," said Boyd. "A good reputation from past projects helps immensely, but even if it's your first game, you can still make an impressive trailer and garner support that way."
Kickstarter also features a reward system that lets those seeking funding offer special bonuses to potential supporters. Depending on how much a user contributes, the reward is more substantial. In the case of Cthulhu, Zeboyd offered everything from a copy of the game and a signed poster to a short story created by the game's writer.
But in spite of how successful the funding experiment turned out to be, Boyd said that he hopes the studio won't have to test the crowdsourced funding waters again. However, even if the studio isn't in need of funding, he does see one potential application for the service in the future.
"It might be useful to use Kickstarter for gauging demand for a project: use it as a sort of preorder system where if you get enough preorders, you greenlight the project."