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When players buy your game before it's done: Expert tips on alpha funding
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When players buy your game before it's done: Expert tips on alpha funding

July 30, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next
 

Markus Persson - Minecraft 

It's fair to say that Markus "Notch" Persson is the figurehead of the recent alpha funding movement in video games.

After Persson put up his game Minecraft as an alpha-funded title back in 2009, the game's popularity snowballed to the point where the Swedish developer was pulling in thousands of sales every day.

Of course, everyone in the industry now knows of Minecraft's roaring success, and much of that can be put down to the way in which Persson initially offered the game as an alpha build. His Mojang studio clearly still believes in the alpha route too, given that its second game, Scrolls, recently launched as an alpha.

"I don't think there's a magical best time for doing this," he tells me of alpha funding. "All projects are different, and things fit in on different stages."

"For a game like Minecraft, it makes sense to release early and fund early," he continues, "but for other games (such as story-heavy games) it makes no sense to release an incomplete product. Then it might be better to look into something like Kickstarter if you absolutely need money up front to fund it."

From Persson's perspective, alpha funding is perfect for developers who have built up a close relationship with their fans, to the point where the fans become as excited about the possibilities of your game as you yourself. Of course, even in this instance, it's always worth keeping in mind that you might still fail.

"The benefits are that you don't have to rely on a publisher, and that you can get people passionate about the game early on," he notes. "The added pressure of people already having paid for the game can help motivate you to work on it as well."

And Persson cites one of the same issues that DayZ's Hall brought up -- that if your game isn't very fun from the get-go, "you can't really stop working on it and move on to something that actually might be fun, unless you have very understanding fans."

I asked Persson whether, if Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general had been as massively popularity back in 2009 as it is now, would he have considered going down that route instead of alpha funding?

"No," he replies. "I think the business model of 'give us money now, and we might give you a full game in six to eighteen months' is a bit shady, personally."

"I'm much more comfortable saying 'give us a smaller amount of money now and you get the game as it exists now, and when (and if) the game finishes, you get all updates for free.' As I said, this doesn't work for all games, but it works great for a game like Minecraft."

From his experience with his Minecraft alpha funding project, Persson says that the number one thing to keep in mind when going down the alpha funding route is to make sure you clearly communicate exactly what you are selling from the moment you put it up for sale, what exists in the alpha build, and what might change in the future. 

Chris Simpson - Project Zomboid 

Another massive alpha funding success story is Project Zomboid, an isometric open-world zombie survival game that has been in development for a couple of year snow.

Chris Simpson, one of the founders of development team The Indie Stone, says that the key factors to take note of when considering alpha funding for your game are whether the genre and style of your project will work well in an alpha setting.

"Sandbox games, or multiplayer-focused games (or even more so, both) are definitely the best suited to alpha funding," he reasons. "This is because the first experience of the game is not as highly valued as it would be with a heavily narrative-driven game, for example."

"An equivalent would be going to see an early cut of a movie with incomplete CGI sequences and green-screens," he continues. "It would ruin the experience, not let the player get invested in the story, and ultimately not be satisfying."

Without the sandbox or community-driven elements, the number of surprises is reduced, and therefore someone coming back to an alpha build months later might not find much to talk about.

If you do have a game that fits the bill, though, Simpson argues that alpha funding can be the greatest thing for both your game and your studio's creativity.

"It puts indie devs in a position where they can be much more realistically ambitious in the games they want to make," he notes.


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Comments


Vincent Pride
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Very interesting and inspiring article.
The only question remains - how does developer get into Early Access program?

Ken Nakai
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Great insight. As with development methodologies and the like, it's all about whether it fits with your game.

Chris Crawford
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Nice article. I find it interesting to think about how different these games would have been without the feedback that comes with alpha funding.

Sergio Rosa
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Thanks a lot for the article, it was very usefuil and got me a few new ideas. Specially because I'm someone who's alpha funding a puzzle game, so my case is very similar to that of Kairo.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

paul Boutros
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So nice to see there is more and more financial alternative for supporting indie developers theses days!

paul Boutros
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