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Crowdfunding, One Year Later

May 1, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 9 Next

A reprint from the April 2013 issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, this article rounds up several mini-postmortems for a variety of high-quality indie titles.

What does the crowdfunding landscape look like for game developers one year after Kickstarter exploded onto the scene? We asked devs behind several major crowdfunding pushes from the last year -- Chris Roberts (Star Citizen), Brenda Romero (Shaker), Greg Rice (Double Fine Adventure), and Jim Rossignol and James Carey (Sir, You Are Being Hunted) -- for their thoughts and advice on what worked for them and what they’d do differently.

Chris Roberts, Star Citizen (Roberts Space Industries)

David Daw: You funded Star Citizen with a rather unorthodox combination of in-house crowdfunding, Kickstarter, and traditional investment. How’d you come up with that mix?

Chris Roberts: Yeah, we’re not typical. Everybody talks about our Kickstarter, but that was just one small part of what we did. In fact, most of our money’s been raised outside of Kickstarter.

I’ve always felt like there was a pretty strong community that were fans of my previous games, and fans of space sims in general. I felt like if I looked at everything going on on Kickstarter, a lot of it was really good -- but once you did the initial campaign, it was done and over, and I was fairly disappointed with what happened after that. I felt like no matter what, you’ve got to have a place where all the people that backed you are going to hang out, listen to what’s happening with the game, and interact, so why wait to do that later on?

So we actually launched a teaser site for what we were doing a month before we started the crowdfunding campaign -- the idea was to aggregate the really diehard fans. We’d gotten about 30,000 people to sign up and register when we launched the campaign, which gave us a bit of a leg up in terms of the initial awareness in crowdfunding.

I think it really just came out of the fact that you’ve got to have your own solution, even with Kickstarter, because a Kickstarter campaign ends at some point. So then you’ve got to have some way that you’re interacting with your community, and everyone always has to have some kind of option for PayPal or whatever, so we figured, “If you have to build it anyway, let’s just build it and do it upfront.”

DD: Why did you decide to continue the campaign on Kickstarter?

CR: Later on, we went to Kickstarter because the one thing we didn’t count on is that it’s not so easy to build a robust scalable site if there’s a lot of demand on it. We spent most of the money on the prototype, so we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a really big, ecommerce-style robust site; we built on top of WordPress with some plug-ins, and it kinda collapsed under the weight of the initial interest. Basically, we experienced the downside of building our own site, but at the end of the day, I still think it was a good decision because we’re still raising money. We’ve collected over $2 million since we closed the actual count for the crowdfunding campaign, so I think we’re at 8 and a quarter million right now, which is pretty amazing.

DD: How does pitching to a traditional investor differ from pitching to Kickstarter or to fans in general?

CR: It’s very different. Pitching on a crowdfunding campaign is really similar to pitching to your audience when it’s close to done, saying “Here’s what I’m going to build, this is what it is, this is why it’s cool.” It’s like a really long lead time preorder. You read the E3 reveal, and do the exclusive interviews, and people go down to GameStop and reserve their copy. Crowdfunding, in a game sense, is like that, but you’re a year or two years ahead of that schedule.

So you focus much more on the game. If I was pitching to a traditional financial investor, half of them don’t even play the games, so it’s a whole different thing. They just go “Oh yeah, video games, that makes some money.” You’re basically saying “ has World of Tanks, and they’re doing X million dollars per month, and if we do really well, we can become like them and your investment will be worth a lot of money, so you should invest in us.” It’s a very different logic.

I actually much prefer pitching to the crowd because what you’re pitching is what you’re building. When you’re pitching to investors, basically, they’re assuming you’ll make a decent game, but want to know the business reasons for it. It feels more pure and more connected to what you’re doing in crowdfunding as opposed to traditional investment. 

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