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On the face of it, alpha funding sounds like a relatively easy-to-implement ride. You develop part of your game, you put what you've created onto the internet with a price tag, and then use the money that comes in to fund the rest of the game's development.
Of course, anyone with even the slightest idea of what this process entails knows that there's nothing simple about it. There's frequent updates to implment; there's multiple methods through which to offer your alpha; there's community interaction to keep them keen. If anything, you have to wonder whether offering an alpha build of your game could potentially distract you from actually making the damn thing.
But do the pros of alpha funding your game outweigh the cons? As part of Gamasutra's Alternative Funding Week, I spoke with numerous developers who have tackled alpha funding campaigns, or are in the process of alpha funding a game, about the ups and downs of such a campaign.
Dean "Rocket" Hall is best known as the creator of the DayZ mod for Arma II. Hall originally built the open-world zombie mod as a side-project, and released an alpha build for free.
When the mod seriously took off (to the point where his mod put the three-year-old Arma 2 on top of Steam's best-seller charts), Hall realized the full potential of the concept, and began working with Arma studio Bohemia on a full, standalone release for DayZ, reworked from the ground up.
Now Hall stands on the precipice of his second alpha-build launch in as many years, as the developer plans to also release this standalone version as a paid alpha.
"I think the biggest benefit is that you can get real momentum going for your game at the gestation period of the design," he says of going down the alpha route. "Without doing this, the game can only become 'hot' when the design is already locked down and finished."
He cites the recent Kerbal Space Program as a great example of an alpha release that has benefitted from this. "It became popular very early in its development, and allowed the scope and the direction of the game to adjust proportionally to this," he notes. "If they had made the game completely first, I don't think its scope and direction would resemble at all where it is today."
But Hall is well aware that there are numerous disadvantages to alpha funding too, telling me that whether you should opt for alpha funding on your game or not all depends on the type of project that you're working on.
"The primary [disadvantage] is probably that you fail to impress the community and so the sales stop in their tracks," he says. "I think another tendency is to rush the project out either through meeting fan mania or financial pressures."
Alpha funding can also mean that the development team becomes overwhelmed by success, and cannot cope with the pace of development, he reasons.
"A good example of that is possibly Project Zomboid -- they faced really tough issues during their development (that they overcome and then some)," he notes. "I can't help but think they were caused by the tremendous pressures they were under to succeed and develop at pace due to strong early interest from the community."