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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 7 of 7

He continues, "A lot of the most badly made games were put together by teams that thought they were making something good or at least trying, it's hard to tell until you're finished where you've landed. I would feel like a con artist if I took money based on what I hoped to make and couldn't deliver it."

And on a practical level, Perrin says that he's not enough of a self-promoter to run a successful Kickstarter anyway.

"I'm pretty hardwired to be humble about my work and I don't have the personality to spend an entire month pushing how awesome my games is going to be," he says. "I think by day two I'd be fed up of hearing my own pitch and wouldn't be able to stomach keep spamming news sites, Twitter accounts, forums, etc."

As for the ins and outs of alpha funding, Perrins suggest that studios looking to start their own campaign should heavily consider the logistics beforehand.

"Have a decent payment provider and download service," he says. "Obviously you want to be on Steam but whether you can get on there or not, speak to the Humble Store to handle your direct sales."

"Tell people about your game without being an obnoxious spammer," he continues. "Take all feedback graciously and don't get shitty with customers who have complaints. Be vague about release dates because you'll probably miss them and better to have been vague than to break promises." 

Chris England - Xenonauts

An upcoming turn-based strategy game inspired by 1994 release X-COM: UFO Defense (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe), Xenonauts is another game that is currently in the middle of its alpha funding campaign.

Chris England of Xenonauts studio Goldhawk Interactive tells me that "these days, studios really need something playable and interesting before they start taking money, unless they are already established studios."

"It's not that you lose sales by accepting preorders too early," he clarifies, "but once people have paid for the game you have an added responsibility to keep them informed about the progress of the game, to take their views on board and ultimately to pay the money back if you decide to end development before completion."

This in turn leads to a reduction in the agility of your studio early in game development, England reasons, and also limits the size of your community to those who have paid you money.

"We probably started taking money too early for Xenonauts," he admits. "If we use alpha funding on our next title, we'll definitely have a few months of free development on it to generate some buzz and create a community around the game before we start charging for it."

The main benefit of alpha funding a game "is the extra money it brings in," England continues. "You get access to more funds and can make a better game, which brings in more money and gets your customers a better game at the end of it.

England describes the same "virtuous circle" that Zero Point's Boserup described: If you can get it right, you find yourself in the position where players are paying, the money allows you to make the game faster and better, and even more players sign up as a result.

"We've been very fortunate with Xenonauts, as there is absolutely no way we'd have been able to get to where we are now without the support of our community and the financial backing they have provided," he adds. "And most of them seem very happy with the results too, so I'd consider us to be a case where it has worked well!"

Xenonauts is an interesting case, in that the Goldhawk studio utilized Kickstarter alongside alpha funding.

"The customers can be very different for the two different sales channels, so in my book it's a great way to reach new audiences," England notes. "In many ways, I actually think Kickstarter funding is superior due to the absence of the pitfalls of alpha funding, but there's no reason at all not to mix the two."

And what exactly are those pitfalls?

"Alpha funding is one of the easiest methods to generate funding, I think -- but it can be a bit chicken-and-egg if you don't have much money to start with," England says. "Most people won't invest their money until you have something worth playing, but often you'll need money to make something worth playing in the first place."

And then even when you've got started, the problems don't stop there. "What happens if the preorder money dries up and you can't afford to keep developing the game, but you've not delivered a finished product to the people who have already bought it?

"That would be a terrible position to be in for all concerned. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing funding, so that can't happen, but it is a real danger with alpha funding and there's no easy way out of that situation."

At the end of the day, England reasons that "there isn't really a way around it either -- you just have to trust your instincts, sink a lot of time into the project and hope you get enough pre-orders to let you finish the game."

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 7

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