The Player-Funded Development Process
My point is that Wolfire Games has given its customers a mighty delicious taste of what they’re working on in exchange for their support in funding the game’s development. Over 7,000 preorders have been sold and it’s popular enough that the weekly development diaries end up on Gametrailers. Over $200,000 is a damn good budget for an indie game.
Developing an independent game is tough. Your average indie dev probably has a day job and spends his evenings chanting “Minecraft” over and over again while he cracks away at his unique game about a sentient, self-propelled flyswatter on a morally ambiguous quest of fly genocide. When done right, player-funded development can be exponentially helpful. You get constant player feedback, you’re basically getting free testing, and with the right management development costs can be covered. This kind of transparency is exactly what modern-day gamers want. We live in a world where the relationship between player and developer is becoming progressively more personal. With message boards, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds players can communicate directly with the magicians that craft the magical experiences they spend their hard-earned money on. For the most part, this is a good thing.
Of course, this method won’t work for everyone. If this gets big we’re most certainly going to see projects with paid beta options that don’t really have much direction, but if you pay just $1.99 you can move the placeholder gradient sphere around the placeholder gradient environment before anyone else! Or worse yet, a promising concept that has had enjoyable alpha builds for several months could lose momentum and end up in vaporware hell. There’s also the debatable issue of whether this will put test teams out of work once more people discover that people are willing to pay to perform duties they used to pay other people to do. The danger is there, and until there’s a more structured and streamlined way to develop in this manner there will always be people attempting to take advantage of this rising phenomenon.
Oh hello Kickstarter! Didn’t see you there. This wonderful website is actually one of the best outlets for developers that need funding from interested players. It’s also a much more organized way to gain funding for a game or any other creative project. Kickstarter has all the bells and whistles set up for budding creative minds to set a funding goal, create incremental rewards based on the amount of money pledged, and post updates on the project’s progress. All obligations are called upon only if the goal is met, so it helps weed out any dubious attempts to scam people out of their money. I wouldn’t be surprised to see future game projects on this site offering early builds or beta keys to their more dedicated supporters.
As a quick aside, here’s a few games that have become a reality thanks to Kickstarter:
And what about the AAA developers that are going to take notice of this practice eventually? This is where things get negative. I love me a good high-budget game like Halo Reach and Mass Effect, but these developers don’t need support from their customers. They have good relationships with their publishers. So unfortunately the idea of charging for the priviledge to play an incomplete game is going to be seen as, well, wrong by the gaming community and industry both. I think positive execution is possible here, but it will have to be handled in a completely different way. How? I’m still working on that. How about we talk about it in the comments?