Keep the Lights On: Making Money During Development
You know you want to go indie full-time but you’ve still got rent to pay, bills are piling up and you’ll probably need to replace the fridge that’s going to explode in 2.5 months. In this post you’ll find a list of funding strategies aimed to keep the lights on until you’ve got the game people will pay you to finish.
Let’s break this down into Pre-Prototype and Post-Prototype funding, as the business game changes significantly once you’ve got something playable that’s worth following.
What I mean by Prototype: we’re talking COMPLETE prototype here, a horizontal slice of the entire user experience – it may not be pretty or have all the bells and whistles yet, but even in this early state it’s scratching an itch the player didn’t even know they had. It’s Satisfying.
Pre-Prototype Rent Money
Requirements: Everything on this list has been selected because it either monetizes development OR it doesn’t actively demand time away from it. Which means you’ve got to figure out exactly what the hell you need to develop! Get yourself a Milestone Minutiae list: something that breaks down, in the most minute detail, each step you’re going to take to get from where you are now to Awesome Fucking Prototype.
Consulting/Services for Hire: If you’re doing something because it’s going to help you make a better game, save you time or grow your business – then I bet someone else out there needs it too.
- Create a profile and respond to jobs that match your development needs on outsourcing/freelancing sites: Elance, Sologig, vWorker
- Create a list of local companies who need what you’re doing for yourself. Ask to meet them for a coffee to find out if what you’re doing will save them time or money – and offer to do just that.
Teaching/Tutoring: Either you’ve figured out a better way of working and there’s someone out there who would benefit from knowing what you know OR you need to get better at a certain discipline to make what you want to make.
- List out all the unique skills and knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years and the methods you’ve learned to deliver that knowledge. Pick the ones that you’ll be depending on the most to develop your game and grow your business.
- Contact all the highschools, colleges and universities within a short drive of you and ask to talk to the head of whichever department is responsible for those specific disciplines
- Talk to them about delivering once off workshops, running short courses even casual teaching.
- Use your development byproduct as teaching materials!
Create eBooks and Video Tutorials: The same materials you would be using as teaching guides for schools and colleges can be sold as digital products online.
- Use a desktop recorder like Camstudio when you work. Turn that into a how-to workbook and sell it from your website.
- Send your how-to workbooks to training sites like Digital Tutors, CartoonSmart, Gnomon, and TutsPlus.com; Offer to turn that into a video tutorial series for a flat fee or a percentage of profits.
Sell your Byproduct: You are going to be producing so much STUFF during the course of development. Everything you produce can be packaged and sold to help fund the rest of your next milestone.
- Turn your Concept Art into Tshirt designs and sell them on Design by Humans
- Package and sell scripts and code on Binpress, Unity Asset Store and SellMyApplication
- Promotional photos and personal photo albums can be sold on iStockphoto
- Art assets can be packaged up and sold on the Unity Asset Store and TurboSquid
Sell 3D Prints of your Art Assets: “You could also set up a shapeways shop for selling 3D printed assets you create as a by-process, though you may need a bit of a following first. From what I understand, they do all the hard work like taking orders / sending them out you just need to supply the models.” [Submitted by Matthew Graham of The Alcoholemist. Thanks Matthew!]
Sell Old Stuff on Ebay: Vintage comics, games, figurines, the nordictrack stairmaster you bought but never used – there’s a new home out there for all of it.
Lifestyle and Expenses: The easiest way to make money is not to spend it! Take a machete to your budget, cut anything that doesn’t need to be there and look for ways you can save money.
- Reduce Rent: Move somewhere cheaper. Find flatmates. Move into your Great Aunt Ruth’s Basement
- Find cheaper utilities/phone/internet providers: See if you can get a better deal or bundle
- Use free and open source tools
- Blender instead of Maya
- Gimp instead of Photoshop
- Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office
- Eat real food ( Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food).
- Sleep 7-8 hour a night (seriously, you can’t afford a sick day)
- Exercise 30 min a day (go for a walk at least!)
Post-Prototype Growth Funding
Requirements: An Awesome Prototype. The difficulty mode of each of these goes from Normal to Crazy Insane when you’ve got nothing but a slide show, a smile and yet another Great Idea. Give them something that’s already satisfying, will clearly be awesome with a bit more funding, and your chances of successfully raising capital to make that happen improve significantly.
Crowdfunding: There are of course a variety of crowd funding options out there now (RocketHub, Pozible, IndieGoGo) but Kickstarter is where users go when they want to invest in something. Create a Kickstarter account and spend copious amounts of time studying successful kickstarter campaigns to work out what they did right – and do those things! Not in the US? Get friendly and make yourself an American friend 🙂
Alpha Pre-Orders (known in my Incubator as “The Minecraft Model”): Everything you learn about engaging potential users through content (gameplay videos, blog posts, concept art, interviews, quirky donation perks) can be applied to selling pre-orders and accepting donations from your site. Will post more content around selling products from your own site as I work out my own e-commerce stuff here for Indie Bits!
Investment Funds: The best example of a sustainable funding model in our industry continues to be Indie Fund. Established by visionary developers, all successful in their own right, the fund aims to provide an alternative to a historically destructive publisher driven investment model. Talk to these guys when you’ve already got an awesome prototype and you’re bringing something new to the craft of user experience design.
Venture Capitalist Funding. Be fucking careful here. Most VC’s make their money when they flip your company after 3-5 years and you’ve become something worth selling. Go through those agreements with a scalpel and be prepared to be ruthlessly strict about who owns what IP, the right to bring on other investors, who makes the decision to sell, etc. You’ll want lawyers to make sure their exit plan doesn’t include anything that’s going to cost you your business. Don’t let upfront cash buy you.
Angel Investors. Still potentially fraught with peril, again the clarity of your contract is your only defense here, but Angel Investors on average tend to be more open to long term ROI (Return on Investment if you’re new to biz dev terminology). They’re looking to invest in something that will generate a nice passive income – and actively buying and selling companies is anything but passive! The first angel investor you find probably won’t be interested – but they WILL introduce you to the next one who might. Getting referrals to meet with other angel investors is the key here. Paul Gray, Biz Dev Genius over at Bubble Gum Interactive, has some great resources on approaching investors and is constantly updating their blog with valuable insights for startups.
The 3-Game Publishing Contract: After the release of Journey, ThatGameCompany’s final title owed to Sony, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this particular publishing model. You create three titles exclusively for that platform then you’re free to keep making games on your own terms. IP Agreements are extremely precious here – the publisher gets those three games but you need an even split of profits if you’re going to fund your development AFTER your contract with them ends. Make sure it’s clear that you keep all your tools and anything made in your own time outside of the three approved projects belongs to you.
Got something to add to the list that’s worked for you? Post it in the comments! Even better, check out the contribute page and submit your own how-to article!
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