E S Toose

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Stop Looking for Funding (and Make a Better Game)

March 26, 2012 Uncategorized 6

What makes you think you need funding before you can create a great game?

Before you tab to Google for tips on pitching to investors, ask yourself why you’re even thinking about it.

Why don’t you believe you can do this on your own?

The project’s too big? You’re at the early stages of indie mate! You’ve got a lot of mistakes to make as you develop an instinct for spotting a need in the market and finding the best way to fill it. You want to do this for a long time right? You will have plenty of time to make your dream game later after you’ve cut your teeth on publishing smaller projects.

If your first project is so big that you need external funding then it’s probably a sign that the project is too big to be your first!

 

Don’t understand the business stuff? Look at everything you’ve done up until this point. You’ve learned how to make something from nothing. It took a lot of mistakes and triumphs to get to this point didn’t it? Starting and growing a business is just like any other skill. You’ll finally understand it when you start DOING something, making mistakes and learning from them. You’re part of the way there already if you’re reading this!

Scared of fucking up? Well, if it’s any consolation I can promise you that you will fuck up. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll release buggy builds, you’ll botch an email to a high profile publication and (gasp) you’ll even forget someone’s name at a conference! But if you’re working small and lean then a failure is just a (somewhat awkward) learning experience. You build, analyse, learn and build again.

People forget and forgive minor mistakes when you’re a decent chap and obviously care about what you’re doing. We’ve all been there and we can empathise. When we’ve got great games to play because of you then THAT is what we’re going to talk about. Not what engine you picked, what you wore to the PAX after party or whether your game is coded in C++ or Flash!

But if you’re working big and expensive then a failure is game over. Especially if you worked in isolation, not giving your potential community the opportunity to get to know you and what you’re on about. You don’t have patience for wasting resources on huge projects that may or may not succeed – why ask us to?

When you start out you have the benefit of relative anonymity. You can try ideas and experiment with different business models safely knowing that you aren’t big enough for anyone to care about your mistakes. As you grow your community will grow with you and every game you publish gets you closer to your “overnight success”.

I hosted a talk with Edmund McMillen in early 2011 about his experiences leading up to Super Meat Boy. He said it took him five years to become an overnight success. Five years of making small Flash games on Newgrounds before he had something he felt could be a hit. But it was that experience that taught him about what it takes to get your game noticed and keep players engaged. And it was during those early years that he got to know fellow Newgrounds developer Tommy Refenes, the technical mastermind behind SMB.

You will have plenty of opportunities to go after the big projects later. And after you’ve been successful with smaller games you may find you don’t need to involve publishers or investors at all. You can have your dream game, keep the IP and use all the profits to fund your NEXT dream game!

To get you started I’ve written a quick guide on self publishing your first indie game – check it out and if you think I’m full of shit (especially if you think I’m full of shit) give it a go. If I was right and you find self publishing is easier than you thought it would be – let me know and tell me how you did it. If I was wrong and self publishing is fucking ridiculous – let me know and tell me why.

 

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6 Responses

  1. Boon Cotter says:

    God I love your words.

  2. Boon Cotter says:

    P.S. I’ll let you know how your advice goes, but I’m following a lot of what you’ve recommended already, and I can tell you anecdotally that it seems to be working. I haven’t sold anything yet. I haven’t made anything I’d even consider selling. But I’ve MADE stuff, and that’s a hell of a lot more progress than where I was a few months back.

    • Interesting – Disqus wouldn’t let me reply via email – here’s what nearly got lost into the interweb ether: 

      Well next step is to let your players tell you what’s worth selling (because we are horribly bias and usually don’t give ourselves enough credit for the quality of our creations!). Let them make those decisions, they’re the ones actually putting money down after all! 

      You’re already part of the way there developing games – business development is just an extension of what you’re already doing. Think about it like “the game isn’t done until someone who wants to share it can share it”. 

      Also – there are a wide variety of ways to make an income from game development these days that doesn’t have to involve actually selling the physical game itself! One studio I know is looking into an episodic subscription model, another is going to be selling everything AROUND the game (the tools, the asset packs, merchandise) but not the game itself. 

      There’s also the “Minecraft” model (also known as the Alpha Build Model). Since you know that the entire user experience extends beyond just the game itself you want to test the complete user experience as soon as possible…and be able to afford to keep developing the game. If the complete user experience includes everything from when they FIRST hear about your game through to when they’ve shared it with a friend then you can design your Alpha around capturing that complete experience (All aspects of which you can start testing early with your prototype builds). 

      When you feel you have your complete Alpha User Experience (they hear about your game, can download it, install it, play it and share it with their friends) you can choose to sell that at a discount of the original price. I think I bought Minecraft as alpha when it was 25% of what the final cost would be. The value to me was twofold: 1) I got to be part of the development of a game early early days and 2) I got what was already developing into a great game at a fraction of the cost! 

      Embrace your players – they’ll help you make better game AND business development decisions! 

    • Well next step is to let your players tell you what’s worth selling (because we are horribly bias and usually don’t give ourselves enough credit for the quality of our creations!). Let them make those decisions, they’re the ones actually putting money down after all!

      You’re already part of the way there developing games – business development is just an extension of what you’re already doing. Think about it like “the game isn’t done until someone who wants to share it can share it”.

      Also – there are a wide variety of ways to make an income from game development these days that doesn’t have to involve actually selling the physical game itself! One studio I know is looking into an episodic subscription model, another is going to be selling everything AROUND the game (the tools, the asset packs, merchandise) but not the game itself.
      There’s also the “Minecraft” model (also known as the Alpha Build Model). Since you know that the entire user experience extends beyond just the game itself you want to test the complete user experience as soon as possible…and be able to afford to keep developing the game. If the complete user experience includes everything from when they FIRST hear about your game through to when they’ve shared it with a friend then you can design your Alpha around capturing that complete experience (All aspects of which you can start testing early with your prototype builds).

      When you feel you have your complete Alpha User Experience (they hear about
      your game, can download it, install it, play it and share it with their
      friends) you can choose to sell that at a discount of the original price. I
      think I bought Minecraft as alpha when it was 25% of what the final cost
      would be. The value to me was twofold: 1) I got to be part of the
      development of a game early early days and 2) I got what was already
      developing into a great game at a fraction of the cost!

      Embrace your players – they’ll help you make better game AND business
      development decisions!

  3. Ben Sand says:

    Working without funding is an important skill, but don’t be afraid to shoot for the visionary projects.

    You have to be able to achieve a lot without funding if you ever hope to get money on good terms and use it wisely afterwards.If you are working on something inspiring you can make big projects happen without funding, at least initially, as people will be willing to help.

    The Lean Startup movement has pushed people towards trivial incremental innovations that do not bring great value to the society. Lasting impact requires revolutionary change and most of the time this requires serious capital to achieve. 

    This applies to serious games and anyone with a groundbreaking game or novel artistic vision. If you have the belief, the industry experts on board and the research to back it up, don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars. It’s a tough road there, but you’ll learn a lot more trying something big and tough, providing you can make solid progress each day, with a team and not just dream on your own.

    • After having a go at self publishing I would
      agree with you entirely: you need to have a grand vision to keep you going
      (even if your grand vision is made up of lots of tiny games!). That purpose,
      that reason for going indie at all, is what keeps you showing up and giving
      your all even when things go to all kinds of hell. 

      But going for
      funding too early, before you’ve gone through the process yourself, is
      dangerous :

      – Weaker negotiating position. Without a product
      and customers you’re pitching based on speculation. That undermines confidence
      and you’re likely to make more concessions to increased investment conditions.

      – Project bloats beyond need to fit the funding.
      The benefit of working lean and small at the beginning is that you develop only
      what you need to develop. The fatal flaw with “Cut Early, Cut Often”
      is that you’ve ALREADY SPENT THE TIME AND MONEY before cutting the feature!
      Larger projects can afford that – it could be the death of a smaller studio.

      – You run the risk of losing more than just a
      share of your profits. The more risky the investment the more conditions an
      investor will place on the relationship. If Limbo had not been such a huge
      success Playdead as a studio would be gone – they were lucky. They made
      enough sales to be able to buy themselves back from investors. We all know that
      that kind of success is not the norm for startups.

      Absolutely I want indies and artists and revolutionaries reaching for the stars
      – I just want to help make sure they get there without the shackles of debt and
      obligation to an entity with entirely different motivations. 

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