Saturday, March 13, 2010

Funding via

One independent game design partnership, creators of Inevitable: The Game, has managed to fund publication of their game through an online donation-collecting site called Their fundraising page is here.

The deal is, they can collect donations of any amount through the Kickstarter project. If they reach their goal over the fund drive period, they get to keep the pledges. If not, then it all just goes away, and they get nothing. They are going to use the money to design and produce a print run of 100 games, which is really small for a game production run. They've promised rewards to donors, such as PDF copies of the game, one of the games from the print run, T-shirts, and other stuff.

It looks from the link as though the Inevitable project reached $3000 in funding already from nearly 30 donors in only eight days. That was their goal, which means they'll get the money. Great for them!

Here's another game project, Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands, also fully funded through Kickstarter. They were looking to print 500 copies for $7600 (about $15 a game), and they've exceeded that goal.

It seems like this might be a way to fund indie game publishing. Donors get a good feeling for donating, and low-cost reward goodies, almost like an NPR fund drive, and the designers get to publish. For many of the donors, this Kickstart thing has been essentially just a way to pre-sell copies of the game, which is great.

However, before using these two data points as proof that the concept is generally workable, I've got a few concerns or questions:

  • For Inevitable, $1350 of their contributions are from three people. I'd be interested in knowing if they'd be able to pull this off without these few angel contributors. For Gentlemen, it's not quite as focused on large donors - most of their donors have pledged $26 or $36 to get a copy of the game, while a small number (13) have pledged $150 or more. This small group makes up 25% of the total.
  • For Inevitable, you have to donate $50 to get a real copy of the game. On a print run that small, with the components visible in the pictures, I doubt the cost of production is lower than $25 or $30 a game, maybe more. With the bigger print run in Gentlemen, they've apparently got lower costs, as you'd expect, but in each case, they don't have much of a margin.
  • It looks like the Inevitable guys have a fairly active support group (e.g., they have 88 fans on Facebook) and have had a number of playtest events. For Gentlemen, they've gotten some support in the game media and from a faculty member (the creator is a grad student in design). My guess is that for each of these projects, many of their donors are friends and family, rather than random people they didn't know who happened to see the project on Kickstarter. If that's the case, then Kickstarter has provided only a framework for hitting up friends rather than a magical source of independent financing. It might not work if you haven't got friends, or if you don't do the networking legwork before listing on Kickstarter.
  • As I said above, I don't think there's much of a margin in either of these projects for profit. It looks like the funding collected will go almost directly to manufacturing costs. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course - it's great to have your game printed up and played by hundreds of people - but that makes this a means to support a hobby, not a way to support yourself or a family as a "real" job.
  • It also isn't a clear path to a broader print run or wider distribution. Again, not a problem at all - if your goal is getting some nice copies made, and getting it out there to your friends and acquaintances and maybe a few others, then it's a clear success. Just not a way to found a company. However, these seed projects could allow the authors to prove that their games have a market, and might allow them to recruit bigger investors or get a traditional publisher to pick up the games, or provide a foot in the door to publishing future works.

Anyway, a very interesting model, and apparently in these cases a very successful one. Congratulations to both the Inevitable and Gentlemen of the South Sandwiche Islands projects, and good luck.

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