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Tag: crowdfunding

CollectorVision Phoenix: A modern, premium FPGA-based ColecoVision compatible retro console

Help CollectorVision reach their crowdfunding goal and make the Phoenix a reality!

Earlier this week, CollectorVision announced the crowdfunding campaign launch for their Phoenix console on Kickstarter. CollectorVision has in the past developed modern homebrew games for the 1982 ColecoVision videogame console, and in addition to that have partnered with OpCode games, developers of the ColecoVision Super Game Module expansion, which augments the system with more RAM and improved graphics capability.

I’m very excited about this system. ColecoVision was a great system, which died too young due to the videogame industry crash of 1983. It offered graphics nearly on par with the NES, a full year before the Famicom was released in Japan, and delivered home ports of early 80s arcade games that offered greater fidelity to the originals than was possible on the Atari 2600.

The Phoenix’s feature list is amazing: FPGA hardware implementation for 100% compatibility and fidelity with the original system, HDMI-out video, SD card slot, built-in Super Game Module and F18A enhancement hardware, 10 built-in ROMs of modern ColecoVision homebrew games, DB9 controller ports for original ColecoVision controllers, as well as SNES controller ports for compatibility with more common/comfortable SNES gamepads, and even a PS/2 keyboard connector. There’s even been talk of including an FPGA core for support of Atari 2600 games, much like the original ColecoVision’s Expansion Module 1 adapter for Atari 2600 games.

This is a dream system, and considering that, its price tag of $200 is very reasonable. Compared to the RetroUSB AVS system and the Analog Super NT, the Phoenix will fill a nice in retrogame preservation and it deserves to make its crowdfunding goal of $230,000.

To hit this goal, CollectorVision will need about 1000 backers to sign up. The kickstarter campaign is off to a somewhat slow start, however — three days into the campaign, they’ve only managed to secure $28,000 in pledges. Usually, a system like this would be fully funded in the first day, or even the first hour of the crowdfunding campaign going live. If the campaign received steady contributions every day at the level they have for the first 3 days, they would make goal, but it’s most typical for kickstarters to get most of their funding on the first few days, and the last few days. So I’m worried that they will not hit their goal. 

Perhaps retro gamers are wary of crowdfunding for yet another modern retro game console. People enthusiastically backed Ouya to the tune of $8 million dollars several years ago, and the recent AtariBox/Atari VCS crowdfunding was also successful in reaching goal, but only made $3 million dollars amid serious doubts about the current company calling itself Atari’s capabilities to deliver on what it has promised, and alleged mis-representation of their prototype hardware.

I don’t have any insider knowledge of CollectorVision, but everything I have seen from them about the Phoenix looks good, and I have faith that they care capable of delivering on their promises, if they can make their fundraising goal. Their hardware really exists, and all they need is capital for manufacturing. If you have fond memories of the ColecoVision and the early-80’s era of videogames, definitely check out the project, and consider becoming a backer.

AdapDesk kickstarter melts down

Last April, I backed a kickstarter for AdapDesk, a portable lap desk ideal for use with a laptop computer in bed or seated in a chair without a table. It was pricey, at $125, but looked like it was so well designed that it would be worth the money to have a quality lap desk.

AdapDesk

The kickstarter was successfully funded and my payment went through on May 13. The fundraising part of the kickstarter was very successful, raising several hundred thousand dollars against an original goal of $15,000. A short while later, I was sent a survey asking if I would like to order any extra accessories, and so I sent them another $26 for a cup holder and mouse pad attachment.

Delivery was originally supposed to happen, I believe, in September. This slipped to December, then to mid-January.

Two days ago, on 1/15/18, the AdapDesk team made an announcement. I was expecting to hear that they had shipped, or that they had to delay yet again. Instead, they announced that they have run out of money, and need more in order to complete their obligations to backers. Asking for $55 per desk ordered for air shipping to USA, this is 44% over the original cost (37% if you count the original shipping).

Overruns and lateness are very common with kickstarter projects. I don’t have statistics, but you hear about them enough to know that they happen. And certainly there is always greater risk when you back a project rather than purchase a product. I can tolerate lateness — better to have a product that is late but correct and good than to have something that has problems but is on time. And I have been fortunate enough not to be burned very often by kickstarters that fail to deliver entirely. Although, certainly, that’s part of the risk of backing a project.

This is a bit different situation. The project team want to complete their work and deliver, but they say they need more money to accomplish this. Giving them money is throwing good money after bad. There’s no way that they can guarantee that they will deliver with extra money — maybe they can, maybe not, but in spite of their assurances it’s not guaranteed.

Backers are upset about not getting their reward, and about being asked to kick in even more money to (maybe) get what they paid for. Understandably, and justifiably upset.

Some have been more understanding and are actually willing to put in the additional money. Others are upset, but still want their AdapDesk and will put the money in if they must. A few are disabled/bedridden and don’t have more money, but really needed their desk. But most of us are angry and want either our desk at no additional cost, or our money back.

Both are unlikely, if the AdapDesk team is out of money, they can’t complete the project and they have no money left to refund dissatisfied backers.

So there’s talk about legal obligations and criminalizing the project’s failure by calling it fraud.

Bad business isn’t necessarily fraud. Sometimes things don’t go well and a business fails, declares bankruptcy, and people don’t get what they’re owed. That’s life.

It’s interesting to see how different backers characterize their relationship to the project.

Some backers consider themselves investors. This is false. Backers do not own shares of the company, or of the project.

Most feel that they purchased a product. Even this is somewhat debatable. Backers were promised a reward for backing the project. In this case the “reward” is the product that is the purpose of the project to create. Thus, the “reward for backing the project” closely resembles pre-ordering a product before it is produced. Arguably, it is pre-ordering a product. But technically, backers contributed money to fund the project to produce products, and their reward for backing the project was to receive one of the produced products.

Whether AdapDesk failed to fulfill orders, or failed to reward backers of a project, the results are the same, and the AdapDesk team has failed.

When a project fails due to cost overruns or other reasons, backers lose out, much like investors in a failed business lose money on a bad investment. This is a risk of crowdfunding. The AdapDesk team has offered to complete the project if they receive additional funds, but there’s no way of telling for sure that they will be able to do so.

There’s probably not much recourse at this point for backers who are unwilling to contribute further funds and just want either their reward or their money back. Credit card charge disputes may be the only way to recover money, but whether those will succeed or not remains to be seen.

Update: AdapDesk’s page on Facebook has been taken down. AdapDesk also ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, which has not updated its backers with information consistent with the messaging on Kickstarter, and people are beginning to ask questions. There’s a product listing on Amazon that looks like it has delivered, as there are reviews. Of course, reviews could be faked. Their web site appears to be just a rotating image gallery with a link to the kickstarter page. It’s hard to say still, but the inconsistent information between kickstarter and indigogo is suspicious. And the lack of information on their homepage, combined with their Facebook page being offline isn’t reassuring, either.

Update 2: As of 1/21, AdapDesk has updated its IndieGoGo campaign with the same information and ask of additional money from its backers. There is now a Facebook group for AdapDesk customers to connect with each other and talk about any developments arising out of this, including possible legal actions.

Update 3: Backers who paid the additional money to AdapDesk are starting to report that they have received their orders. In at least one case that I’m aware of, a backer only received a partial order: 1 out of 2 desks, and no storage bag. It’s good to see that AdapDesk are fulfilling orders, as there was a significant number of backers who feared that they would lose their money if they paid the additional amount. While it’s obviously an unfortunate disappointment that the project delays and overruns resulted in so many dissatisfied backers, at least we know now that the project wasn’t a scam.

Update 4: Today some kickstarter backers who did not pay the additional money to AdapDesk have reported receiving their desks! It remains to be seen whether everyone will get their desk; I have not yet received mine. I’m genuinely happy for anyone who receives their reward for backing the project, but I can only imagine how annoyed those who gave AdapDesk the additional money when asked must be feeling to see those who did not pay up getting theirs for the original pledge.

Update 5: On 2/20/2018, I received my AdapDesk backer reward. This was unexpected as I did not pay the additional funding that AdapDesk said they needed in order to complete the project. AdapDesk promised to deliver to all backers who paid them the additional money, but never said that they would deliver to backers who did not.

Obviously this was to incentivize the additional round of funding, because who would have paid more if they didn’t have to? But it was strongly implied that they couldn’t complete the project without the additional money they were asking for. I’m not aware how it is that they were able to ship my desk without me giving them the additional money, but I’m happy that I received what I was originally promised for the funds I contributed. Many backers are still waiting on theirs, including those who paid the additional money.

Reviewing the AdapDesk

Overall, I’m happy to have received something, and am not one to dwell on the poor communications and delays, although they did sour the experience.

I was expecting to receive an AdapDesk Standard, but received an AdapDesk Fully Foldable instead (it has a hinge in the center of the desktop that allows the desk to be folded small enough to fit into a backpack).

I didn’t need or want this, as I don’t plan on travelling with my desk, and wanted it for use around the house. The center hinge is locked into place by two rotating knobs. I was concerned that these knobs would bump into my legs when using the desk, but the desk is tall enough that this doesn’t seem to be an issue. However, the legs are not able to fold up when the knobs are in the locked position — they hit the knobs, preventing the legs from fully folding with the desktop locked open.

In use, the desk is well designed and functional. The biggest disadvantage is that the cup holder doesn’t have a bottom. It’s just a hole. If you use a cup with a wide mouth and a narrow enough base, it will sit in the hole and not fall through. If you use the desk on a surface like a floor or table, the cup can rest on that surface, and be held upright by the cup holder. But the cupholder would be a lot better if it had a bottom that could actually hold a container such as a soda can.

When breaking down the desk to put it away, you have to remove the accessory trays from their mounting points on the desk’s legs, and remove the plastic inserts for the slots on the desktop that are intended for holding pencils, pens, or small thin devices like a phone or calculator. You also have to remove the center lip that attaches to the desk to prevent things from rolling off it when it is angled. (I wish there was a better name for this, I’ll have to refer to the instruction guide later and see what it’s called.) So folding it up to put away takes a lot of steps and you can’t simply fold up the legs and leave the rest of it as-is. It would be a lot nicer if you could do this.

Since I had given up on receiving my desk, I had also gone out a couple weeks prior and bought a different desk, which I think is nearly as nice. It only cost around $40. it’s not perfect, either, but if I had to compare it to AdapDesk at $125, it’s certainly a better value, and of equal quality.

 

How are my kickstarters doing?

I thought it was about time I took a look back at the various kickstarter projects I’ve backed, and see how they’re doing. Over the last few years, I’ve heard so many negative stories about failed crowdfunding projects, tales of fraud and angry and disappointed backers, that I’d come to feel somewhat negatively about crowdfunding. But really, I think the projects I’ve chosen to back have done pretty well. Not all of them have been successes, but the rate of failure is less than my emotional “feel” for the rate of failure lead me to believe. And of the successful projects, quite a number of them have ongoing life beyond shipping the backer rewards. I feel good about this.

Here then is a list of every Kickstarter I’ve backed, and what happened with it.

Chip Maestero – An NES MIDI Synthesizer Cartridge – Delivered

This was the first project I ever backed on Kickstarter. It took much longer than expected to deliver. I was not surprised by this, and it didn’t bother me. I just waited patiently, and the developer came through. It’s really cool to have MIDI output capability to enable using the NES as a musical instrument.

The Jason Scott Documentary Three Pack – Still in process

This is the oldest kickstarter that I’m still waiting on, but it’s hardly surprising. Producing a documentary film takes a lot of time. Jason Scott works very hard on many different projects. Last I heard, he had to drop the Tape documentary for lack of content, but was working on editing as of last June. Since then, Jason has had a heart attack, and is currently producing a weekly podcast in an effort to pay down some financial debt, which I am a backer of. I’m confident the documentaries will be finished and released. From my experience, Jason is very scrupulous and hard working, and wants to release a first-rate effort, so I’m being patient and looking forward to viewing them when they are ready.

Code Hero: A Game that Teaches You To Make Games – Failed

This project ran out of money and went bust. Oh well. $13.37 well spent anyway.

Spriter – Delivered

I backed Spriter hoping that it would reach its stretch goal to fund development of GameMaker integration. GameMaker ended up using a similar technology, called Spine, for sprite rigging. To date, I still haven’t explored this feature, because my projects tend to be smaller and simpler than call for using Spine or Spriter, and I tend to focus more on programming than on graphic assets. I am not sure whether it has or not, because I haven’t used Spriter. But I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad that I funded it. Even after the Kickstarter project was delivered complete, it is still being developed.

Light Table – Delivered

Light Table was a fantastic idea for an IDE: Give the programmer immediate results, shrinking the feedback loop to zero, enabling instant iteration, and a more intuitive experience for programming stuff. I love the idea of seeing your code instantly interpreted and running, and not having to compile and wait. Light Table was completed, released, and is still being developed and supported.

Atari 2600 Star Castle – Delivered

This project was executed particularly well, and my copy of Star Castle was delivered within a reasonable amount of time. I don’t think it was strictly speaking on time, but it wasn’t long overdue, either, and the project communicated status updates in a timely fashion that helped to manage expectations.

Beautiful Vim Cheat-Sheet Poster – Delivered

Max is a friend of mine, and his little project exceeded his goal considerably. He did a nice job on the poster, and I really like it.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games – Delivered

Anita Sarkeesian has been a major influencer since launching this kickstarter. The reaction against her project is infamous, and has helped to drive home the point that her work is very much needed. I’m proud to have contributed. Her video series Tropes vs Women in Videogames took a long time to produce, but was very well done. It’s aim to bring her Tropes vs. Women series examining various anti-women tropes in popular culture (movies, tv, etc.) to videogames was and still is much needed.

OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console – Delivered

The OUYA is now a dead system, but the project was a success. I received my OUYA and played with it. It was a tv-connected Android-based console, about the size of a baseball, and could play a lot of games. A lot of people used their OUYA as an emulator box, but there were a few good titles developed specifically for it, most notably Towerfall. The thing is, it was under-powered compared to everything else out there, most games are developed and launched for any and all consoles their developers can reach, so there was no exclusive “killer app” content that could compel gamers to buy one, and a lot of people who did complained about the OUYA’s gamepads for feeling cheaply built, and groused about every little thing, the way gamers do. I’m sad it didn’t survive in the market. I really liked the idea of an open console that is friendly to indie developers. Unfortunately the business model wasn’t successful, and the market didn’t appreciate it at all. I consider it a success, despite the fact that it couldn’t survive in today’s market, merely making it to market was an incredible accomplishment.

NeuroDreamer sleep mask – Delivered

My reward was shipped and received quickly. I didn’t pre-order the NeuroDreamer mask, but got a copy of Mitch Altman’s trip glasses, which I’ve used a few times. They work by using flashing LED lights and audio tones to induce an altered brain state, akin to meditation, or perhaps as a meditation aid.

SPORTSFRIENDS featuring Johann Sebastian Joust – Delivered

This project took a very long time to deliver, but I did finally get a copy of my Sportsfriends games. The one I most liked, BaraBariBall, was fantastic. I haven’t played the others.

Aaron Swartz Documentary – The Internet’s Own Boy – Delivered

This documentary is fantastic, and I’m proud to have backed it and to have my name in the credits as a backer. Well worth every penny and then some.

Project Maiden – a Zeldalike in Reverse – Delivered

I only backed $1 so didn’t get any reward, but I understand this project was finally delivered, taking quite a long time longer than expected. With creative projects like video games and movies, I am pretty lenient on release dates. I get that doing it right takes time and should not be rushed. I have never actually played this game though, so I have no comment on how good it is.

imitone: Mind to Melody – Delivered

Soon after making goal, I received a license key and access to the software beta. It works, and has been updated frequently. I haven’t used it recently, but it is neat software and still being developed.

The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp – Delivered

This shows how serious I am about bagels, I spent I don’t want to remember how much money on some butter knives that were supposed to make spreading cold butter on toast easier. In practice, I find that they don’t work, and were basically a waste of money. They are well made, but the design just doesn’t work well. Cold butter does not press through the holes the way it shows it working in their video. Live and learn.

Beep: A Documentary History of Video Game Music and Sound – Delivered

I received a DVD copy of the documentary, watched it, and enjoyed it. I thought it was well done.

GameMaker Language: An In-Depth Guide – Delivered

I got a copy of Heartbeast’s book. The project was completed within a reasonable amount of time, and he did a great job with it. He also produces tutorial videos on YouTube, and has branched into teaching online courses through udemy.

Joybubbles: The Documentary Film – MIA? In post-production?

I backed this at a level that got my name in the credits of the film. The documentary is currently in post-production, according to the website. However, the kickstarter page hasn’t been updated since 2015, so this one appears to be missing-in-action. I’ve written to the creator to ask what the status of the project is.

Insert Coin: Inside Midway’s ’90s Revolution – In progress

Latest update was posted mid-December, they are still working on the project and are targeting early 2018 for delivery.

AdapDesk: The World’s First Portable Work Station – Late, and at risk of failure

Expected for November, they are a few months late on this one, but were supposedly finally shipping this month.

I can appreciate that mass production isn’t easy. In November, they said that they intended to ship by late December, in December they announced a further delay would push delivery back to mid-January.

It’s January 15, and today they’ve posted a new update on the kickstarter to the effect that they are struggling and nearly out of money. Cost overruns have forced them to ask for more money in order to be able to ship the goods, to the tune of $55+ per customer, depending on where in the world they are. This represents a cost overrun of close to 150% over what they estimated for the project, and I don’t think I would have backed if I knew it was going to cost $55 more than the pitch. It was already a very pricey item at $125, but since it appeared to be very well designed and since it was something I can definitely get a lot of use out of, I thought it was worth it.

Since this is a developing matter as I type this, I’m not at all clear whether I’m going to get my AdapDesk, or a refund, or screwed, and who’s going to fund that additional $55.

In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that manufacturing small runs of a product is very risky and prone to delays and overruns, so backing kickstarter projects like this is obviously a gamble. If they had brought the AdapDesk to market in a more traditional way, and I could have bought one from a store once they were actually manufactured, I think I would have been happier.

Doing things the kickstarter way is more appropriate for raising funds for prototyping a new product, but maybe for experimental products the reward shouldn’t be the actual product — you don’t know whether the prototype will turn out to be any good, maybe it will be great but infeasible to mass produce at a price point you can predict at the pre-funded stage when you’re not even sure how many backers (and therefore orders) you’ll have, or maybe it will suck and not be something worth making more than one of. Maybe it should be something else: stock in the company that designed the product, a t-shirt or sticker that thanks you for your contribution to making the project possible, that sort of thing.

Using Kickstarter to try to create a product that doesn’t exist yet and take pre-orders for it, using the kickstarter “reward” as the means of delivering on an order doesn’t work out well. If you’re very experienced and good at design and manufacture and logistics, then sure, maybe you can do it. But if you’re good at all those things, then you probably didn’t need to use crowdfunding to begin with, and could have used traditional venture capital, business loans, credit, or what have you instead. And if you’re not experienced at those things, chances are good you’re not going to be able to get the credit, loans, or VC, and hey it turns out there’s a reason for that — investors are smart, and know not to throw money on an unproven risk undertaking by someone with not enough track record.

In commerce, getting what you paid for isn’t a “reward”, it’s expected.

Kickstarters often fail to deliver what is expected after successfully making their fundraising goal.

Kickstarters are a way to fund dreams that no one in their right mind would get behind as a business investment opportunity, and crowdfunding works because $20 or $50 isn’t all that much to some people. There are good ideas out there that can be funded by large numbers of people each with a tiny amount of disposable cash that they can just throw away. We understand, well most of us do, that we’re not buying success, we’re buying a chance at success, and that chance is less than 100%.

Since that’s the case, maybe the better way to thank backers is through rewards that aren’t predicated on the success of the project, but on the success of the fundraising. Kickstart a rocket to Mars. Make the reward be a “I backed the rocket to mars” sticker, not a ticket on the Mars rocket with a launch date printed on it.

AdapDesk is a great idea for a product. It turns out that bringing a product to market takes more than a good idea, some money, and a lot of work. It takes a good idea, some money, a lot of work, and then a lot more work, and then some more money. We’re at the point where they need that last bit of “some more money” and they’re out, and their customers are pissed. I hope I still get my AdapDesk, but I hope I don’t have to pay $55 to get it delivered on top of the money I already paid. I certainly won’t give them another penny, let alone $55, without an actual tracking number — and maybe not even then.

Make Professional 2D Games: Godot Engine Online Course – Delivered

I’ve watched some of the videos, and they are well done. I have yet to truly immerse myself in Godot engine, but I am very happy to support an open source 2D game engine of high quality.

Next Gen N64 Controller – In Process, Late

This project from RetroFighters should be shipping soon. Early word is that the controller is very good. Originally these were supposed to be delivered in late 2017, but a month or two delay is forgivable. For $20, a newly designed gamepad for the Nintendo 64 built to high quality standards is very impressive, if that is indeed what they deliver.

Full Quiet – A New Adventure Game for the NES & PC – In Process

Expected delivery date in late 2018, but we know how this goes… waiting and seeing.

NESmaker – Make NES Games. No coding required – Backed

Kickstarter is still in the funding stage. They’ve already hit their goal, so it will be interesting to see how far it goes and how many of their stretch goals they can reach.

Lessons learned from the first crowdfunding campaign

One month ago, I was struck with inspiration and needed money to make an idea I had a reality, so I embarked on my first crowdfunding campaign. Today, it reached goal. I’m about to get busy working on turning all that money into a successfully completed project, but I think right now is a good time to reflect on the things I learned along the way so far. (more…)

Fibonacci Tartan and Kilt

Some time ago, Youtube channel Numberphile posted a video on a tartan based on the fibonacci sequence.

Inspired by this, I’ve created a fibonacci-based tartan of my own:

Fib7-7

Isn’t it beautiful?

My design is based on the first seven numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. It uses one thread of yellow, then one thread of red, two threads of dark green, three threads of navy blue, five threads of red, eight threads of dark green, and thirteen threads of navy blue. To scale up the size of the sett, I will be multiplying these numbers by seven. I call the tartan, Fibonacci-7.

I just started a crowdfunding campaign to register the tartan with the Scottish Registrar of Tartans, and have a kilt made with it. It will cost an estimated $2250 to have it produced. Once registered, the tartan will become available to textile manufacturers to produce cloth and garments in this tartan.

If you are interested in math or just love a beautiful tartan, please consider donating to the cause, and spread the word. If every visitor to this site donated just $1, we’d have funding within less than one month. So if you’re a regular reader of this site and have found my articles on GameMaker useful, please show your appreciation by donating what you can. Thank you.

A Viable(?) New Business Model for Indie Game Development?

This article has also been posted on Gamasutra blogs.

So, I was thinking about making games, and why I do it. I’ve always said that I don’t care if the games I make generate income. I’m doing it because I love it, and while that’s enough motivation for me, any money I do make will help justify doing it more.

Then I thought about business models, and piracy, and copyright, and all the pain that goes along with that, on all ends of it. And I thought about the “pay what you feel like” model, and the crowdfunding model, and the way some AAA games get pre-ordered so gamers can reserve a copy at their retailer. I kindof like pay-what-you-feel-like. But then I thought of something innovative, that combines the strengths of these approaches, and takes them to the next level.

It’s a secret to everybody

So here’s my idea: All the games I release are free/pay-what-you-want. There’s no DRM on any of it, you can play it as much as you want, share it with whoever you want. I think most will agree that DRM sucks, and I don’t want to spend time or resources trying to come up with some copyright enforcement mechanism that will only be broken hours after I release the game, or tie the game to some online service that will mean that if the company ever goes out of business, all the games will become unusable. I don’t want to inconvenience legitimate owners of my game and then have to offer a quick patch and a lame apology for it later. I *want* people to play my games — and share them with their friends — why would I want to put an obstacle between them and the game that I want them to play? I’ll even put in social features that help you share it with all your friends and tweet about how much fun you’re having playing my game.

Let’s play money making game!

Here’s the money-making part of the plan: You pay for me to make my next game. Whatever it is. I’ll announce my projects and work at them at the pace that I can sustain. If I have to work a lot at some other job in order to pay my bills, then I spend more time working, less time making games, and the game still happens, but probably not for a long time, and maybe not ever.

This is, after all, pretty much how Kickstarter works: you pay up front for a thing to be developed, and you wait some time until it is ready to be released. And like Kickstarter, pledged funds would not be collected until the goal has been reached. And it seems to work well, at least for established names who have a reputation and fan base. But how does an unknown attract The Crowd and convince them that they’re worthy of funding? Anyone can start out small and build their fanbase over time, assuming they are dedicated and talented and put in the work. I know of no other way to build a fanbase than to release high quality games and distributing them as widely as you can, and ensuring that people who get to play them learn how they can get to play more awesome games even better than the one they just played. And the best way to ensure the widest distribution is to release for free. Once you have fans who believe in what you are doing, enough of them will gladly pay to see more.

If I finish the game before it has reached the money goal, I hold on to it until my fundraising goal is met, and taunt you with YouTube videos showing how awesome it is, and asking for money to release it, and otherwise marketing the game. Once I hit my revenue goal, I release it, for free, no DRM or anything, and the game becomes an advertisement for my next project which I am happy that you share with anyone and everyone.

So, if you like the games I make, and you want to see more of them, give me more money, and the more I get, the more time I can spend making games instead of doing other things that make me money.

I like it. It’s straightforward, it completely eliminates any concern about piracy or DRM, because you can’t pirate what hasn’t been built yet, and in fact my games’ popularity is aided by people who enjoy the games spreading the word about them, and getting more people to play them, it basically de-fucks copyright and performs its original purpose — To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts — and, if the money comes in, it encourages me to make more, better games faster.

Learning from previous business models

During the shareware era, the proposition to the market was: “If you like this game that you just played for free, pay the shareware license for this game, because if you don’t then I’ll go out of business and there won’t be any more games.”

But most people ignored this. Revenue from shareware releases was always a tiny percentage of the total number of people who used the software. Users don’t like the nag screens and the guilt trips, and they’ll hack the binaries to eliminate them. They share the activation codes or crack whatever license controls you can think of, and you end up spending more time researching anti-piracy and fighting the spread and popularity of your game than you do making more cool games. It’s counterproductive.

But with this new approach, where the developer is explicitly saying: “This game is free, play the hell out of it and share it with as many friends as you can!” but also, “Here’s what else I have to offer, and you can help make it happen by contributing money to the project.” Kickstarter and IndieGogo have proven that this is viable. So, we’ve fixed all the problems of the old model — although the difference is subtle, the business model is crucially different, and addresses the failings of the previous models, and turns them into strengths. All the games are free upon release. Suddenly, there’s no longer an adversarial relationship between the players and the developer: I do what I love and make games, and you do what you love and play them. And if you want to play my next game sooner, you help me out by funding it.

By itself, I think many, perhaps most gamers would still ignore and pay nothing, like always. I mean, sure there’s always going to be leeches in any system. Leeches gonna leech. But that’s fine, because in my business model, they’re performing a valuable service: they’re doing your marketing for you, if you get out of their way and let them. Some people would pay because the idea that they’re helping to create the next game sooner holds great appeal. It’s that hipster “I was into X before X was cool” prestige. But there does need to be enough of those people. I think Kickstarter and IndieGoGo and others have established that there are indeed enough of these people. So, there just needs to be ways to encourage and incentivize gamers to fund your next project.

We’re already seeing this done with the Kickstarter model. A pitch video, a tiered system of rewards, regular, open communications between the creator and the backers. That’s part of what was missing from the old shareware model. In the shareware days, the developer was faceless. But today, the developer’s on the web, on youtube, on Twitter, in your inbox. You have a relationship and they’re more responsive to you than ever before. This makes you much more likely to be willing to spend some money. Because you know who it’s going to, and you see what it does.

To encourage people funding me, I would have a progress bar tied to my income stream showing the actual money raised, making that information public. And some kind of goal showing what my expenses are. We’re not just talking direct project expenses, but the funding level needed to buy me out of my job and go full time indie.

There could also be a progress bar for each project I have announced, or each feature, showing how many hours are needed to complete them, how many hours are funded in the next week, and how many dollars need to be raised to fund more hours.

That way, you could see things like:

  • How much I’m making
  • How much I need in order to not have to work on anything but game development
  • How much the money you’re paying towards my projects is helping me to get them done
  • What projects I have announced
  • How much progress has been made on each project
  • How soon you can expect my next release to be

I’d also establish a relationship with the players of my games, through active blogging/tweeting of what I’m doing with the game projects, and where my time is going, why it’s not going to game development, and stuff like that.

I figure if people see the person creating the games, it will tend to humanize them, and make it clear that the developer isn’t a faceless corporation with huge revenues that won’t notice if their money isn’t added to the giant swimming pool of gold that we all splash about in.

Plus, if gamers know how much money a game is making, it will tend to disabuse them of the idea that wealthy corporations are raking in all kinds of money hand over fist, that they can’t possibly be hurt by people not paying anything to enjoy the games. And by tying the money paid directly to new projects, it’s easier for them to see what they’re getting for their money.

Actually, hell, I could turn it into a web service and let any indie dev sign up for an account, and they’d each have their own blog, their own projects page, and their own “fund this and it will happen sooner” button. Maybe an API that they can tie into their games, allowing them to meter usage so they can show “X number of people played this game X’ times in the last 1|7|30|365 days, and collectively have kicked in Y dollars to fund my next project, an average of just Y_avg cents per play, which means that I am in H financial health, and so my next project will get delivered in Z months.” And here’s an appreciation leaderboard showing the G most generous, loyal fans, thanks so much for your patronage.

I’d love to develop this idea into an actual business, but I’d also gladly work with an e-commerce services provider who could set up a system that would work this way.

csanyk.com © 2016
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