There’s no denying that the videogame industry has become a huge and profitable industry. With the exception of the crash of 1977, the industry has shown huge growth, and with the advances in graphics and processing technology, video games have constantly increased in scope, complexity and immersion. Games of the 80’s and 90’s were simpler, given the computational limitations the designers and developers had to work with back then, but many of those old titles stuck with gamers throughout the ages. From point-and-click adventure games like the original Monkey Island franchise to the so-called “Metroidvania” side-scrolling action platformers, these are the games that most gamers played in their formative years, and they are etched into memory.
As the level of detail and complexity increases in games, so too do the budgets needed to keep developers and designers working on quality titles. However, the interests of the publishers and investors that fund the huge, expensive, highly-polished AAA games often clash with those of the designers and developers. The former wants to make a profit off of the finished product within a reasonable time period, and the latter wants to make the best game possible on the given budget. Since the ones who set the budget have more sway at the negotiating table, it often leads to compromise from the developers to get a product out on time. Sometimes, studios are told from the start to make something that’s a clone of something popular and successful, to try and compete with World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, for example. The developers could end up losing the remainder of the budget and even their intellectual property if the investors don’t envision the game turning a profit. All of these steps are necessary for the investors, however, to keep them from being ripped off or making a significant loss on a title that won’t sell.
A new option for funding has become available recently. With the internet being accessible to so many people and the help of websites like RocketHub, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, developers can bypass investors and publishers by asking the internet at large for money. Crowdfunding is usually incentivised by giving contributors some kind of reward at different price levels, like pre-release copies of the game or a signed piece of art from the game. Crowdfunding is a great way for developers to find the niche audiences for ‘dead genres’ that the industry at large has moved past, but that still hold appeal for a great deal of players. Crowdfunded studios are afforded the chance to take risks and experiment with games that larger studios wouldn’t approve of for fear of the game not appealing to a broad enough audience. While the longevity of a crowdfunded game studio is not always ensured, the designers gets to make the game that they want to make without external pressure or compromise. Crowdfunding makes it possible for the developers and designers to make the best game possible for a market that has found them.
Many exciting projects; such as the Double Fine Adventure, Code Hero and the Ouya open-source console project; have proven that crowdfunding is a great route to finding the people who are willing to play, and more importantly, pay for the game that you want to make. The possibility of catastrophic failure is an ever-present threat, though, and the funders intrinsically trust the developers not to squander their money, but only time will tell if this model of funding works out more often than not.