Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Show me the money…

… Or why are so many Indie start-ups asking for crowd-funding?

Do you recognise the four games on the left? Well, a lot of people will, and all of them are independently produced  games, what are commonly referred to as 'Indi-Games.' 

But there are many levels of 'Indi' game makers... 

As you may or may not know, I've been dabbling in the wonderful world of no-budget PC indie games lately, and one thing I very quickly noticed was the amount of  individual start-up programmers and small two-to-three man teams that are now asking for up-front funds from crowd-funding projects like Kick-starter. Then they usually complain bitterly that nobody is giving them any money for their brilliant idea…
Well, not to be harsh or anything, but why should they? And more to the point why ‘exactly’ do you need it?

I've looked at quite a few projects, many of which seem to be nothing but an idea, and can’t for the life of me see where these asked for thousands would be going. Generally their case isn't helped much by the complete lack of explanation over where the money will be spent, and I have seen some very well laid out Kick-starter projects that explained exactly where, and when, each penny of the money would go.

To be honest I can't see that many of these projects are any more ambitious than some of my own. And I don’t need any money to develop those, just the will, a half-way decent computer, my brain, and some time… Although you’d be surprised how difficult it could sometimes be to get those things together in the same room and talking to each other.

Take a quick look through Steam’s ‘Green Light’ system and you will soon come across ‘games’ that really only exist in some would-be game designers head. Now, I'm not saying there’s anything wrong with people bringing a good game idea to the table without having the technical expertise to produce the game themselves. Very few ambitious games, especially 3D games, are imagined, built, and drawn by one person.  You need a range of specific skills to do this, and it generally takes a dedicated team to produce even passable results. This seems to have led to a culture of ‘Indie game developers’ people who want to ‘produce’ the game, but not necessarily program it, write the music, or make the graphics themselves. Again I'm not berating this as a concept, but unless they are part of a team who’s members do have the necessary skill-set, they would have to purchase these skills… and I suppose that’s where the money comes in.

 I can understand the enthusiasm these people have over their idea. It’s their baby and they want to see it released and flourishing. I’m also fairly sure some people see it as a quick and easy way to make money. To them I’d only say: ‘It is not.’ To the rest I have to point out that their enthusiasms won’t be immediately taken up by the great unwashed masses, especially if you are asking them to open their purses and wallets. In general people will pay for rubbish they know over a good concept that’s new and unproven, sad but true.

So what’s the answer? If I knew that I’d have a popular Indie game and be rich… Well maybe not, but from what I've read in the press and seen on documentaries the people who did hit it big didn't have any magic formula ether. Most (with the possible exception of Phil Fish) will freely admit that they got lucky - mostly after a great deal of hard work and perseverance.

My only advice, for what that’s worth, is to use the skills you have to your best advantage and make games in your own time; for free, without any outside funding; and then distribute your first efforts for free through the various Indie development sites and forums. But don’t advertise your games on forums, as this may be seen as spamming, and will only get you banned. It’s not glamorous and it won’t make you rich. But you will learn what works and what doesn't. Then make a game that you think is good enough to sell, with the aim of getting it onto a ‘premier’ site like Desura. If you are lucky, and you have done some advertising, you may get a trickle of sales. Congratulations, you are now an indie programmer. Next you wait for your very first irate customer, oh yes – make it and they will come… Now all you have to do is rinse-and-repeat for several years until you hit your ‘Angry Birds.’

Don’t copy Angry Birds, or Plants’ vs Zombies, or ‘Cut the Rope,’ or anything else though because those are done already, and you need to come up with something brilliant and original… Good luck with that.

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