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Destructiod and Kotaku both have coverage of a Gabe Newell interview discussing an idea of using the game community to help fund projects directly. It is a really interesting idea, and I think it actually makes a lot of sense. This should basically be seen as pre-pre-pre-pre-ordering a game.
I think this can work if done correctly. Consider how many gamers already purchase special/collector/prestige/limited/legendary edition of games (it has become pretty silly). People are willing to pay extra money if they are serious fans of the game or franchise. I think this could be harnessed early on with well-known indie developers to help fund a game when it is still in a larval stage. Many people pay to have their names on a brick at their alma mater, I think game developers can offer perks that are similar to this.
Imagine paying 100 bucks to have a 100 x 100 pixel image of you appear in one of the hidden back rooms in the next Portal game. I would love to be able to pay $200 to get exclusive content from Bungie on their upcoming game, and maybe even have the game ship with a fake Ling-ling. What about getting early access to the next game from 2D Boy, or even being allowed to try a beta or chat with the developers during production? I would pay for that. I trust that they are going to make an awesome next game. And the bottom line is I would do this before I even heard anything about the next game, or before production had even started.
However, there are a few things I would consider before diving right into this.
- This should only be considered by indie developers. I think this is pretty obvious, since if you are not an indie studio you are getting funding from a publisher. However, I also think this is important for how indie studios typically engage with their fans. Since the funding is coming from the fans, the studio-fan relationship is incredibly important.
- Don't try this on your first game. Fans need to trust the developers themselves almost more than they need to trust the idea of the game. Once this is ruined for a group of fans I doubt it will ever work again and it might actually ruin it for all indie developers.
- Consider the legal issues. I am not a lawyer, and if you are going to try having that many people "fund" the game makes sure you are doing it right. If the current debacle with Tim Langdell has taught us anything it is that indie developers need to protect themselves.
- Give fans something they want. I think this is a place where we can take a clue from the music industry. The recent shift in that industry have forced many musicians to strike out on their own working to create a fan base that will support them. Paying for the tracks themselves in no longer viable, but paying for live shows and awesome swag (like a collectors edition) is how these people survive.
- Make awesome games. This one seems somewhat topical, but it is important. This funding model is asking fans to put themselves into the game. They are part of the game in a way that has never been offered. If this fails, it will be a huge fallout for the community.
I think a well established indie developer (like 2dboy or Valve) that has a strong group of fans dedicated to the studio, not just a single game, could pull this off. It is important for the fans to have faith in the studio, because that is really what the gamble is on. Then this studio could produce a short demo or give a simple idea and see if fans would like to see it turned into a full game (and if the fans think the studio can even pull it off). I would love to see this model adopted or tested, I know many game fans would probably be willing to make the gamble.
And if the two Kyles are listening, I have $100 I would happily invest in your upcoming project.