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I’ve written before about how I’m not confident that the new JOBS Act rules on equity crowdfunding will take hold in the games industry (in a post that also details the proposed rules, for those interested). However, this new development with Facebook may just be the “tipping point” toward pushing equity crowdfunding into the forefront of the games business.
Imagine that Oculus Rift had run an equity crowdfunding campaign instead of a Kickstarter. Some percentage of backers would have purchased shares in Oculus Rift. These shares would be valued much (much!) higher now that the company is being purchased. In fact, the value of the shares would probably have been going up steadily given the constant stream of good news that the company has had since launching.
The Internet outcry about the purchase seems to come from two places:
Belief that Facebook will somehow ruin Oculus Rift
Belief that the backers are “owed” something for believing in the product from the beginning.
Well, I’m not going to touch the first one. Who knows what FB will do with their new acquisition. However, for the second point, it is easy to see how backers could be quite satisfied had there been an equity crowdfunding campaign, given the return on investment that they see.
A happy medium?
Now, had Oculus Rift just had an equity campaign, it is not certain that so many of the Rift prototypes would have been in the hands of people. This would require a separate sale of the prototypes. I think that a hybrid fundraising campaign strategy is better than doing one or the other.
Begin a Kickstarter, and use the momentum of that success to propel advertising and investment in the equity raise
Go the other way around, generating seed funding through an equity raise and offering either a pre-order style Kickstarter or simply take orders the old fashioned way.
I think these strategies could work well for different products.
The big issue, in my opinion, that still remains is the lack of a secondary market on which to sell these shares if they go big. However, this is a question of supply and demand. Because the rules aren’t in place yet and equity crowdfunding has yet to begin, it doesn’t make sense for such a market to exist. Once the shares are out there, I am confident that a market will develop, whether formal or informal.
Trading and purchasing things on Steam is a good analogue. For a while, a black market existed (at least I had heard about it, but didn't participate in it) for games like TF2, but trading has become normalized in the official sales of trading cards. The same happened in Diablo 2 -> 3 with the auction house.
The other issue is that this is a one-in-a-million company. However, there are successes on Kickstarter all the time. While they may not be $2 billion successes, there is money to be made in the industry by investing in these companies.
I think that the future looks bright for equity crowdfunding, and I think that gaming can have a piece of this future. Hopefully, the SEC gets their act together and delivers workable rules soon.
In the meantime, if you are thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, set up a free consultation with a game lawyer. We can walk through the legal steps you can take to protect your new business and project.