Since the Indie Fund restructured, we’ve had questions pop up about how best to apply. We also have the awesome insight of the many more investors involved who are helping us add further transparency to our process, and who have contributed to putting this information together on how to prepare your materials for Indie Fund, or for any potential investor.
Indie Fund aims to support the growth of games as a medium by helping independent developers get financially independent, and stay financially independent. Indie games, for better or worse, encompass a wide range of scopes and budgets now. If you haven’t already, check out how to apply to Indie Fund and hopefully this post will help you to prepare your Indie Fund pitch and, if necessary, to think critically about your project and its financial requirements.
Indie Fund provides funding that helps developers make great games, but we are not a publisher. We don’t do QA, we don’t manage your game for you, don’t run your booth at PAX, and we don’t do your PR or marketing for you. On the other hand, we also don’t own any of your IP, don’t expect to be repaid if somehow your game doesn’t launch, and don’t pressure you into launching on an arbitrary launch date. What Indie Fund does best is:
(1) have a simple, open, time-limited contract that doesn’t require negotiation and lawyers to sign;
(2) have a rapid turnaround so you can be funded much quicker than most other ways games get funded;
(3) have a well rounded group of advisors that you can ask for advice when you inevitably run into some tricky problems; and
(4) allow game creators to create with as few burdens or impediments as possible.
That said, we are also very selective, because it is our own money we are investing, so it is extremely important to make alternate plans in case your project is not a good fit for Indie Fund.
What sorts of things should you include in your pitch? It depends on the exact game project and team, but you can find a breakdown of what to submit over on the Apply page.
Let’s explore what happens when someone does pitch to Indie Fund. The basic process is that the investing members ask themselves a lot of different questions about the pitched game, which mostly boil down to these core concerns:
- Is the game interesting, special, and well-crafted?
- Do we believe the team can achieve their goals with the game?
- Do we think the game will make enough money so we can recoup our investment and the developer can make their next game without any outside funding?
- Will the game’s proposed budget and schedule result in the creation of a financially successful game?
These are not empirical or quantitative questions with precise answers, but Indie Fund members use their many collective years of game making (and game playing!) experience to make the best assessment they can. If the project looks like a good fit, one Indie Fund member will champion the project, taking charge of the paperwork but also collecting other Fund members to help complete the funding if necessary.
To further help you in applying to the Fund, we’ll dive into further detail on how we evaluate games based on these three points.
1. Is the game interesting, special, and well-crafted?
Any financially successful game first needs to have some combination of these qualities, and we need to see this reflected in the application materials when you submit. This might mean that you have a game with an interesting mechanic that players can feel in your prototype, along with a clear plan for how to integrate art and execution with your mechanics. Or, it could mean that you have built something like a “vertical slice” – a short gameplay demo that reflects near-final mechanics, art, and audio all together. By playing it, we can see, hear, and feel the final experience you are going for and can see how your budget and schedule will get you there. It could mean a combination – a more simple gameplay prototype along with video and mock screenshots to demonstrate your vision for the final game. We also look at any feedback you received from showcases, festivals, players, other developers, and/or the press, so feel free to link us to references if you have them.
2.Do we believe the team can achieve their goals with the game?
Optimizing your team (and therefore, burn rate) is key to succeeding on an independent budget, so Indie Fund looks at all the information and uses our experience and intuition to see how we feel about your team’s ability to execute. Applying teams could be tiny, or they could be larger. We’ll take a look at your pitch materials, and try to rectify if your teams experience, and the amount of people, can result in the game you want to make. We frequently see teams trying to make a massively ambitious game with far too few people, or overly large teams with unnecessary roles making small games.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean we don’t fund new teams – in fact, many of our games represent the developers first title. Nor does it mean we don’t fund tiny/micro/solo devs, or larger teams with higher burns. However, it does mean that we have to believe your team is staffed correctly.
3. Do we think the game will make enough money so we can recoup our investment and the developer can make their next game without any outside funding?
This can impact our pitch review process in a few different ways. First, if we see a very large team involved, especially with multiple managers, this can be a red flag. There are no hard rules about any of this, but the bottom line is not a lot of independently produced games are going to make millions of dollars. So, if you need over a few hundred thousand dollars just to finish your game, that makes it a risky investment for Indie Fund. On top of that, you would have to earn over a million dollars to ensure you could pay back the investment with a decent return AND be able to make another game without borrowing more funds in the future. There are other funding sources out there that can work with those parameters – it’s just not Indie Fund. That said, there are ways to mitigate the risk of the investment, like experienced team members and/or a highly polished game demo, for instance.
Secondly, we are looking at games through the lens of the current competitive landscape. So we’re very interested in understanding what platforms you want to distribute on and why you are choosing those particular platforms. Sometimes we see applications that have a launch strategy that seems primarily based on what everyone else is doing. While there is some wisdom in the crowds, what’s right for many other games may not be right for yours. Does your game have controls that can easily translate between a console controller and a touch screen device? Is your target audience primarily on one device but not another? Are you having talks about marketing commitments from platform holders and that’s why you feel the need to do a simultaneous launch? Or an initial launch on a platform with a smaller install base? These are all questions you might get if you haven’t answered them upfront in your application.
4. Will the game’s proposed budget and schedule make sense?
Do you have the right people in place to make the game successful? This includes the right talent, but also additional PR or Marketing support if you need it. Sometimes we will recommend increasing a proposed budget to include travel to conferences or to hire a PR consultant. Our Fund assumes that the developer has the capacity to see their game through a successful launch on their own. That means they will be managing conversations with platform holders, organizing the format and submission process for each platform, submitting to festivals as appropriate, coordinating with press for interviews, and buying ad space if needed. Feel free to ask us for recommendations or for sanity checks on consultants you might be looking at, but we don’t supply these resources. Also, we have worked with developers who have received additional funding from grants and who have arranged deals with a porting house or publisher to help bring the game to other platforms.
Our terms are structured extremely favorably to the developer because we expect our developers to be putting a lot of their own “skin in the game.” We do not pay full salaries for team members who are participating in profit-sharing from the game. The expectation is that the funding you receive from IF is keeping a roof over your head, keeping people fed, and keeping the team from distractions created by taking on additional work just to make ends meet. Don’t start from industry averages and work backwards from that. Figure out rent costs, basic living costs, and build your IF budget from there. Sometimes IF funding is used only to hire those contractors needed to bring the game to a high level of polish for commercial success – like a graphic designer, sound designer, PR consultant, etc.
Just one more tip: please do not make up a budget that you think will get Indie Fund interested but you know is unrealistic. We have seen budgets before and can tell when they are unrealistic. Beyond that, we are real people using our own money to invest in indie developers to get them a chance at financial freedom for their next game. If you mislead us about your budget that just means you end up with an unfinished game and some disappointed investors.
Hopefully this has been able to help you understand how Indie Fund examines a project and our new application process. Everything that comes through Indie Fund has to go through this process, and even if you’re not pitching to us, we think these are good questions to ask about funding your indie game.