Can We Find More Games By Growing Our Team?

How many games are we not finding? That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves for a while now. So far, we’ve been funding an average of about 4 games per year, predominantly through introductions, and people and games we randomly come across both in person and online. It’s not bad, but can we be of service to more developers? How many more? The major bottleneck has been, from the very start, our own limited ability to identify Promising Projects* to invest in, not a lack of money. If we spent more time and effort looking for developers and projects, that might help, but we all have full time gigs and operate Indie Fund in our spare time. We simply can’t make more time for it. Starting now, we will be trying something new. We are working with a small team of talented folks from different backgrounds to help us find more promising projects we can get involved with. So far this team includes John Polson (@JohnPolson), Kelly Wallick (@KellyWallick), and Simon Ferrari (@simonFerrari).

John comes from a media and games vetting background. After earning his indie stripes with Boston-based devpolsoneloper Dejobaan, he worked for Simon Carless of UBM Tech, finding games for Indie Royale, running IndieGames.com, assisting with GDC Vault, and testing and judging for IGF. In his spare time, he co-created and organized Media Indie Exchange and alternative controller exhibit alt.ctrl.GDC, both high-exposure efforts for indies doing something different. John will be in LA for E3 (June 10-13), and indies who have a game they’d like to show him can get in touch with him via twitter.

wallick

Kelly is the founder of Indie MEGABOOTH, a showcase that brings indie games into the heart of conferences previously dominated by AAA budgets and works to create support networks for small development teams. She’s involved in local community building along with creating cross community networks and acts as an advocate for indie developers with platform holders, distributors, publishers and press. The MEGABOOTH’s current focus is on expanding community support efforts and addressing discoverability issues for indie games.

Ferrari

Simon is a researcher and instructor based out of the NYU Game Center. For four years he assisted Ian Bogost on the Journalism & Games project, writing about games that comment upon (and often parody) current events. These days, Simon mostly works to connect game festivals with the people who design, publicly perform, and live-stream competitive play.

So are we finding all the games we should be finding? Are we missing dozens of projects we could be supporting each year because we’re doing a less than perfect job with outreach, scouting, and research? We honestly don’t know, but we are going to find out. We’re really excited to be working with you, John, Kelly, and Simon! Welcome aboard.

— * A note on what we mean when we say “Promising Projects”: Our goal for Indie Fund is to help developers become, and then stay, independent. What we consider a Promising Project is one that (a) is doing something new/interesting/special/noteworthy/remarkable in our medium, AND (b) stands a good chance of making the developer enough money to self fund their next game.

Indie Fund Now Backing FRAMED

Indie Fund now backing Framed

We’re excited to announce our support of Framed, the first project from Melbourne’s Loveshack Entertainment. Set in a “noir comic book world”, Framed allows you to rearrange animated panels to change the outcome of a silent narrative.

Framed has already received tons of awards and recognition – including multiple nominations and awards at the Freeplay Independent Games Festival 2013 including “Best Game” and “Best Design”, winner of IGF China’s 2013 “Excellence in Design”, and official selection presented at Tokyo Game Show’s Sense of Wonder Night 2013.

Congratulations to Josh, Ollie, and Adrian, we’re all fascinated by what they’ve build so far, and can’t wait for them to share their work with the world in the first half of the upcoming year!

Lessons From Funding Super Splatters

In September of 2012 we funded Spiky Snail’s Super Splatters which released on Steam in June this year.

Spiky Snail had previously released The Splatters on XBLA, but the team (Niv and Sagi) did not feel that they had met all of their design goals and wanted to make the best possible version of their game. The game didn’t earn enough on XBLA, so they turned to us to help fund the development of a version that fully realized their vision. This version came to be named Super Splatters and would release on a different platform than The Splatters (Steam instead of XBLA).

The interesting part for us, other than helping a fellow indie of course, was to see whether a focus on design could meaningfully change a game’s financial destiny. If it did, it could have implications on the way people set priorities while making games, but we did not end up seeing the results we were hoping for.

Combined, The Splatters and Super Splattered earned over $100k so far, and Super Splatters recouped our investment 4 months after it launched. By any reasonable metric this is a very good outcome for a new team releasing their first game, just not enough to fully fund the team’s next game, which is what we hope for when we back a project.

Super Splatters is a highly polished game, it stands out in both visual style and gameplay, and has layered and deep mechanics that make it a compelling action puzzle game.  So what is it, if not just a bad roll of the dice that prevented this game from being more of a hit?

Obviously, there is no way to answer this question with any certainty, but all of us (Spiky Snail as well as Indie Fund) think that promotion was a meaningful obstacle to the game’s financial performance. One issue was the lack of effective pre-launch promotion. The other issue was how difficult it turned out to be to get press for a followup game.

Effective Pre-launch Promotion
There is too much to say about how to run an effective pre-launch promotion campaign, so I will avoid going into detail here. The basic idea is that in order for a game to have good word of mouth going at launch, you have to first build a community around it that is excited for the game’s launch. If you do that properly, the community will become your game’s strongest advocate and you will have successfully implemented a grassroots PR campaign.

For this to happen, you can not think of promotion as something you do as you get near your launch date. It has to be something you do hand-in-hand with your game’s development, long before it’s release. A year or more of slow-burn promotion is very common these days. SpyParty, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, Antichamber, Monaco, The Witness, Grave, Nuclear Throne, Below, Super Time Force, Aztez, Overgrowth, all these games have done / are doing this, and I could list a million more examples. This is also true for pretty much all AAA games. You start hearing about them a very long time before release, and it’s effective for the same reason it’s effective for smaller games.

Spiky Snail did start promoting The Splatters long before its release (about 18 months prior), but they only did the “checklist stuff”, and did not bring enough of a creative element to their promotion. They made trailers, reached out to press, submitted to festivals (The Splatters was even an IGF finalist), showed in the Indie Megabooth, did the social media thing, etc.

These things are mandatory, but they are not enough. Developers have to put a lot more effort into standing out and being noticed these days. Capy is great at doing just that, and Nathan Vella recently gave a talk on the subject that I encourage every small developer to watch. (also embedded at the bottom of this post for convenience)

Promoting A Followup
A port of a game, an improved version, a sequel, an update, even DLC, these are all things we can lump into one category and just refer to them as a “followup”. Something related to your game that you release after the game is already out.

When you first release a game, you have an opportunity to create what is commonly referred to as “launch buzz”. The fact that there’s a new (and hopefully interesting) game to talk about gives you a multiplier on your ability to make news and get attention. If you release a hit game, this excitement and virality tends to apply to followups as well. When World of Goo was released on iOS two years after the original, and on Android the following year, all we did was throw up a blog post. World of Goo having been a hit on Wii and PC also helped us get features on the App Store and Google Play.

But if your game wasn’t a big hit, it tends to not work that way. Spiky Snail found that getting press for a followup to a non-hit game that released more than a year prior is extremely difficult. They even got outside help to assist with the promotion of the game prior to launch. People were generally a lot less interested.

Despite having spent a year refining the design, Super Splatters (PC) received reviews on only 6 sites that factor into metacritic scoring, compared with 32 for The Splatters (XBLA). This makes sense, intuitively, but it’s interesting to see how drastic the difference is.

Was It Worth It?
The answer to that depends on how Niv and Sagi feel about this project, not so much how we feel about it. According to Niv, the answer is a definite Yes. They got to take their first game and make it what it was meant to be, the realization of their vision. Something they are proud of, and rightfully so in my opinion. In the long term, pride in one’s work has real meaning; how much a single project earned does not.

Niv, Sagi, we all wish you the best with your upcoming endeavors!

Spacebase DF-9 Recoups Investment In Two Weeks

Hi everyone! Earlier this year, we decided to experiment with funding larger projects than we normally do. A typical project for us has been in the range of $50k – $150k. We’ve also funded a few projects for smaller amounts, but never a project the size of Spacebase DF-9.

Spacebase required around $400k to develop, so it would have been unwise for Indie Fund to go it alone. A $400k game in a stable of $50k-$150k games would make for an imbalanced portfolio, and would mean more risk than we were comfortable with.

So we asked some folks we know if they’d be interested in joining this experiment. Indie Fund ended up putting $75k into this project, and Humble Bundle, Hemisphere Games, make all, AppAbove Games, Adam Saltsman, The Behemoth, Morgan Webb, and Rob Reid put in the rest.

Spacebase DF-9 went into open alpha last month and recouped the entire $400k investment two weeks from that date. 85% of the revenue came in via Steam Early Access, and the other 15% via direct sales by Double Fine.

This is an important milestone for us because the success of this experiment opens the door for us to support more projects of this magnitude in the future. To be clear, this won’t affect the number of smaller projects we fund. Our bottleneck has always been finding promising projects to invest in, not lack of funds.

It also provides an encouraging data point about bringing together larger groups of people to support larger projects, and we are mulling over what this might mean for the future of Indie Fund.

Anyway, huge congratulations to Double Fine, JP, and the rest of the Spacebase team for a great lauch! We wish you continued success.

You can get in on the alpha now, either directly from Double Fine or on Steam.