Costikyan’s solution -- one he joked he'd charge headlong into if he wasn't 55-years-old and done with startups -- is the idea of the co-op. Specifically, the Rochdale Principles, the core model for co-ops used across the world today with store brands like Ace Hardware still using the model successfully. The Rochdale Principles encourage democratic control among member businesses and institutions, giving them the appearance of franchisees, but instead with the focus on paying gathered funds back into the companies instead of out to shareholders. This setup aligns itself much more with the interest of its owners. But, an obvious problem arose. It's hard to raise capital if you have no equity to sell, and even further, Koster argued that "The trap with taking [venture capital] money is if people give you money, it’s because they expect a return, and in games that return typically isn't a game by game basis. They want a piece of you, they want a piece of the company. The only way to give a piece of the company is to sell it. If you take money like that you're kind of signing up to get shot in the head." This was, as Koster noted, part of the story behind Gathering of Developers. "I don't know if anyone here remembers Gathering of Developers, which almost began as a cooperative and quickly turned into 'no let's take money and shoot ourselves in the head.'" The two developers also spoke of the notion of building a hobby out of a game, not just a singular product. Costikyan spoke of games that are "systemically rich enough that people can play for a long time, and [developers] can find ways [to keep players financially invested]." He added, "If someone wants to play Civilization for 10 years, and you can't find a way to make a living off of that, you're not thinking enough about ways in which you could be interacting with the player." And ethical microtransactions were a part of that hobby mentality--giving players the opportunity to spend money on something they feel attached to, rather than punishing them during the course of general gameplay. "Microtransactions itself, the place where the evil sneaks in...it’s in analytics. It's using analytics in a particular way that suckers you in to that behavior, moreso than microtransactions in the first place.” (You can read more of Costikyan's views on ethical free-to-play design here.) On the topic of new business models in games, Koster mused, "I could see interesting business models if an indie collective got together where part of the premise was touring the games and building social events around them. There's something really interesting there. And charging for a ticket, charging for a T-shirt. Finding ways to make that connection and turn it into a following." This perhaps, may be the territory where new structures and old advice can work together--because even if indie developers can make games that capture the attention of millions, the people who can manage those marketing hats, and those supply chain hats, will be necessary once again to make the connection between player and creator. For more thoughts from Koster and devs' financial future, read his Gamasutra blog on the topic.
"The trap with taking [venture capital] money is if people give you money, it’s because they expect a return, and in games that return typically isn't a game by game basis."
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Indie economics: A discussion on sustainable business models
What business options are we not considering right now, and what frameworks can be created to enable indie developers to thrive more easily?