Kickstarter has proven a boon to game developers around the globe. But getting users to find a campaign is tough, and many miss their funding goals. Is there room for an upstart?
Double Fine veteran Justin Bailey thinks so. As the company's chief operating office, Bailey saw the studio through Kickstarter campaigns Broken Age (aka Double Fine Adventure) and Massive Chalice has left the company to found Fig -- a venture-backed crowdfunding platform specifically catered to video games.
Fig is very different from Kickstarter and its competitors. For a start, Fig will only host two campaigns at a time, and in addition to "reward" (Kickstarter-style "pledge and get the game") funding, it'll also offer uses a chance to invest in games and receive proceeds from its sales -- in perpetuity.
Bailey, who serves as Fig's CEO, hasn't cut ties with Double Fine; founder Tim Schafer sits on the new platform's advisory board, alongside inXile's Brian Fargo and Obsidan's Feargus Urquhart. The trio plans to use Fig to fund their future projects.
Launch title: Outer Wilds
But those projects aren't the only ones you'll see on Fig. The service launches today with its first campaign: Outer Wilds, this year's IGF Seumas McNally grand prize winner.
Each indie project will come from "an amazing indie that has potential," in Bailey's words. The site will follow Outer Wilds up in about two weeks with the first campaign from one of its "triple-I" studios. With each campaign lasting a month, that forms the basis of an overlapping schedule. Fig is designed that way to bring in traffic that will help the "indie" game during the middle of its campaign, exactly when most crowdfunding efforts most struggle to pull in backers.
"We're hoping the indie can draft off the established studios," says Bailey. Fig staff will handpick each project that appears on the site. "Everything's spotlight -- that's all we are," Bailey says.
This is the "next iteration" of crowdfunding, says Bailey, and it's specifically catered to game developers. For example, the top of the page houses a nice, Steam-style gallery of images and videos; built into the site's design is a gauge that tells you where in the game development process (e.g. concept, alpha, beta) the project is.
Fig also plans to buy advertising for campaigns to drive potential backers to them; one upcoming campaign may even feature an embedded "daily deal" to lure in traffic.
By pairing up both reward ("back and you'll get the game and this T-shirt") and equity ("invest in the game and you'll get a portion of the proceeds") crowdfunding, Bailey hopes to create a mix that will help games that are "properly funded, budget-wise," and avoid the need to seek more external funding to complete a project, and situations where developers ask for less than they need to really complete a project just so they get something.
The idea of bringing in lesser-known indies, meanwhile, is an outgrowth of an experiment Double Fine made with Last Life -- the company threw its promotional weight behind its Kickstarter campaign, and helped developer Sam Farmer smash his initial funding goal.
It's also a reflection of the fact that, as the developers behind high-performing Kickstarter campaigns, Schafer, Urquhart, and Fargo often ended up advising on others' crowdfunding efforts anyway. "Tim and I both emerged from [prior crowdfunding efforts] having a much better idea of how to make this successful and work for everybody, as did Brian and Feargus," Bailey says.
That relationship will now be formalized, as part of Fig. As an example, Fargo visited Outer Wilds developer Mobius Digital to evaluate the studio's development plans and offer suggestions; Fargo and Schafer also offered feedback on its Fig funding campaign. The company also offers campaign managers to run the nuts-and-bolts, day-to-day of funding on Fig.
Bailey told a story about, how after Indie Fund got involved with Double Fine's Hack 'n' Slash, Canabalt dev Adam Saltsman called and offered project lead Brandon Dillon advice on how to radically rework the game for the better. "That's the kind of impact we're trying to have," Bailey said.
Direct investment: What devs want?
The most notable thing about Fig, however, might be that it offers equity crowdfunding -- its model is to "always have investment available," says Bailey. (Gambitious has also explored the complicated equity crowdfunding space.)
The lead investor in each project will negotiate the terms of the investment -- which will then be passed on to the investors who sign up on Fig and follow suit. Minimum investments will be high -- in the thousands of dollars -- particularly in the initial projects, but Bailey foresees a future where fans set up trusts to invest in games collectively.
Notably, he says, developers will retain creative control and IP rights to their projects under the terms of Fig's investment scheme. It's also well worth noting that investments are made in specific titles, not in the studios themselves.
Investors will be paid proceeds of their investments in these games perpetuity. But because Fig will have a stake in seeing these games perform well both directly and indirectly -- keeping investors who use its platform happy -- it will work with the developers on promotional activities for the games once they're released.
"I've probably talked to the top 10 creators involved with crowdfunding and all of them were interested in this approach," he says.
For its part, Fig takes 5 percent off the top of the reward crowdfunding and 5 percent, in perpetuity, of investment proceeds. Add in payment processing, and the company takes 7.2 percent of proceeds; Kickstarter takes more up-front, but of course does not offer equity crowdfunding as part of its campaigns.
The question of whether or not it'll work, however, remains. Fortunately, we'll have the first part of our answer to that question in a mere month, when Outer Wilds' campaign ends. The idea of shining a light on deserving projects resonates in a world too crowded with campaigns gasping for attention; the time, too, has come for investors to be able to directly and simply back games.