“In this industry, business models have changed. Technology, platforms, consumers, devices, expectations, pricing... everything has changed at once. And what we’re seeing is so much disruption, that out of it a complete and utter revolution emerges. All of the old ways, and a lot of the old knowledge, are now frankly useless.”
Andy Payne (l) and Paul Hanraets (r)
Mastertronic CEO and UK development legend Andy Payne has caught the crowd-funding bug, big time. As a co-founder and partner of new investment platform Gambitious, he believes that a closer connection between developers and online gaming communities will result in more indie success stories - and a more vibrant industry landscape.
The initiative, created by entrepreneur Paul Hanraets in the Netherlands, will see a modest selection of studios pitch creative, ambitious new projects to the world - in the hopes that investment backers and the general public alike will support and help fund them to completion. Hanraets and Payne, along with fellow founders Harry Miller and Mike Wilson, will work with an advisory board to offer pre-production and post-production support.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before crowd-funding became an attractive mainstream business model for the industry. After several high-profile success stories - such as Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure
and the Oculus Rift VR headset
- the benefits of turning to donations-based funding has become apparent. But Payne explains that Gambitious aims to be more than simply a Kickstarter for games.
“We call it a professional crowd-funding platform, specifically aimed at games,” he said. “Our business model is not solely based on transactions. For example, we don’t think we need to have 10,000 games made at any one time in order to make the money that pays for Gambitious. Funding is just Stage 1 of the process - commercialising the product is Stage 2, and reinvestment is Stage 3. In other words, we’re a new age publisher.”
One only needs to see the variety of projects already available on the website to see proof of the sort of imagination and creativity that could be missed without a platform like Gambitious. Tink
, the website’s flagship project, is an action-platformer from German studio Mimimi Productions, and hinges on a fascinating and exciting colour system. Colours not only bring the world around the character to life, but also evoke certain emotions that could alter the course of gameplay.
Alongside development support, the founding fathers of Gambitious - all experienced industry heavyweights in their own right - offer advice that, crucially, helps the funded game become a commercial success. The support includes marketing voice, reach, and finding an audience most suited to the project. Which makes sense - there isn’t much of a point if the game meets its target and then ends up bombing at retail.
Perhaps the biggest perk of crowd-funding, according to Payne, is the ability to retain the rights to intellectual property. “The funding models that [traditional] publishers have on developers and vice versa has become quite badly broken. You hear tales of developers effectively working for hire - giving away IP and never getting any royalties, just stumbling from one project to the next. Now, some big developers handle that quite well, but a lot of them never really leave the studio as a result. It’s a constant grind. That’s no way to live.”
Gambitious intends to protect the interests of the investors who plonk down money for a project, too. The entire process is described as falling into two major areas - crowd-funding by donation or reward (which Payne notes that “Kickstarter is the absolute gold standard” at) and a Dragon’s Den
-style equity-based approach (where a developer offers a percentage of the project in exchange for funding, with a return on investment coming from the game’s profits). It binds the game creators with the investor (or gamer) and allows the two to share success as a result of a unified vision.
Although only one other project is available to invest in right now alongside Tink
Abstraction Games’ Candy Kids
- the number of upcoming pitches is impressive
. The platform has even attracted the attention of Duke Nukem 3D
developer 3D Realms, which has an adventure game planned called Earth No More
Payne noted that getting the amount of games on Gambitious is a delicate balance. “If we put up 10,000 games on there in the next year, we will die. Equally, if we have one game on there by the end of the year, that’s not cool. So we probably need to get 20-40 games on our platform by the end of the year, and hopefully there’ll be enough variety on there to attract gamers.”
Creator and CEO Hanraets stresses that the nature of Gambitious and the number of projects that it could realistically present at any given time doesn’t mean that they are going to pick and choose who gets a chance to pitch on the platform. “We’re not going to be gatekeepers. We’re not greenlighting projects, but instead looking at business proposals and steering developers towards the right estimates and think harder about their business models.
“The thing is, we found out that a lot of studios just want to make a game, but don’t think about how to commercialise it once it’s made. So they’ve got unrealistic expectations of what the game is going to do at retail, or what the business elements are going to be. We want to help them with our experience.”
So, is this the dramatic and sudden new dawn for the way games are published? “This is not something that’s gonna start a revolution in five minutes,” Payne said. “Over the next five years I think you’ll see a lot more crowd-funding going on. Hopefully, crowd-funding will encourage [new] IP development, and in reality I think it will.
“The journey of the developer is going to change a little bit, in that they’re going to get more connected with their audience. The role of publishers - those who commercialise the games - that’s still going to be complicated, I think. In fact, most publishers today struggle with social and mobile. They’re going to carry on struggling - the commercialisation of games is going to be a big challenge and we hope to help developers that want to get their game made.”
And like that, we’re back to the “disruption” and “change” that is taking place in today’s industry, and the uncertainty that currently faces many traditional developers and publishers. But, in some ways, Payne concludes that history is repeating itself in this brave new world of social, free-to-play and mobile gaming; “Budgets are going up because the bigger publishers and developers are piling money into making the very best for these devices. It’s an arms race. We’re going back to the days where you need to have substantial funding.
“With Gambitious, we want to be able to help fund and create multi-billion dollar games. If you don’t [set out with that goal], we’ll probably end up seeing more failures than wins. And wouldn’t it be a great world where you could get a fantastic indie game made and work together?”
The Gambitious crowd-funding website can be found here