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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

Valve's Newell On Community-Funded Games 176

Posted by Soulskill
from the video-game-tycoon dept.
Modern games are extremely expensive to make. High-profile, AAA titles have budgets in the tens of millions, and even the smaller, independent titles can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. Couple this with development times that frequently reach three or four years and you have publishers who are very shy about investing in new projects, particularly for unproven IPs. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell recently spoke about a new way of funding such games: "There's a huge amount of risk associated with those dollars and decisions have to be incredibly conservative. What I think would be much better would be if the community could finance the games. In other words, 'Hey, I really like this idea you have. I'll be an early investor in that and, as a result, at a later point I may make a return on that product, but I'll also get a copy of that game.'" Such a system would certainly relieve some of the pressure to stick with tried-and-true concepts (and possibly get management to grant a little more leeway with deadlines and resources), and it would make the video game industry more of a meritocracy than it already is.
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Valve's Newell On Community-Funded Games

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  • Then open it up (Score:3, Informative)

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:15AM (#28767253)

    Well all they've gotta do is start an open source project for it, like blender, and make sure it's something that can continue to develop so it's worth the investment. No one wants to invest in a projec they play once, or that won't be available for their multi-Cell watchphone in 15 years.

    • Re:Then open it up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rumith (983060) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:27AM (#28767313)
      I think that what Gabe suggests is quite reasonable, to say the least. People do pay for games right now, even those that they play once and those that won't be available for their multi-Cell watchphone in 15 years. Think of it as an early preorder method. Think of it as of a way of listening to customers instead of PHBs. After all, if people pay the devs for the right to tell them what kind of a game they want to play when it's done, it is good. Besides, this will even massively boost sales to those who didn't invest early (because the game is more likely to be good/popular).
      • Re:Then open it up (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CarpetShark (865376) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:51AM (#28767439)

        People do pay for games right now, even those that they play once and those that won't be available for their multi-Cell watchphone in 15 years

        They certainly do. However, asking people to be venture capitalists for a game project requires a little more in return than just asking them to buy a complete, well tested game that other people have played, reviewed, and said they got something out of. Most venture capitalists would be asking for at least a share of the project's rights (including related trademarks, merchandising, etc), AND its profits.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
          So tier investments.

          £10 gets you a copy of the game, £30 gets you a copy of the game and a vote in feature requests, £50 gets you two votes, £100 gets you direct access to the feature list to make suggestions yourself (without requiring votes to appear in a shortlist), etc. with a bracket for those who will get ROI in form of dividend based on performance.
          • I already contribute to the production of games which I want to see developed more.

            I've donated 20 to this: http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/ [bay12games.com] so far and when the next release comes out in a few months I plan to donate more.

            Sure it has a learning curve like a brick wall and it isn't much to look at at first but it has depth like a mid ocean trench.

            It's the only game which allows me to build glass towers from which to dump magma on enemy hordes(fortress mode) and also exercise my psychopathic desires to kill

          • by iamhassi (659463)
            "ã10 gets you a copy of the game, ã30 gets you a copy of the game and a vote in feature requests, ã50 gets you two votes, ã100 gets you direct access to the feature list to make suggestions yourself (without requiring votes to appear in a shortlist), etc. with a bracket for those who will get ROI in form of dividend based on performance."

            I actually like that idea, although I think the first tier should include a copy of the game and
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sopssa (1498795) *

              Actually... this is epically genius: who needs commercials when you have 50,000 people who invested a few bucks and wants a return on their investment? Now you have 50,000 walking commercials, posting great comments in forums, blogging about it, putting it on facebook, and telling everyone they know about this new game and how great it is and that they're beta testing it.

              You're forgetting that beta testing is actually damn boring and all troubles. Crashes, game may look shitty still, maybe no sounds and music, the gameplay isn't there fully yet, features are missing and so on.

              It's hard to make people that committed to a game, specially if its some new IP. They will try out the beta all excited and think "so this shit is what I paid for?".

        • Most venture capitalists would be asking for at least a share of the project's rights (including related trademarks, merchandising, etc), AND its profits.

          Bingo. If the users are going to finance the development of the game, then they need to be the owners of the game. I say the production house needs to set a price and collect payments into escrow, once the escrow account reaches the asking price, they get to work. Once finished they collect their payment out of escrow and in turn release the game to the public domain.

          That won't work for Valve though, it negates the whole point of the DRM that is Steam.

          • Re:Then open it up (Score:5, Insightful)

            by omega_dk (1090143) <alpha.dkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @08:39AM (#28768409)
            Why do you assume the game has to be public domain at the end? Couldn't you just assume it is shared property of a corporation-like entity comprised of those that funded the game? After all, there's always the sequel, and why not share some of the profits from selling the game with those that funded its creation?
            • Why do you assume the game has to be public domain at the end?

              Because that's the only way to get true ownership. If its owned by a joint corporation or something like that you still don't have full rights to do with it as you would your own property. You can't give away copies to your friends and family if it is still owned by a corp.

              Furthermore that money will distort the creative process, when you have individual players paying for the creation then it is about making the best game possible for the people funding it. When you have a requirement for a dollar-based

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            "Once finished they collect their payment out of escrow"

            I thought Newell's idea was that it would ease development costs. With this solution who pays the employees to make the game over say, a 4 year period?

            • I thought Newell's idea was that it would ease development costs. With this solution who pays the employees to make the game over say, a 4 year period?

              If the money is in escrow it will be pretty easy to get a line of credit. Maybe you get the credit from the bank, maybe private investors, maybe it is just operating capital that has been created from the profits of previous games.

        • by Danse (1026)

          People do pay for games right now, even those that they play once and those that won't be available for their multi-Cell watchphone in 15 years

          They certainly do. However, asking people to be venture capitalists for a game project requires a little more in return than just asking them to buy a complete, well tested game that other people have played, reviewed, and said they got something out of. Most venture capitalists would be asking for at least a share of the project's rights (including related trademarks, merchandising, etc), AND its profits.

          As soon as you start cutting gamers in on the profits (or revenues or whatever measure you like), that's when the Hollywood accounting [wikipedia.org] starts. Not sure how you'd really deal with that effectively.

      • Re:Then open it up (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:53AM (#28767449) Journal

        I've been advocating this model for TV shows for a few years. Currently, a group makes a pilot, then tries to sell it to networks, which fund the series. It wouldn't be a massive change to release the pilot publicly and ask people for contributions towards making the full series. Once you've raised enough capital, you start production. You then encourage peer-to-peer distribution of the first season's episodes, because anyone who enjoys watching the show is someone you may be able to get money from to make the next season, or to make your next project. Unlike draconian copyright amendments, this model has the advantage that it funds the really valuable act, that of creating the work, not that of copying it.

        The problem with Gabe's idea is that he wants to combine this with the existing model, where you charge for copies. I can't see that working well in the long run, because it limits distribution which makes it harder to get new investors for the second round.

        • Re:Then open it up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Tom (822) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @07:04AM (#28767795) Homepage Journal

          The only downside to your idea is that it's been tried (by Stephen King, no less) and found to be lacking.

          People who enjoy getting something for free don't pay for getting the next installment. Not in big enough numbers for a book - see the problem with financing a TV show this way?

          • Re:Then open it up (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @08:13AM (#28768239)

            The only downside to your idea is that it's been tried (by Stephen King, no less) and found to be lacking.

            King did it backwards, he asked people to pay after they already have the product in hand. Only the most generous of suckers is going to do that. Word was the story kinda sucked too.

            The key is in holding the next episode/book/song/installment ransom. Sure plenty of people still won't pay, but when you've got a billion people on the net worldwide, you only need a miniscule fraction in order to be profitable.

            It would also help to arrange the financing creatively, one way being a subscription. Sign up for the subscription and the money is auto-billed each month, works the same as music clubs, gyms, etc, and to a lesser extent cable tv does. You can also sell physical items like memorabilia that include a dedicated mark-up just for creative production costs, kind of the way PBS and NPR went to donation levels with guaranteed "gifts" in return - that move increased their revenues a couple of hundred percent. People like getting "stuff" for their money even if it is just incidental.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              The only downside to your idea is that it's been tried (by Stephen King, no less) and found to be lacking.

              King did it backwards, he asked people to pay after they already have the product in hand. Only the most generous of suckers is going to do that. Word was the story kinda sucked too.

              The key is in holding the next episode/book/song/installment ransom. Sure plenty of people still won't pay, but when you've got a billion people on the net worldwide, you only need a miniscule fraction in order to be profitable.

              It would also help to arrange the financing creatively, one way being a subscription. Sign up for the subscription and the money is auto-billed each month, works the same as music clubs, gyms, etc, and to a lesser extent cable tv does. You can also sell physical items like memorabilia that include a dedicated mark-up just for creative production costs, kind of the way PBS and NPR went to donation levels with guaranteed "gifts" in return - that move increased their revenues a couple of hundred percent. People like getting "stuff" for their money even if it is just incidental.

              King's ebook was nothing less than a disaster.

              First it was to be $1 per installment of about 25 pages, a ludicrous enough price considering the near-zero cost of duplication and distribution.
              Nevertheless, only the second of four chapters had a return rate below his demanded 75%, and that was still more than 70%.

              Then with the fourth chapter he doubled the cost- the payment ratio dropped under 50% and after the sixth chapter he stopped writing the story.

              Between issuing childish ultimatums to his fanbase, fail

          • Re:Then open it up (Score:4, Interesting)

            by careykohl (682513) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @09:11AM (#28768747)
            I read the first couple of chapters of that Stephen King crapfest. The only idea he had for that was to see how little actual content he could string together in an incoherent jumble and sell as a "Chapter" to get people to pay way more then they would have for an actual book.

            The big problem I see with Valve's idea is you would need a community that actually trusts you to deliver on your promise. Pre-Left 4 Dead 2 announcement Valve probably had that kind of community. They don't any more and apparently haven't begun to realize it yet. Valve had a great community that would plunk down money for a promise. Why will that community keep plunking down money when Valve has shown that they'll walk away from their end whenever they think it serves them better?

            Besides this idea isn't that far off from what is already happening in the game market. Heck, how many games come out now that aren't really any where close to being a finished product with the idea that if they are successful enough the company might (or might not) bother to fix them? All he's really proposing is that instead of paying to beta test the games like we do way to often now, we start paying at the barely an idea phase. How many times will the community invest in game ideas that go no where before they stop throwing good money after bad?

            Another thing, what would stop Valve (or anyone who tried this approach) from taking the money, creating some barely working mishmash of ideas that show some promise, release a barely working version as the "finished product', and then promptly turning around and releasing the a more polished, "completely different", even though it's almost exactly the same game, as a separate property?

            The answer? Not a damn thing.

            I'm not saying this idea wouldn't work. But it would depend a large part on the level of trust your audience had that you would actually deliver a final product.
            • It's not necessarily a business model just for Valve. They have Steam, which alread publishes a lot of indy developers - they could easily integrate something like Safari's "rough cuts" feature, with ability to give money to specific projects, and then invite game developers to participate (and take their cut as part of the deal).

              I can actually see it working. I know quite a few publishers whose products I'd be willing to fund that way (Tripwire Interactive if they come up with Red Orchestra 2, and Triumph

          • by Ost99 (101831)

            The experiment was a HUGE success, over 50% of those who downloaded paid. It's a miracle 50% of the downloaders even had access to a valid credit card. Mr Stephen King just had a VERY unrealistic view on the share of internetusers with a valid means of paying for something over the internet in year 2000 (and willingness to give credit card details over the net). Anything above 10% for a tip jar business model is fantastic results.

            Not to mention the HUGE ego the man must have to assume 75% would actually lik

          • People who enjoy getting something for free don't pay for getting the next installment. Not in big enough numbers for a book - see the problem with financing a TV show this way?

            On the other hand, my heroin dealer does quite well with this model.

        • by Aceticon (140883)

          Currently, a group makes a pilot, then tries to sell it to networks, which fund the series. It wouldn't be a massive change to release the pilot publicly and ask people for contributions towards making the full series. Once you've raised enough capital, you start production. You then encourage peer-to-peer distribution of the first season's episodes, because anyone who enjoys watching the show is someone you may be able to get money from to make the next season, or to make your next project. Unlike draconia

          • by tibman (623933)

            Thanks for mentioning EVE-Online. CCP, the parent company, has worked almost non-stop to improve and expand the game. They also remade every model to bring them to today's standards (and they are damn sexy ships too).

            I think people in general have always laughed at eve and compared it to an excel spreadsheet (which is, honestly, very funny). But Ambulation will change the public's perception of the game a lot. I think everyone will be amazed.

            • by ifrag (984323)
              CCP is *still* talking about Ambulation? That's not even a dead horse anymore, it's the unrecognizable remains of a dead horse.
        • by squoozer (730327)

          I thought a model similar to the one you describe could be used to fund cult projects. The one I was thinking of in particular was the Red Dwarf film which everyone seemed to be up for but they could never get all the backers to agree at the same time. I would have paid for my DVD copy up front if they promised to return the money if they hadn't finished the film by a certain date. I'm sure a lot of fans would have done the same. I doubt you would have got enough up-front money to cover all the costs but if

        • The problem with this model is that the current producers of public TV are funded by advertisers. Advertisers generate good will by pumping money into media and extract value by getting eyeballs onto their brands (and hopefully products).

          This good will goes to crap when the people watching the show paid to produce it, fact I suspect many people would be upset about Megacorp taking credit when they dropped $50 to make Firefly 2 a reality... of course knowing that Megacorp dumped $30mln into a show might p
        • by sorak (246725)

          Why not just make a weekly TV show that shows pilot episodes? The networks are obviously trying to find cheap ways to fill airtime (google "Jay Leno" for more information), so why couldn't they create a one hour slot at some point in the week, when they display either two half-hour pilots or one hour long pilot.
          .
          They could measure the success of the show by checking nielson ratings, and by asking audience members to vote by texting, the way they do in American Idol.

        • by DinDaddy (1168147)

          Might work for many things, but I see a few problems for TV shows. Namely, actors or key production people that make the project what it is have to pay their bills in the mean time, and if the fundraising proceeds a little too slowly, they may have moved on, leaving the investors with a different product than what they were sold.

          You could implement things like commitments and contracts, but I don't think it would solve the issue of this being too slow a system to preserve a production flow for something li

      • by Mike1024 (184871) *

        I think that what Gabe suggests is quite reasonable, to say the least. People do pay for games right now, [...] Think of it as an early preorder method.

        I agree that it could work in principle - but the summary talks about "publishers who are very shy about investing in new projects, particularly for unproven IPs" and "Such a system would certainly relieve some of the pressure to stick with tried-and-true concepts"; would it actually accomplish that?

        I mean, sure, I'd pre-order "Half Life 2 Episode 3" because I know I'm going to buy it anyway - but how would you get financing from fans when a "new unproven IP" by definition doesn't yet have any fans?

        Some peo

      • You know why he's suggesting it, right?

        It's not to fund Valve games, it's to fund boutique software houses getting into the business.

        His company wants to license their "The Source" game engine and their "SteamWorks" and "SteamPublishing" technologies. In order to do that, they need new boutique game developers that can't afford to develop their own versions of the technologies in question. And right now, the funding just isn't happening from the VCs for new, untested development teams, particularly when e

      • I say this is a dumb idea. Here is why. The problem with games are its costs and the costs to lay money out. Thus if you get 200 USD to produce a game you will use up that 200 USD and then some to produce the game. If this were not a problem then game producers would not have the cost overruns that they do now. And who would not want to make sure that the game is "perfect". Hence there will be budget shortfalls and the likes. The "investor" of the game will not get an excess returns since if there were ex
      • What Gabe suggests is called capitalism. It isn't a new idea. The first corporations were single-project operations: sell shares to buy, staff, and stock a trade ship to America. When it returns, liquidate everything and distribute the profit to the shareholders.

        Today, companies tend to stick around and do more projects, rather than liquidating. But there's nothing stopping Valve from incorporating and selling single-project companies.

    • by gparent (1242548)
      Will you open source freaks ever read the article before you post your religion crap in here, and realize it's unapplicable when you're trying to make a profit out of your mod?
  • So... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rbarreira (836272) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:16AM (#28767259) Homepage

    ... the real investors won't fund something, and they're expecting to sucker gamers into doing it?

    Haha. Good luck.

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:00AM (#28767487) Homepage
      Traditionally, this is how book publishing worked in the 19th century - you'd circulate a prospectus advertising the work, you'd collect a certain number of subscribers, and then you'd go ahead and publish it. It works well for "long tail" stuff; it sounds like it would be worth a try, at least.
      • by westlake (615356)

        Traditionally, this is how book publishing worked in the 19th century - you'd circulate a prospectus advertising the work, you'd collect a certain number of subscribers, and then you'd go ahead and publish it.

        There were many county histories published like this.

        The illustrations and biographies paid for and edited by the original subscribers. The engravings I found of my own ancestors are alarmingly honest as their photographs - showing faces ravaged by smallpox. Farms that were prosperous, but never those

    • If the premise looks good and the dev team -is-... then sure, why not?

      Personally I don't like my game choices to be largely at the whim of financial investors ( publishers and distributors, largely ) who have very little connection with the game at all and are only looking for 'sure fire success stories'.

      Thankfully even the big publishers do try new concepts from time to time - often using chunks of the money they got from the 'sure fire success stories' - but it can't hurt to have more developers try to in

    • But we're talking about people who spend $500 on graphics cards and buy refrigerators for their computers. Have you considered the possibility that a "gamer" is more likely than an "investor" to throw tons of money at something that's all hype?
    • ... the real investors won't fund something, and they're expecting to sucker gamers into doing it?

      Haha. Good luck.

      I doubt that valve has a hard time finding investors for it's games these days. Left 4 dead, team fortress, half life, portal, and the orange box package... Valve really seems to be at the top at least for the moment.

      Having said that, I'd be hesitant to sink a lot of money into half life 3 unless there were some assurances it wouldn't be ten years before release. I don't know why HL2 took so long, maybe there was a reason for that which I would know if I were investing in them, but that's the only thin

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Joe Jay Bee (1151309)

        I doubt that valve has a hard time finding investors for it's games these days

        They don't need one. Newell is a Microsoft millionaire and the company is private. This, combined with the fact that Half-Life and its successors have been massively successful (hence profitable) means they have pretty much enough cash to do whatever they please.

        I don't know why HL2 took so long, maybe there was a reason for that which I would know if I were investing in them, but that's the only thing I could see holding valve up

  • SellABand? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:23AM (#28767289) Journal

    Looks exactly like the SellABand [sellaband.com] model, but for games.

    Actually, I think it makes more sense for games than for music. Studio time may be expensive -- for that matter, so is making a living -- but compare that to the cost of feeding a team of programmers for a year.

    Waiting to be modded down by people who know more about music than I do. (No sarcasm there -- this is just armchair speculation. Move along.)

  • I have pre-ordered games before while they were still being closed beta tested. It seems to me that what he described was a form of pre-ordering. What won't happen is people pre-ordering games that are purely ideas. If you want investors to put something into your game, it needs to be impressive and exciting.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:02AM (#28767513)

      What won't happen is people pre-ordering games that are purely ideas. If you want investors to put something into your game, it needs to be impressive and exciting.

      Actually, we already do this, so it's hardly a revolutionary idea. This is exactly how games are produced for the board wargame market.

      A publisher will announce they're planning to make a game, list the major features (setting, operational level, general type, complexity, etc) and ask for preorders. This is usually accompanied by a mockup of the game or some early counter/map graphics, but can also just be an outline. The preorders will typically be at a 30% discount from the final retail price.

      As development progresses, more information will be added to the listing. Rules excerpts will go up along with sample games from the playtest reports. Final art for the finished product will be posted as well, since it's something that is typically done early in development. The whole time this is happening, additional preorders will be coming in. Also, the designer will be listening to feedback from the people who have preordered, and possibly adding requested features.

      When the number of preorders reach a certain threshold, the game will go onto the schedule to be printed, but will not be published until it is complete. Typically, this will mean several months more of playtesting to tweak the rules for optimal balance. Unlike computer games, there's no releasing a patch for a shoddy wargame. They have to be more or less right the first time. Again, more preorders will be added during these final months.

      When the printing date draws near, the publisher will look at the total number of preorders and multiply that to decide how many copies to print, usually times 3-4. The key being that at this point, the number of preorders will allow them to break even on the number of printed copies, even if no further games are sold. Anything sold after the preorders is profit.

      And that's how wargames are made.

      However there are differences. Wargaming is a smaller hobby, which has well established companies with good reputations, and whose players are intimately familiar with the subject matter. This is why companies are able to make sales based on nothing more than an outline.

      Would this work as well in the computer industry? Who knows. Gamers have been burned far too often in the past with pre-rendered screenshots that looked nothing like the actual game, and fly-by-night companies that barely lasted past their ship date. It's even less likely to work on the console market, where sales are driven purely by graphics and not gameplay.

  • by pwilli (1102893) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:39AM (#28767391)
    If I were a game developer, the last person I would like to be financially dependent on would be the "gamer".

    "Why is developement taking so loooong? I want the game now!"
    "You want to cut out that cool-sounding feature to be able to finish the development (in time)? No way!"
    "Look, game studio XYZ makes the same game, but better - I'm outta here!"
    "I think I heard that the game might not be 100% exactly what I thought I wanted, so I told everybody I know to not to give you any money, ever!"
    "I f*cking paid for the development, why aren't you doing it the way I want!?!"

    Although publishers tend to screw some game developement up with uber-tight schedules and other unrealistic demands, they will at least not destroy "their" product with bad press or force development to go on and on and on (till THE game "to rule 'em all" is produced), just because they feel like it.
    • If I were a game developer, the last person I would like to be financially dependent on would be the "gamer".

      Except its not a gamer. It's a whole load of gamers. It would have to be a whole load of them to raise the necessary budget.

      I'm sure $richdudewhopaidforit was always on Michaelangelo's case while he was painting that roof: Those cherubs are too fat! I didn't ask for clouds, you dauber!

      This "distributed patronage" model is all that multiplied by the factorial of how many investors^H contributors t

      • by Kreigaffe (765218)

        $richdudewhopaidforit

        ... do you maybe mean... the Pope?

        and yes, he was on Mike's case, he hit him with his cane once and actually had to apologize for it.

    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:58AM (#28767479)

      Which are all valid points, if expressed in an immature style that you'd expect from most teenagers.

      Another interesting aspect is that, if any contract was involved... would gamers be bound to it, since many are minors? And if no contract is involved... what guarantees would they have?

    • by mike2R (721965)
      heh, you could probably find most of those exact comments on any forum for an upcoming game right now, from people who haven't yet paid a penny.

      I think the "gamer" bit here is something of a red herring; as I see it the meat of the idea is: "is it possible to finance a game with small investors, rather than from a single publisher?" I don't think that doing it as "very advanced pre-orders" would work (how many people are going to pay for a game several years in advance?), what is needed is investors not
    • by loufoque (1400831)

      If I were a game developer, the last person I would like to be financially dependent on would be the "gamer".
      Yet, the client is king.

  • Sure, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:47AM (#28767419) Homepage

    There needs to be some way for people to bail out too. Otherwise there'll be idiots like 3D Realms out there, all too ready to piss away our money on another DNF debacle. Guess what, this is called investment. All the developers have to do is to sell shares in the game. (And yes, this sort of thing does need to be protected by the usual rules for investments.) Of course, there's always a chance that this'll mean that developers get squeezed out of working on their own creations, but if they can't knuckle down and deliver a product, they deserve to get shafted.

    • by Kreigaffe (765218)

      I doubt any actual gamers would have given money for DNF's production. No, a debacle like that can only be financed by monkeys in suits who are completely disassociated from reality in every way.
      That's not saying nobody would have bought DNF, but it's been a running joke of a game that never would be released for YEARS. Only an idiot would finance something like that.

      • by dkf (304284)

        I doubt any actual gamers would have given money for DNF's production. No, a debacle like that can only be financed by monkeys in suits who are completely disassociated from reality in every way.

        A sane businessman wouldn't have funded it for that long either. What you had there was the crazies in charge of the madhouse. They appeared to believe that they could go on forever, and the only surprising thing was how long it took for someone to pull the plug.

        There's an old engineering saw about the perfect being the enemy of the good. It applies absolutely to product development.

    • Guess what, this is called investment. All the developers have to do is to sell shares in the game.

      Sounds like we're back to business as usual; those eevull corprashun$$$ that everyone likes to rant about.

      Maybe the reason they exist is that it's the worst way of producing something - apart from all the others we've tried.

      • by dkf (304284)

        Maybe the reason [corporations] exist is that it's the worst way of producing something - apart from all the others we've tried.

        They seem to be one of the less terrible ways (along with smaller scale commercial setups) in that they don't oppress their employees nearly as much as alternatives like forced labor camps or slave driving. I suppose religion could be used as a motivator too, but I don't honestly see making game development into a commandment...

  • Flip a coin (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986)
    So let's see here.
    1. Expect a lot of people to pay ~$50 for a game before it's developed.
    2. Give these people absolutely no guarantee that the game will ever be produced or that it will be anything like what it was originally billed to be.
    3. ???
    4. PROFIT!

    Seriously though, this just confirms my suspicion that Gabe Newell is completely fucking retarded and has absolutely no sense what so ever. What happens when the budget falls short (not enough investors)? The game isn't produced but the money has already
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      There Games G-A-M-E-S Really why should we care if someone has the ability to make them or not. It is not like a failure to make a game will end civilization or even harm it. If it comes out then we decide to buy it or not. Play with it for a few months dump in archive and pull it out every couple years for. That is if your lucky. This story makes it seem that a failure to produce a game is a huge loss to the world. Sorry it isn't. Failure to make a game isn't our fault it is due to poor management at

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
      Your list is missing some extra points.

      1. Expect a lot of people to pay ~$50 for a game before it's developed.
      2. Give these people absolutely no guarantee that the game will ever be produced or that it will be anything like what it was originally billed to be.
      3. ???
      4. PROFIT!
      5. Realise that 4. was short term, and you've lost the investment base you had.
      6. Realise that your reputation as a skilled and inventive game developer has been smeared all over the internet, with major game publishers (keen to see if the model works) seeing that you're now hated by the gaming community.
      7. Realise you've killed your employment prospects for ever working in mainstream games development.
      8. Get McDonalds application form.

    • I'd definitely be willing to trust the paltry sum of $50 with a game maker as good as Valve. If we were talking over a hundred or a company like sega (sigh, these days anyway) then no.

      What makes you doubt Valve, Mr Freeman? Granted, if they're asking for money for HL3, I know I'll probably be sending my as-of-yet unborn kids off to college before seeing the actual game, but $50 is something I'd be willing to donate anyway.

    • Seriously though, this just confirms my suspicion that Gabe Newell is completely fucking retarded and has absolutely no sense what so ever.

      Have you seen the sales figures for Left 4 Dead, especially when Valve started tinkering with Steam price for it (basically lowering it to see how many more would buy it)?

      I wish I was that kind of idiot.

    • by Backward Z (52442)

      Seriously though, this just confirms my suspicion that Gabe Newell is completely fucking retarded and has absolutely no sense what so ever.

      I dunno about that, man. He did make Half-Life. That wins some smart points in my book.

  • Requirements? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ScaledLizard (1430209) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:00AM (#28767501)
    If I were to invest in game development, I would require the following:

    1. Access to a weekly build. I want a full build of the current game status, not a reduced-functionality demo. This is necessary because if game development would stop, I would still have something. The extreme programming technique could be used to reduce the risk of loss in investment.

    2. Ability to request changes. If I invest in a game, this should give me a certain degree of voting rights.

    3. As long as money is invested in the game, development should continue. When a game developer wants to stop supporting a game, he should stop people from investing in it.

    4. Online platform. Ongoing projects should be listed on a service like ebay.

    In particular for game topics neglected by the big publishers, this would open up ways for newcoming game developers to implement ideas from and for communities with special interests. While I think this would be a welcome change, many people will prefer buying games without risking loss of investment. If trolls are kept in check, I think the game development process could work in a very open way.

    • Re:Requirements? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kreigaffe (765218) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:25AM (#28767617)

      With that list of demands, I'd make a large wager that you'll never invest in any sort of game development. Request changes? So you know better what a nebulous idea of a game will need better than the developer? Why don't you just go make it yourself, then?
      Mass-sourced funding like this is banked on the fact that the people buying in have some level of trust that the game dev is going to make a good game. If you don't believe that, you're not going to give them money, no matter what concessions they make. Large investors changing games just because they're funding them... that's exactly why people dislike big players like EA so much, because they'll buy out a small studio and then dictate how they make their games.

    • Yikes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EnsilZah (575600) <EnsilZah AT Gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:38AM (#28767669)

      Wow, as someone planning to make a game as my thesis project and as someone who enjoys games that sounds terrible!
      I generally expect a work of fiction to be created from the vision of one person (possibly using the skills of people he directs) I doubt I'd enjoy watching a movie or reading a book or playing a game designed by a committee for the lowest common denominator.
      And although watching a game develop in incremental stages might be interesting for someone interested in game development, personally I think it would ruin my enjoyment of the finished product.

    • The resulting media must be under a Free Sofware license (or Creative Commons, as appropriate) so that I can benefit from the software I paid to have developed.

      There's absolutely no way whatsoever that I will pay for directed development on closed-source software.

      Further, there must be no DRM involved, which pretty much rules out Steam. So Valve's Newell can go piss up a rope.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kenp2002 (545495)

      "A camel is a horse designed by comittee"

      A simple but powerful quote.

      I am fond of:

      "Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the soup."

      Investors are not always partners, that's why investors have a board of directors to advocate for them.

    • by migla (1099771)

      In theory, gamers (or any other group that wants a commercial-grade Free software app) could get together in large enough numbers and employ developers and artists who make a Free/CC game, right? The project could obviously also have people contributing for free. No need for Valves or other middle-men (or women).

      Is there any real reason FLOSS communities couldn't now or in the near future pull off a polished commercial grade project?

    • 2. Ability to request changes. If I invest in a game, this should give me a certain degree of voting rights.

      This sounds like a good idea - until you start reading the World of Warcraft class forums.

    • by LetterRip (30937)

      If I were to invest in game development, I would require the following:

      1. Access to a weekly build. I want a full build of the current game status, not a reduced-functionality demo. This is necessary because if game development would stop, I would still have something. The extreme programming technique could be used to reduce the risk of loss in investment.

      This was how the 'Yo Frankie' game was developed. SVN was openned up to the supporters fairly early in the game development cycle. http://www.yofrankie.org/

      2. Ability to request changes. If I invest in a game, this should give me a certain degree of voting rights.

      While I don't disagree, realize that 50$ for a game needing million dollar development means you have one vote out of 20,000. Given that a feature to develop and debug will take probably 10 hrs, and with each of those hours billed easily at 50-100$, you aren't supplying enough funding to support a single simple feature.

      3. As long as money is invested in the game, development should continue. When a game developer wants to stop supporting a game, he should stop people from investing in it.

      Doesn't sound particularly needed

  • Steam (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If he's serious then he should add something to Steam to support this process. I'm assuming that Steam has enough checks when signing up as a developer that people wouldn't be able to use this as an easy tool to con people, and it's possible that existing developers and publishers might even use this for some of their more unusual ideas.

  • by asdf7890 (1518587) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:39AM (#28767677)

    I would be very wary of making such an investment, certainly for as much or more than I would expect to pay for a game once complete (and it is rare that I pay full-price-as-at-release-date for a game), because the cynic in me would expect something akin to Hollywood Accounting to be used to make sure that I didn't get the cut at the end.

    Though if the level of investment required is less than what I'd expect to pay for the game once complete, the risk of getting nothing back (no game, no cut of profits) might be small enough considering the investment amount for me to be willing to take a punt on an idea I like the sound of.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Karlprof (993894)

      Agreed that a payment investment which is reduced from the price of a full game would limit the potential losses to any one consumer, and is a good idea.

      If 10,000 people like your idea and the assets you've come up with so far well enough to give, say, $20 each, that's $200,000 to play with, which isn't too bad a budget for an indie game. I think that's a very achievable goal - the idea would have to be innovative and enticing, the development process would have to be open enough that people see their money

  • Lot's of resources are spent in experimentation. Stop experimenting and then game development will not exceed one year.

  • If I'd paid $20 for HL2 - Episode 3 6 years ago, and still didn't have it now, I'd be pretty pissed.

  • by NoPantsJim (1149003) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @07:06AM (#28767801) Homepage
    If someone had offered me a glimpse of Schizoid or Braid (both from Xbox 360 arcade) and said "Would you like to invest? I would have dove in head first.
  • by ShakaUVM (157947)

    Tell Gabe to answer my emails. I'd like the TF2 source code opened up, so that people can make real mods for it instead of the half-assed server mod hacks that they have to use now.

    CustomTF extended the life of TF by 10 years, and CustomTF2 could do the same.

    He'd get a community game thatno one would have to pay for. Does anyone make money off mods... if they're not bought out by Valve? They're labors of love, and as such, the programmers are often much more productive than people working for money. When yo

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @07:32AM (#28767937)

    (Pardon the AC, it's been years since I posted on slashdot)

    I'm working on a game called Minecraft, which uses pretty much this model. It's been in development for a bit over two months, and pre-orders have been online since June 13. I've sold over 1000 copies since then, which more than pays for the remaining development time, and the curve on sales is still pointing upwards.
    I know Mount & Blade used a similar system, and so does Dwarf Fortress. If small indie games can do this, why can't valve?

    • Please consider the difference (in order of magnitudes) between Half-Life 2's budget and your game's. Now realize how it would translate in terms of number of people involved in the community financing. The answer to your (possibly rhetorical, my apologies in that case) question should become clear at this point.
  • I like it.

    It's basically investing.
  • in its and bits. i would have no issues donating 5-10 frequently to a game title i was enthusiastically waiting for.

  • First of all I do think that his idea has merit but it doesn't take a genius to start seeing the flaws - in particular what motivation does the development team have to continue developing the project?

    1. Generate interest
    2. Collect investment
    3. Profit
    4. Interest wanes, Investments slow
    5. Developer thinks of new idea
    6. Goto 1


    With this business model we'll never see any completed games.

    What you need to do is set up a third party finance company who sign people up for a subscription. Subscribe
  • Game companies invest in a game not to get a game they want, but for a return on investment... that's called making money. Sometimes game makers get into this mindset that they're doing the world a favor by creating the perfect game, when their objective (if they're a business rather than a hobby) is to make money. Usually those two goals coincide and you get a great offering, but the idea of having your everday gamer invest in an idea ignores reality. The only way this sort of thing could work would be if
  • "Modern games are extremely expensive to make. High-profile, AAA titles have budgets in the tens of millions"

    Seen Gabe Newell lately? That's just for the catering.

  • I thought about this process a few years ago. The concept of a player bond. You donate $20 and we give you a $20 credit on your first month's subscription (I was looking specifically at MMO development.) Donate $100 and get a $100 dollar credit against your subscription fees (so assuming $10 a month you would get 10 months free.)

    Sadly checking with the IRS and SEC this is a paperwork nightmare and would eat most of the donations.

  • It takes Pixar four years to produce a feature film from an story concept that has been kicked about for five to ten years -
    and even then there will be many false starts.

    It is easy even for the pro to become enamored with an idea that isn't working or is fundamentally second-rate.

    The fan will find it even harder to let go.

    But the greater risk may be the fan-driven production: "Snakes on a Plane."
     

  • The real power of player driven investment and pre-orders is investor matching, which happens a lot in other industies.

    Developer announces the game. Investor A comes up and says, "I'll chip in X if you can clear 60,000 pre-orders." Investor B comes in and says I'll match player donations. Investor C says, If you can get a contract with Wallmart to distribute the product I'll throw in Y dollars.

    There are plenty of ways in which player driven investment could take form, I would wager leverage against traditio

  • The problem is the lack of sharing and re-use that goes hand in hand with competition. My friends and I all think how awesome Left4Dead would have been if it had been built on the open city of GTA4 (or is it 5 now?). How much work went into building those huge worlds or the engines that generate those worlds say, in GTA or Fallout3 or Oblivion. Then they are used for maybe one game and a few addons and that's it. What a waste.

    • Exactly. We need the code sharing of open source. I think the city of GTA4 would be awesome for any number of games. Imagine being able to start with a fully functioning city including buildings, people, and vehicles and then drop in your characters and your story.

  • I'm surprised the article doesn't mention the Unknown Worlds team, who are using this model to produce Natural Selection 2 [naturalselection2.com].

    I suppose it's less revolutionary for them, as they have a history of community-funded development. In the original Natural Selection, players could pay a modest fee to enroll in the "Constellation Program." Members received a variety of perks, including early access to beta releases and an in-game/forum icon.

    Of course, the NS2 developers have a history of transparency and delivering

  • sad, but it's true. There needs to be a way of sorting the chaff from the wheat with both concepts and developers.

    I've got 5 or 6 concepts that developed properly could be hits, but I don't have all the skills necessary to develop them into games.

    As well, there are plenty of developers who have the skills necessary, but have crappy concepts.

    There needs to be a matchmaking lobby for developers and designers. Then once the concept is hammered out, the "investors" get to choose what they want to put money in

  • by Itchyeyes (908311) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @09:56AM (#28769217) Homepage

    Stardock has already been doing something similar to this for some time now. Those who pre-ordered Sins of a Solar Empire, Gal Civ 2, or any of either game's numerous expansions got access to closed betas very early on in the games' developments. The payoff, for those who invested in the games early on, is the ear of the developer and a chance to have a much larger say in how the game turns out than is usual.

  • While I find the idea interesting, I can't help but wonder what would this will mean for the gaming community. You know how there are Apple fans who have thousands of dollars invested in Apple's products and then there are Apple fans who have thousands of dollars invested in Apple stock? Two completely different people. The first will argue until they are blue in the face while the latter will call you a child killer and walk out of the warning everyone about the putrid smell coming from the sorry sack of s

  • by castironpigeon (1056188) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @10:52AM (#28769959)
    With the utter shit that's come out of many AAA developers recently I can't even justify paying for the game after it's been released, let alone ahead of time.

    The idea reminds me of those poor suckers who bought lifetime subscriptions to winning titles such as Hellgate London and Tabula Rasa, or all those who clamored to buy Spore. What guarantee do gamer investors have that a developer won't put out a good idea, take $20 from a few thousand players, and then put out another craptabulous title just to say they did it? No thanks.
  • by Z8 (1602647)
    I work in finance, so I've studied a bit about the best capital structure to use to finance a risky project. For instance, classical finance was often concerned with a given company's optimum mix of equity (stocks) and debt (bonds). In recent decades there have been an explosion of alternative financing methods proposed, and Gabe's suggestion can be seen in this context. Here are some basic questions to ask:
    • Would game sponsorship act more like equity, with unlimited upside?
    • Or would it behave more like

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