Crowd funding, oh God, where do you start? Ever since Tim schafer raised a million dollars in a day by putting his forthcoming point-and-click adventure on Kickstarter, the idea of getting fans to pay for development has exploded across the industry like a devastating plague of hope and hubris. In 2011, over 27,000 projects were launched on Kickstarter alone, with a success rate of 46%; however, that includes all the different sorts of projects, including film, music, theatre and design. With games, things are little more risky – of the 2430 projects launched on the site since Kickstarter began, just 34% have been successful.
For its latest title, then, Hard Lines creator Spilt Milk Studios is taking a slightly different approach to the crowded crowd funding model. Smash the Block, a colourful modern take on Breakout, is being self-financed, but the developer is using the IndieGoGo site to help pay the mostly freelance team. “Everyone’s working on the project on a revenue share basis – which is far from ideal but often the only way for indie devs,” says MD, Andrew Smith. “If we raise our target amount, then I can pay everyone on the team properly; a nice chunk of money for the work they’ve done without worrying about sales figures.
“But there’s also the fact that this is a really ‘safe bet’ way to test the crowdfunding waters. There are so many unknowns – the right target, how to PR it, who to aim at, what rewards are popular, etc.”
In terms of rewards, the other slightly offbeat element is that there’s no option to pledge for a complimentary copy – the game is going to be free to play. Income will come through in-app payments both for custom content like personalised bats and for power-ups (“but none of that energy bollocks,” Smith stresses, eloquently). Instead, the team has come up with a bunch of other incentives from signed game art to a home-made personalised sponge cake. Which apparently isn’t a lie.
So why IndieGoGo, rather than the more widely familiar Kickstarter? “Americans are mean and won’t let us on that site,” explains Smith. “It’s purely down to the fact that you need a US amazon account, which itself is only available if you’re a registered American citizen. It’s changing soon, but IndieGoGo is a great alternative.
“Added to this, IGG allows us to collect any money the lovely people out there have sent us, rather than only when we beat our goal [the Kickstarter model]. It means the guys on the team are assured of getting something at least!”
It’ll be interesting to see how it all works out. Smith has a profile in the UK indie community and Hard Lines has built up a fan base, so there’s traction already. Plus the game is a quaint spin on a popular genre – its inclusion of little creatures named Chumps, who run along the base of the screen and need to be protected from the ricocheting balls, is a knowingly cute addition for modern tastes. In these uncertain times, dipping a toe into the crowd, rather than basing the whole development project on the whims of a much-courted fan base may well make sense. And everyone likes cake, right?