Small video game raises big money from consumer donations

By Jonathan Deesing

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 10 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Publishing studios aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. While $3.3 million is no small sum, it is nowhere near the estimated $40-50 million it cost to make "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" or the more than $60 million it cost to make "Gran Turismo 5."

These larger, more faceless studios produce hit games but lack the fanatical following that smaller developers like Double Fine enjoy. Further, they also lay the occasional egg — something that would prevent donors from donating the game’s cost just to see it made. For now, huge wealthy studios will continue to be a mainstay as long as ambitious titles like "BioShock" and "Red Dead Redemption" are still being made.

But supporting a game before the first code has been written could certainly inspire a new wave of crowd-funded video games. That is, if studios make sure to follow Schafer and Gilbert’s example.

Schafer and Gilbert both have proven track records and huge followings of loyal fans. Schafer also worked on the heavy metal-inspired "Brutal Legend," (rated "Mature" for good reason) which starred the voice talent of rambunctious actor Jack Black. Undoubtedly, their deep fanbase was the force driving most — if not all — donations, and other developers probably cannot expect such an astounding showing of support unless they share a similar fanbase.

Further, the duo were involved in the minute-to-minute funding efforts of the game, updating promised features as they gained the money to add them in. For example, as funding reached completely ridiculous levels, they promised to offer it on more and more platforms, including iOS, Android and Linux.

However, even if developers follow all of these moves, they probably won’t find the amount of support that the Double Fine team has. Schafer acknowledged that “I think it really has to be a special thing,” and is probably not easy to replicate.

Expecting $3.3 million is a tall order, and it’s unlikely that even Double Fine could generate that type of money on Kickstarter again, but most small games can be created on budgets much smaller.

Most of the games you play on your iPhone or on Facebook were likely made with a budget of under $200,000. These are the games that stand to benefit most from Kickstarter support. So if you like to root for the little guy, keep an eye on Kickstarter — you could be a producer on the next "Angry Birds."

Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing loves puppies and video games.

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