Crowdfunding indie games, catering the long tail.

On: September 16, 2013
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About Wannes Sanderse


The latest trend in gaming is definitely the abundant supply of indie games releasing across all platforms. Indie Games are games created by small studios who usually consist of only a few people. They are generally released on digital platforms like Xbox live, Playstation network, steam, Itunes etc. The most important aspect is that they are independently created without the support and constraint of the major video game publishers like EA, Ubisoft and Activision hence the moniker Indie. This means that these studios need to finance their own games, but also means a greater amount of creative control.


The way Indie games raise money today is mostly through crowdfunding platforms like  Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. On these platforms they pitch to potential investors what their vision is for the game. Then investors decide how much money they would like to invest, each investment conforms to a reward tier. For example the first wasteland 2 reward tier starts at donating fifteen dollars, this lands you a digital copy of the game. As the investment gets higher the rewards get more extravagant. The last reward tier for a whopping 10.000 dollars gets you the following:

Previous reward + COME TO AN EXCLUSIVE PRIVATE PARTY hosted by Brian Fargo, Alan Pavlish and other key members of the Wasteland team (must be able to travel to Newport Beach, CA). Talk design, previous works or anything else you’d like to discuss. Also, a shrine in Wasteland 2 will be erected in your honor. You’ll receive 50 copies of the game to do what you want and our deep appreciation. You’ll also receive a medal and AN EXPLODED BLOOD SAUSAGE Wasteland limited signed and numbered collectible figurine.

It’s this gamification of investing which i think popularizes these platforms. Just like leveling in RPG’s there is always a higher level to attain if only you pay a little more than you budgeted. The rewards of investing your money in these games are very different then that of a publishing company. A company would invest its money for a slice of the action, a percentage of perceived profits. A kickstarter backer only receives the reward which fits the amount donated and of course the satisfaction of seeing the project completed. If a project is completed, all rewards are distributed its possible that it continues to make money. These profits aren’t used to pay investors back but are divided in a small percentage for the crowdfunding platform and the rest is pocketed by in this case the indie game studio who created the game.


Getting a project funded is only half the battle, for it to sell well it needs to be distributed. An indie game can always release the game by themselves through a download mirror on their website and a billing address. Of course this is a lot of work and an expensive process. Most indie games hope to be released on all the main gaming platforms, usually they get a first release on PC and they try tot release on PC’s most popular online store, Steam. Recently steam started Steam Greenlight to make this process easier.  On steam greenlight steam users vote which game should be released on steam, to be eligible the game need not be finished. This means that kickstarter campaigns usually run side by side with their steam greenlight counterpart.

The Long Tail.

What kinds of games are successfully funded, released and distributed? its interesting to see that indie games differ so much from their mainstream blockbuster counterparts. Whether it be their stunning retro visuals, genre bending or revival, gameplay ingenuity or truly gripping narrative. For those people doubting if a video game can ever truly manifest itself as an art form there are some gems to be discovered, a few prime examples: Limbo, Fez, Dear Esther and Braid. The reason why these games are now successfully being crowdfunded as indie titles and not by major video game publishers lies in the long tail. The long tail was coined by Wired journalist Chris Anderson based on Clay Shirkey’s article on power law distribution of blogs. The theory is that products who have a limited set of customers or a limited demand can together have a greater share of the market then the blockbuster titles as long as the distribution channel is big enough.

The green part are the major blockbuster titles, the yellow part are all of the indie titles combined.

So a lot of titles with a limited fan base, for example space trading simulators, are now funded and created by their fans. This means they already have a market to release their content to. If crowdfunding games maintains its popularity and distributing platforms keep picking these titles up this could mean a significant revolution in the gaming industry. The mainstream blockbusters will never disappear, but gamers with deviating tastes can now enjoy a vast array of games that before crowdfunding would never have been made.

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