IGS 2010: Indie Fund Explained

By: Brandon McCartin (BMcC)

On: March 26th, 2010

Indie Fund Explained / Ron Carmel Doin' His Thing (photo by Rebekah Saltsman)

Photo courtesy of Rebekah Saltsman

The 2010 Independent Games Summit kicked off this year with a talk from Ron Carmel (of 2D Boy fame) called Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System that Never Worked, further clarifying the recently announced Indie Fund — a new investment/funding alternative created by successful indie developers for indie developers. The Fund has secretly been in action a while now, but is still not yet fully public, so this session bridged the gap somewhat between its reveal a few weeks ago and eventual open submissions.

I’ll summarize the talk (and the Q/A session) after the jump, but if you want all the details, plus high resolution versions of David Hellman‘s dope slides, head over to Brandon Boyer’s excellent article on Offworld (Boing Boing, whatever).

The Problem, as Ron put it, is mainstream publishers still treat indie development teams the same as they would any other. Old habits inherited from the retail days are still alive, not taking into account the streamlined, iterative way in which most indie games are made, nor their low budget. What this means is publishers wind up taking too big of a risk up front, and taking too much in return, effectively turning the independent developers into “tenant farmers.” Despite the fact that digital distribution means smaller games with zero manufacturing costs, and smaller teams that don’t need to make as much money, the system in place is largely unchanged from AAA game publishing. It’s generally inefficient and keeps the developer in the dark, but there isn’t a better alternative.

As an example, Ron described what he and Kyle went through trying to bring World of Goo to Games for Windows Live. The game got passed through lawyers, supervisors, engineers, QA teams, and various other managers for months and months before being approved. But when they brought the game to Steam (an admittedly more established service) the process took only a few days.

Ron defined publishing with an equation: Publishing = Funding + Distribution. But with the wide variety of distribution channels available to indies today, he concluded that traditional publishers aren’t needed at all. All that’s needed is funding. So the question became, “How do we do for publishing what Steam did for distribution?” The answer: Indie Fund.

He then went on to name some of the objectives of Indie Fund:
– A transparent, faster submission process
– A clear, publicly available deal
– A direct line of communication with the developer
– A flexible development setup for the developer
(no design docs, no milestones, just periodic builds with change lists)
– No IP ownership, no creative control over the developer
– No editorial work, putting trust in the developer

This concluded the talk. A brief Question and Answer session followed (which I will continue to heavily paraphrase):

Q: How big is the fund?
A: Size doesn’t matter. Finding the right games matters; the money will come.

Q: What about the role traditional publishers play in marketing?
A: It’s possible they help, but I haven’t seen conclusive evidence of them making a difference.

Q: When will the submission process open?
A: Currently it’s through word of mouth. We’re still ironing things out, waiting for results, etc.

Q: Are traditional publishers needed to reach all platforms?
A: We’re not handling that part of the business. But making one deal usually opens the door for others.

Q: Is Indie Fund similar to Y Combinator?
A: They seem to provide less funding and much earlier. Indie Fund will be more conservative at first, providing a significant amount of funding to more complete games.

Q: Will Indie Fund provide the developer with resources? Will you take royalties?
A: This isn’t our full time job. We won’t be doing these things. The developer should remain independent.

  • Derek

    Dag… good notes, BRONDON!

  • Dodger

    I see no problem with wanting to help other independent developers (indies) out, unfortunately when you take away the independent bit that means they’re no longer “indie”.

    I really like the idea of people on the rise helping others out. I just wonder if it will end up setting a trend that isn’t as beneficial as the plan could have been.

    The idea that blood, sweat, and tears went into many a early indie game by developers who scrounged for themselves for the most part also gave birth to some great, creative, fun games and helped shape gifted and talented developers into thoughtful, wiser, and more experienced developers really makes me wonder if something will be missing when another thing is given.

    Will the same drive, creativity, motivation, and thirst for wanting to do ones best still be the same? That will remain to be seen. Hopefully, if anything, it’ll just create more drive, but I seriously hope this doesn’t become a trend.

    Big budgets aren’t really necessary, people can be extremely resourceful when they don’t become complacent and remember that plenty of others were there, in that same position before them. It may be no fun to struggle, but the benefits of learning through struggle outweigh the cost of actually struggling…

    There are plenty of examples of people who have struggled in one way or another and have still become successful at what they do. I could name a few indies who have done it, and have started with very little. It’s not a dick waving contest, but the struggle to start off small and work your way up is something you should attempt with pride but don’t reduce your goals to the size of your budget. When you do that you aren’t really trying to be an independent developer, you’re working your way to a career in mainstream development – where you don’t have a say in how things go (and even when those guys do have a say, it can be changed on a whim, because it’s other peoples money and time being invested into your work).

    I still think most indies are the thoughtful sort (or atleast I hope so). So I really hope this brings bigger and better games without losing the quality (including the customer support – where any real indie shows his or her true integrity).

  • xerus

    ya good job BRONDON

  • http://www.phubans.com phubans

    I think Ron Carmel is a pretty cool guy, eh makes goo balls stick together and doesnt afraid of anything.

  • http://shigi.wordpress.com Laura

    Thanks for posting this… I missed the talk at GDC so I was kind of wondering what it was all about.

  • beef

    no major awards

  • Rzb

    Nice writeup! but anyone have any idea when we will be able to buy the audio file from gdc site? as i would love to listen to the whole thing! :)

  • Reality Check

    Dodger, saying that funding independent developers is going to corrupt their indie-ness is moronic. People with creative talent are often too wacky in that or another direction to be employable. So what Dodger’s post implies is, that creative people should keep making their beautiful little games, even if they are not sellable, for the enjoyment of people who are less creative (but more employable). And if by any chance, the arist needs to eat, they should suffer by working on a chicken farm, because that “stimulates the creativity anyway”.

    It’s interesting that this last argument has only ever been supported by the not-creative, employable people, and never by the creative, non-employable people, which again, is odd, because tell me, why would a non-creative person know anything about what stimulates creativity or not, anyway?

  • http://www.roflgames.com Jo-

    The IndieFund came at a brilliant time! Better open that olde idea-book and start making some great games,

  • http://www.mikengreg.com mike

    As someone who was stupid enough to start being an indie right out of school without any sort of savings, it sucks bad to be a “starving artist”. To make an awesome indie gem like WoG or Braid, you really have to be able to commit years to it, and I generally don’t have more than an few months rent in my bank account. Making flash games pays the bills, but only just.

    Getting funded by these guys is the best possible thing for a budding indie, you get funded enough to work full time on your amazing project and you get the advice and help of some of the most accomplished developers in the world. I really don’t see a downside.

  • Dodger

    @Reality Check,

    You’ve contradicted yourself a couple of times there. Hopefully you’ll read what you wrote and think about what you said.

    I’m all for the indie fund. I’m curious how it will affect development when the developer no longer has total control over their finances.

    Before you start pointing fingers and being a negative sad-sack why not read the comments in their entirety first so that you don’t come across as irate or inept.

  • paul eres

    @realitycheck: i’m a so-called “creative” person (at least, i make games) and i think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to work a day-job and make non-sellable games. that isn’t the route i took, since i sell games, but it works for many people; increpare is an example. increpare’s games aren’t sellable, but i couldn’t imagine an indie game community without games like his.