When Crowdfunding Reveals the Realities of Game Budgets

While Leigh Alexander's interesting Gamasutra editorial might not be directly connected to our RPG coverage, the fact that there are so many projects recently that are using Kickstarter and similar services to fund development makes it worth pointing out. Here's a snip:
Double Fine's double dip

Double Fine's Broken Age is the highest-profile example of games on Kickstarter -- and now the most recent, most visible example of how challenging it really is to wrangle massive budgets, scope, communication and the expectations of fans in the crowdfunding age. Tim Schafer's beloved team asked for $400,000 to make a small game -- and got over $3 million. Probably even richer in goodwill than in money, Double Fine went on to successfully Kickstart a second project, Massive Chalice, to the tune of more than $1 million before the first project had shipped.

Broken Age had begun to unspool some footage to its backers, and many fans thought it wouldn't be long before they'd get to play something. Late last week, though, Schafer explained the scope of the game had been greatly amplified to match the unexpected windfall the studio had received from its fan-funders -- such that the game will now have to be split into two parts, with the first one hitting Steam Early Access in January 2014. Hopefully the returns from that sale will be enough to sustain completion of the game's second half.

It's not such an uncommon occurrence, as studios often (if not regularly) have to ask their publisher for more time and more money. Some backers and industry-watchers expect that, and others don't. In any case, the conversation about Double Fine -- it set the bar for Kickstarter plentitude and then had to ask for an adjustment of expectations -- illustrates how unexpectedly complicated a proposition letting your fans be your funders, your publishers and your community all at once can be.

Subset Games' FTL: Faster than Light raised $200,000 when it asked for $10,000 in April 2012. Not only did it successfully deliver as promised to its backers, but it's earned wide acclaim even outside that initial community, winning Excellence in Design at the 2013 Independent Games Festival as well as the Audience Award. It's one of the biggest example of an end-to-end success story for indie game developers on Kickstarter.

FTL's ramen-fueled budget management

The game was well into development by the time co-creators Matthew Davis and Justin Ma decided to take to Kickstarter. "We'd spent the last year living off savings while making FTL, and those savings were running dry," Davis tells Gamasutra. "The Kickstarter funding was just to finish off the development, as opposed to funding the entirety of production, so it was fairly simple to compute what we needed."

The pair tabulated general business costs, including legal and license fees, payment to their sound designer, and cost of living til the estimated production end, and came up with $10,000. But when FTL raised exponentially more funds than it had asked for, rather than ask for more time to increase the scope, Davis said the priority was keeping true to the projected schedule. "We had to come up with a way to budget that extra funding while not delaying the game," he explains.

"We were lucky that Ben Prunty was available to start working nearly full time to expand the music and sound design. And we were lucky that Tom Jubert, our writer, found us and was able to add a novel's worth of text events we would've never had time to write," Davis continues. "That extra workforce had very little effect on our scheduling as they could do their tasks without it interrupting or delaying ours, but it let us flesh out the game and really take advantage of the higher budget."

Staying on budget is probably somewhat easier with a small team working from home with contractors comprising the only expense outside cost of living (versus a studio with frequent unexpected costs), Davis reasons. "Delays just mean eating more ramen instead of having to worry about firing people."