My brother and I set out to start our company with very little coin in our pockets. The following is how we obtained the funding necessary to start our studio while keeping our personal spending low. Our approach ended up being quite unusual and we learned a lot in the process, so we would like to share what we found with other developers that are trying to jump start their studios.
My name is Chris Parkinson and I am an indie developer for Few Remain in Central Ohio. I am the lead developer with a black belt in code foo, while my brother Tyler Parkinson is an incredible artist and the creative lead for our games. Our goal is to create innovative titles for mobile on iOS and Android that provide a challenge with great stories and great art.
When we began our first title Mars Needs Milk, it was apparent that we would need some start-up funding to make our dreams a reality…
The overall goal for us was to start our dream business of making awesome mobile games, without paying for the tools and software we needed out of our savings.
The Need for Funding
Funding is essential for any small business. It is vital to know how much you need to get started before you start panhandling for cash. For us it was a matter of a few thousand dollars for software, hardware, and accessories. The plan was that once we had the tools we needed, we could finish a great game and use the revenue generated to pursue the business more aggressively.
When Kickstarter Fails
Mars Needs Milk’s cancelled Kickstarter
Our Kickstarter campaign seemed doomed from the start. I was working on our first title Mars Needs Milk on my own back then, while simultaneously working full time. This also happened to be during the same time that Double Fine was setting a record funding amount and drawing a lot of attention. By the time my brother Tyler joined the project and took charge of the artwork, we had already been overlooked and ended up needing to cancel funding.
Kickstarter can be a fantastic way to begin your indie dreams, but I would strongly recommend preparing as much as possible and building a following on social media before attempting to ask for funds.
- Take the time to prepare! Funding is not a race and it’s much better to feel like you gave yourself every chance you could instead of ending up with regrets.
- Build a network before launching. Trying to get some followers on your game’s Facebook and Twitter accounts can essentially provide you with an immediate contact list for potential backers.
- Make a great video. This is vital to the Kickstarter experience; remember that you need to sell your game and yourself, and that quality matters. If I could change one thing about our original campaign, it would be to record the audio for the video using a decent microphone instead of the one built in to my laptop.
- Have a plan of attack. Don’t expect to sit back and relax while the money pours into your campaign. Set aside time to contact backers and monitor which rewards are being taken.
- Don’t give up! If we had stopped after our we failed our initial funding attempt, we would not be where we are today.
Now that our Kickstarter dream turned out to be a nightmare, we were forced to seek an alternative way to purchase the items we needed. During the course of our failed funding campaign, we noticed a few techniques that could also be used to raise capital.
Build a Prototype
Building a playable demo of your game can be a huge advantage when seeking funding. It shows that you have the skills necessary to build a unique game while simultaneously displaying any art skill your team may possess. Prototypes are also a great way to quickly test whether or not a game mechanic will work.
If you don’t have a developer to code a prototype for you, check out a tool like GameSalad. GameSalad is a “no code” tool that is free and is great for creating prototypes to fully functioning titles. Using this software enabled us to have a working prototype on an iPad to show to prospective partners and it saved us a considerable amount of time that would have been used to produce a fully coded build.
Editor’s Note: We have a bunch of “no code” game development tutorials in our From Scratch section.
Find a Partner
When support for our campaign looked bleak, we started reaching out to local businesses for support. It was important to us to partner with someone with a similar message to help maintain relevance.
The game we wanted to make was about an alien that needs to collect milk to use as a fuel source for Mars. With this in mind we decided to reach out to businesses in the dairy industry. After contacting multiple companies that met our criteria, we received correspondence from Dairy Enterprises Inc. to arrange a meeting.
The search for a relevant partner can be cut short if you don’t think carefully about your contact strategy. When we reached out to professionals in the dairy industry, we found it vital to reach out to the team that handles the company’s marketing, and made sure to point out that what we were attempting to do would provide a very unique marketing opportunity that could potentially generate thousands of new customers.
It is important not to feel bitter when a company declines your request for a meeting. Most of the time they may not understand what exactly you’re offering so take the opportunity to reiterate and ask again.
The initial presentation was just a simple demo of the game followed by a discussion of how they wanted to be represented on the mobile marketplace. They also already had some characters that they use in their marketing campaigns that they asked to have integrated.
After some additional e-mail correspondence we determined that it would be best to make a game specifically tailored to their brand and supporting characters. We scheduled another meeting with the president of the company to present three unique concepts that we felt would strongly represent their brand. There are several things that we did during this meeting to represent ourselves strongly and close the deal to establish a strong partnership:
1. Give Examples
Using mobile games as a means of promoting products is picking up steam. We used the Sour Patch Kids game World Gone Sour as an example of an excellent marketing strategy that reached their target demographic.
Giving examples can be a great opportunity to present a game as a realistic marketing solution. Be sure to use examples from existing successful games as well.
2. Make It Relevant
Making a mobile game relevant has never been easier. There are tablets and smartphones everywhere! The reach of these devices makes for a very widespread target demographic.
A game can also be pitched as a potential source of revenue as well as a marketing piece. Dairy Enterprises sells milk and other dairy products so you would naturally assume that mobile games have no place in their marketing strategy, but if you consider that they also sell milk to kids in school and those kids all have smartphones, you’re looking at potential downloads and future customers.
3. Show Your Talent
When presenting to a potential client it’s important to let them know that you are the right team to tackle the project. Show examples of your work and what makes you stand out. We showcased our prototype, history, and artistic ability to convey that we were more than capable of building the game that they wanted.
4. Close the Deal
The one thing that makes me uncomfortable in a meeting with a client is the discussion of funds. The reality is that it is extremely important that you price your product at what you feel is fair while compensating your team for the work provided. We mixed up the model a little bit by providing a few different pricing options based on profit sharing vs. lump sum. We wrapped up with a rough timeline that showcased the steps and time required to complete the project in a timely fashion.
All of this resulted in a concept being chosen for our first official title. Over the next few weeks this concept evolved into our current game Herd of Heroes which features our partner’s cow mascots as super heroes versus the evil Dr. Fizz.
The result of our funding strategy was a great partnership with some great folks. This process has given us the opportunity to develop the best game we can while incorporating our partners messaging. Finding a partner to fund our studio in exchange for a game has given us the unique opportunity to work on a game that we want to make without working for weeks or months on a game that doesn’t see revenue until launch.
It’s important to know that with a little effort, there are plenty of ways to find funding for your game. Crowd-funding opportunities like Kickstarter can be a fantastic place to start and can teach you a lot about what works and what doesn’t.