The idea of crowdfunding games — essentially asking strangers for money to finish dream projects — began after the controversial success of Double Fine, which raised $3.3 million on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in about a month in 2012. In a crowdfunded game, backers or supporters chip in for development and, in return, get a copy of the game and creative incremental benefits — early access, name in the credits, name within the game, lunch with the creator, and so on. And after years of more misses than hits, the Indian gaming community is coming into its own with crowdfunding. It’s a huge space — in 2019, gaming projects raised over $200 million (about Rs 1,500 crore) on Kickstarter.
“Outside Kickstarter, we have raised around $600,000 (around Rs 4.5 crore), which is leaps and bounds ahead of any campaign that has happened in India,” Zain Memon, developer of Shasn, told TOI. The multiplayer tabletop game had started with a target of $25,000 (about Rs 18.7 lakh). His is the biggest in a string of successes by the Indian gaming community over the past year — Wordpop raised Rs 2.8 lakh, Master of Disaster put together Rs 4 lakh, as did Mantri Cards, then Cards vs Sanskaar raised Rs 5.5 lakh, Forgotten Fields made Rs 10.6 lakh and Missing, a game to create awareness about trafficking which raised Rs 38 lakh, was released last week.
And that tells the story of two global trends the Indian gaming community has joined in — more projects are being funded (2019 was the first time Kickstarter had more successful gaming projects than those that were not) and there is a visible shift towards tabletop games (accounting for 85% of the money raised by gaming projects on Kickstarter in 2019). “When we were younger, digital gaming had a lot of couch co op, where you and I could sit next to each other and play games. But since online gaming took a leap, couch co op has taken a back seat. That created a huge void. So tabletop gaming found a big market,” said Memon, also a co-collaborator at Memesyn, a new media studio that had made the critically acclaimed film ‘Ship of Theseus’.
For Indian developers, that means a viable alternative space to develop niche games or those they are personally invested in. Memon, for instance, had met a lot of scepticism over the idea of merging politics and games. But in a way, crowdfunding also helped with a dry run to gauge if the idea would be received well. “A game idea that was seen as too different would not be supported by traditional game publishers and not get made earlier. Now, developers can sell directly to players,” said Arman Sandhu, developer of Forgotten Fields. It is a minimalist, narrative-driven adventure game inspired by his own life. “I had moved to Mumbai in June last year. Around November, I came back to Goa. I felt like I should base my game here instead of Mumbai. So the game is about an author who goes home, a place like Goa.”
A game idea that was seen as too different would not be supported by traditional game publishers and not get made earlier. Now, developers can sell directly to players
But why do people fund games? On Kickstarter, 182 games have raised a million dollars or more, far more than any other category. “Innovation in gaming is much simpler. In technology, there are too many moving parts,” said Memon. A study in 2013 had put down the philanthropy driving games to a “co-creative process”, in which gamers can engage with the development process in a way they can’t with traditional publishers. And the way 2020 has turned out has given things a push. “More people are indoors, playing more games,” said Sandhu.
But there’s a catch — on Kickstarter, if the target money is not raised, the project is cancelled. “If your project doesn’t reach its goal, then funds don’t get collected, and no money changes hands,” the funding rules say. So in the first few years, quite a few Indian games fell short. Like Raji, an epic adventure game set in ancient India, which cancelled its funding in 2017 when it fell short of the Rs 1 crore target by nearly 40%. (The team did put together the project later though.) Or Monster, a ball game, that raised just over Rs 17,000 in 2015, less than 10% of its Rs 28-lakh goal. In fact, Politics of India had also raised just 12% of its Rs 1,49,790 target. But since it was on another platform, Wishberry, and had a flexible goal, it got the money that was pledged.
If your project doesn’t reach its goal, then funds don’t get collected, and no money changes hands
The byword for caution in the game crowdfunding space, however, is Alpha Colony, a building simulation game project from 2012. It had set a target of $50,000 in a month. It came close. But on the last day of the campaign, the developer posted: “I am afraid that we came up $28 short.” It was not funded.