The Future of Game Development: Fan Funding?

The Future of Game Development: Fan Funding?

Whenever you hear the acronym “WMD,” you probably already have a preconceived notion of what it stands for, and chances are good that notion recalls the 2003 war in Iraq. Slightly Mad, the game studio behind Need for Speed: Shift hopes that its new ideas about funding will make gamers think of something else when they hear the letters WMD”–namely, “World of Mass Development.”

With game development becoming increasingly expensive, studios are having to chip away and hand over bigger portions of their soul before publishers will consider funding their projects. Slightly Mad hopes WMD will help put game funding in the hands of the men and women who truly care about games–the fans themselves.

The idea behind WMD, which Slightly Mad will be utilizing to fund development of its racing game, C.A.R.S., revolves around individuals buying a “share” of the game for as low as $5. Larger groups and investors being allowed to pledge amounts up to $100,000. In all, Slightly Mad hopes to raise $5 million, which will go towards the title’s creation.

C.A.R.S. will launch as a free-to-play game after a two-year development cycle, and Slightly Mad believes the title will garner $53 million in microtransactions. The studio will keep 30% of those profits, and dole out the remaining amount to the project’s backers. Supporters will also be able to play the game as it’s being built.

Slightly Mad’s WMD idea isn’t too far off the mark from a “Kickstarter Fund,” with which people donate money for an outlined cause, and are then rewarded according to the amount they donated. Kickstarter is a pretty successful venture; the funds necessary to start up the Video Game Museum were recently collected through the site. Even though Slightly Mad’s WMD vision is significantly bigger, it should meet with some measure of success (provided the company can iron out the legalities that are already coupled with the project). The Internet and crowdsourcing services such as IndieGogo have done much to bridge the gap between developer and buyer. With the financial problems that plague modern game development, getting players intimately involved with the creation process will provide three vital things: money, critique, and advertising through word-of-mouth.

But there’s a lot that can go wrong with WMD, too. It’s a bit tough to believe that Slightly Mad will reach its goal of $53 million in a timely fashion, and throwing around unrealistic numbers is enough to block potential “investors” from putting money into something they’ll see no return from.

There’s also the issue of “investors” being able to play C.A.R.S. while it’s still in development. While this is an excellent way for Slightly Mad to get an early handle on what the players want out of the game, there’s also going to be a lot of inane grumbling about how the game needs more chimpanzees on fire, or what have you.

Finally, the legality of the project is, at this stage, a bit hazy. WMD is essentially taking on roles that are normally reserved for the stock market, and unless Slightly Mad has already done its homework, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will want to have words with the studio before long.

We can only hope WMD will go as smoothly as possible,and will bring in enough money to let Slightly Mad develop its title and reward its backers accordingly. The more publishing options that a game developer has, the better for the industry as a whole.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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