What does it take to get your indie game development funded by donationware?
Having a popular thread on reddit seems to help a lot as indie heroes Lemmy & Binky discovered this week.
While they’ve both been toiling away at indie game development for a while, I think its fair to say that they did so in mild obscurity. This is despite operating an indie dev community site and having worked on a relatively high-profile game. Obscurity wasn’t their only problem though, unfortunately their last game, despite its high-profile and well-funded backing didn’t generate much in the way of a steady income to keep them up and running. Their savings were already depleted and they didn’t have any other income stream. Thinks looked pretty bleak for Lemmy & Binky’s indie dream.
What they did next however was probably the smartest move since quitting their jobs in the first place. They stopped being quiet. Both of them opened up new blogs and they started writing up their game development experiences in a half serious half playful manner. It was something interesting to read and the entries bounced around on twitter, particularly one of Lemmy’s early ones detailing his fall from XNA cheerleader to XNA sceptic. I don’t have any hard data but I wouldn’t be surprised if this caused both of their follower counts to start creeping upwards, and more importantly it laid the groundwork for what happened next. People were suddenly paying closer attention to Lemmy & Binky and were more likely to give attention to any links they posted.
What came next of course is that they decided to announce their last ditch, save-the-indie-dream game and beg for money to fund their extravagant ginger-nut dunking, game developer life styles. It was a massive success. Combining the ever popular zombie theme with the operating model from the enormously successful Minecraft ignited an already potent mix of base ingredients, and imploring puppy dog eyes, into a full-blown indie fireball of joy – and vital rent paying pennies. The redditors swarmed Lemmy’s blog and it went down under the strain. Even super-cool-to-the-right-sort, Father Ted creator Graham Linehan got in on the act and started following Lemmy for news on Project Zomboid. Within a day they had enough donations to keep the wolves from the door for a month and probably even enough left over to buy a celebratory pack of Jelly Tots. They hadn’t even needed a video let alone a functioning game demo.
Of course donationware isn’t a new force in indie games, Dwarf Fortress has been operating on this model for years now but it is pretty rare to see it succeed so brilliantly with a couple of *relative* unknowns, a written game concept and a handful of screenshots. Lemmy & Binky aren’t going to test their luck forever though, the current plan is to transfer to asking for a fixed sum for access to the full version with free future updates once they actually have a full version to offer. All the same any indie developer finding themselves struggling could do well to learn from their experiences:
- If you have some interesting experiences or stories from making games, write them up and tell everyone you can. Especially tell game journalists as it’s their job to be interested in this sort of thing.
- Be a nice person to your fellow indie developers. A lot of the early well wishes and social network buzz to the dynamic duo seemed to come from empathetic fellow developers. You won’t have this if everyone thinks you are a dick.
- If you desperately need money to keep going it can’t hurt to ask.
- Suggest an amount to donate and also tie promises of rewards (like getting the game) to that amount.
- Mention Minecraft & Zombies together on reddit and everybody will click that link.
You can read loads more about Project Zomboid (and donate to get the game when it is released) over at Binky’s blog.