["The Backbone of the Indie Industry" is a feature series where we talk about, discuss and interview the general support structure/people covering the indie developers.]
Typically, you wouldn’t expect a developer interview to fall under our Backbone series, but Ron Carmel isn’t just making games these days. Since March, he–along with six other notable devs–have been busy setting up and carrying out their Indie Fund business/investment, hoping to support up-and-coming indie developers who have the idea and the drive, but lack the finances.
Ron was at IndieCade earlier this month as a panel speaker and after all the hustle and bustle of the event was nice enough to answer my questions on the fund, as well as provide some other musings on different indie happenings and items.
Though the mic was on the fritz during the Indie Funding Models panel you took part in, I believe during your update on the business that you mentioned there are currently three games receiving funding. Is that correct?
Ron Carmel: Yes, we are currently funding three games.
During the discussion, you mentioned that the fund is entirely experimental, and you wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if it didn’t work out down the road. Have you been encouraged by the submissions? If things go as hoped, could we see a methodical indie factory of sorts? And is that ultimately the best case scenario in the long term?
Wow, did I say that? I actually would be a bit surprised if it didn’t work out. I think our investment strategy is sound. We pick small games with small teams that can live cheaply and in return we give the developer much better terms than they could get from a publisher. We can offer these terms because for lower cost games our break even risk is much reduced.
Ultimately, our goal is to help developers get and stay independent. In the short terms that means actually funding them with our own money, but longer term it means sharing our process, legal documents, financial data, and experience with the rest of the game development community as a way to encourage others to start their own Indie Funds. It would be nice if one day all promising indie games could get funding on friendly terms from other indies, instead of going to publishers.
Should we expect an accepted submission announcement anytime soon from the Indie Fund team?
That’s up to the developers. We’re ready to announce whenever they are and we leave it up to them to figure out the proper timing. It’s my guess that there will be an announcement by the time GDC rolls around, but don’t hold me to that, it’s just a guess.
Some indie devs/teams are more open with the development of their game than others. Do you see the updates you receive on the selected developer teams and games’ progress as something that should be shared with everyone? And could there potentially be public alpha/beta builds for selected games that make sense for that development route?
That’s really up to the developers, and I think whether it’s a good idea or not depends a lot on the nature of the game itself. With a game like Crayon Physics, for example, releasing early didn’t turn out so well because it’s a game that’s easy to clone, and many people cloned it. For a game like Overgrowth, where the success of the game is about good execution rather than a good idea, I think releasing early and often is a great way to build up a fan base.
Taking the focus off of Indie Fund a bit…Lately it’s been a very loud discussion on the net, games like LIMBO and Minecraft exploding in sales, a much heavier interest in less expensive (not $50-$60) titles from smaller teams. What’s your take on the supposed “indie boom” we currently find ourselves in?
I personally have a hard time getting into AAA games. Red Dead, Arkham Asylum, and other critically acclaimed games are very impressive, but they don’t hold my attention. Indie games tend to have much greater diversity and the larger range of experiences I have playing them is very compelling to me. I care about the quality of the experience and whether a game is worth my time. I don’t care if it costs the equivalent of $2 an hour or $5 an hour.
You were one of, if not the first developers to stick your neck out and try the pay-what-you-want sale for World of Goo. The trend has caught on and continued steadily over the past year, with several devs offering up there games for the buyer’s choosing and seeing good to phenomenal results. Based on your experiences with the model, is it something you’d encourage others to try? And is there a line with the model and when in the game’s lifespan would you draw it at?
Pay what you want is just one kind of flexible pricing model. I think it’s as far from being an ideal pricing model as the dominant fixed price model. I think better questions to ask would be “what kind of flexible pricing model makes sense at this point in the game’s life cycle?” and “What kind of flexible pricing model would work well with this game?”. There is so much room for experimentation in this area and I really want to see where it goes. Pay what you want was successful for us because it was novel and got a lot of press. As a pricing strategy, assuming everyone were using it, i doubt it would be more effective than the fixed price model. We need something a little more subtle and sophisticated.
You’ve been a solid indie representative for years, you seem to have tons on your plate with the process of the IndieFund, have you found the amount of time you’d like for developing your next project(s)? And is there anything you can share with us about the unannounced project 2D Boy is working on or any other endeavours you may be pursuing yourself?
Indie Fund took a few months of full time work to get going, but at this point it only takes up about a day a week, maybe less, so yes, it’s easy to find the time to invest in other projects. Kyle and I are working on separate projects right now. He’s teamed up with two friends and developing Little Inferno as part of Tomorrow Corporation, and I’m in the prototyping stage of an entirely different game that I’m not ready to talk about yet because it’s too early to tell if it will turn into an actual game or if it will end up in the pile of dead prototypes in my back yard.
Thanks to Ron for taking the time to share. Looking forward to both what he and Indie Fund produce over the coming months and beyond.