Kickstarter might not be the best place for developers to crowdfund their games anymore.
Justin Bailey has launched Fig, a new crowdfunding site built specifically for games. The former chief operating officer of developer Double Fine partnered with some big names and studios who previously had success on Kickstarter, specifically his old colleague, Tim Schafer (The Broken Age), Brian Fargo of InXile (Wasteland 2), and Feargus Urquhart of Obsidian (Pillars of Eternity). Each has pledged to launch campaigns for new games on Fig.
Fig also stands out from other crowdfunding sites in that you buy equity in a game or developer, meaning you can actually make money from a successful project.
GamesBeat talked with Bailey and Urquhart about Fig and how it’ll benefit developers and backers.
GamesBeat: How is what you’re doing different from Kickstarter?
Justin Bailey: There’s a few differences. We’re curated. We’re specific to games. We’re a vertical approach, so our involvement doesn’t just stop once the campaign is done. A lot of the stuff we have is value-add stuff. Things like continued mentoring that’s going on. But when the game launches we’re going to help promote it to make sure it sells more. It’s a vertical approach to crowdfunding. One of the big things we’re doing is combining an investment network with it. We have queued up unaccredited investment for later this year.
Feargus Urquhart: The other way I look at it is, with Tim [Schafer] and Brian [Fargo] and I, our big thing is, how do we not just get our games funded, but get other people who want to make great games funded? Not just within the crowdfunding space — when Justin came and talked to us about the equity side of things, we thought that could change things so much from the standpoint of what we could get funded and how we could get funded.
On top of that was the platform that Justin and the guys have been putting together. It takes all this stuff we’ve been doing on Kickstarter and makes it a part of the system. Instead of add-ons and stretch goals and all these things being this very ad hoc thing we have to do, it really makes it so that we can run our campaigns in a way that’s the way video game campaigns have been run on the different crowdfunding sites.
GamesBeat: Does this mean that the companies involved. Will Obsidian, InXile, and Double Fine not use Kickstarter in the future?
Urquhart: For our next games, absolutely [we won’t use Kickstarter]. But to be clear, we just worked with another company to do a board game. We did the Pillars of Eternity card game. That would still be something we’d use other crowdfunding sites to do, just because it’s not what we do, but it’s connected. I don’t want to say we would never do anything affiliated with any of the other crowdfunding outlets. But for games, this is why we’re getting together to do this together. And I’ll say together once more.
Bailey: We’re not for board games or anything like that now. We’re specifically for video games. That’s our concentration.
GamesBeat: For someone who’s used to the traditional Kickstarter investment or preorder system, how would you explain the difference in this equity funding?
Urquhart: One of the important things is that this is both. Each project is going to be different. Some projects may choose not to do any of the equity investment. They would only do traditional crowdfunding. It gives that flexibility to do both. It keeps them pretty separate. Everyone understands what part is crowdfunding and what part is investment funding.
Bailey: Other crowdfunding sites are horizontal. They serve many industries. Anything you do has to work for taxidermy just as much as it works for video games. If you look at a lot of crowdfunding, it’s about building a finished product. The campaign goal is set at the minimum amount of orders needed to make that product. Games are completely different. The people involved are financing the development of that game. It’s much more specific. A lot of times, with these high-profile games like Feargus and Brian and Tim make, the stakes are high. Multiple millions are coming in.
That denotes there being more of an active involvement. Having a support network like we’ve set up here, where you have access to people who’ve done it before, is something that’s needed, instead of just having this tool that people use, which is completely agnostic. It’s not tailored for games. It has no knowledge of games.
Urquhart: To answer the why of it, it’s not just about how to be different from an Indiegogo or Kickstarter or things like that. It’s about having things keep on moving forward from 2012, when there was that huge boom in crowdfunding for video games. That changed our company immeasurably. We have our own brand now. We get to make Eternity games now, so long as we make good ones. That’s awesome. Allowing game-makers to have that opportunity is great.
Now, the difference is, what can we do from there? That’s what Fig does. That’s the connection. It’s not just crowdfunding. If we want to make bigger stuff, if we want to involve people even more in what we’re doing, this takes crowdfunding to a point where people can fund $50,000 games, or $2 million games, or $5 million games. Hopefully we can even get to $10 million and $15 million games. That’s great for the independent game development scene, allowing that. That’s what the difference is. It’s about why we want to do it.
Bailey: We can take the community that’s getting involved, that helps make this possible, and they have the opportunity to get involved and enjoy some of the financial success that these titles enjoy. They can participate financially. That’s really big. If you look at who’s backing us, like our lead investor Spark, they were also the lead investor for Oculus. A lot of people involved in that on the crowdfunding campaign — it almost looks like they got cut out of what they got from Facebook. Here we have a chance to remedy that.
Furthermore, if you look back three years, you’ll see that games have been responsible for evolving crowdfunding. Tim and Brian and Feargus have taken an active role in helping do that. You have terms like slacker backers, concepts like stretch goals, these were pioneered. Now you have investment crowdfunding. We want to take a leading role in that as well.
GamesBeat: How will you approach something like stretch goals? That was never really integrated into Kickstarter. It was kind of invented around Kickstarter. Will that be more built-in with what you’re doing?
Bailey: We do have stretch goals. One thing we’re trying to do, though, we don’t want to play this game anymore that’s like, hey, what’s your budget? Well, what do you think you can get? How do you get people excited to get to what you need? We’re trying to cut that out and just get people the money they need.
A lot of times people go to crowdfunding and then go to investor networks to get the rest of the money, or even go to publishers for the rest of the money. There will be stretch goals. Our first campaign, Outer Wilds, will have stretch goals. Their base goal is to get the game done. Their stretch goals add to that game experience. It’s going to be very much like what you’ve seen before, but it’s interesting now when you think about the component of adding, for instance, iOS. Now you have investors saying, oh my gosh, we could add iOS potentially to this game, and then they can put in more money to make that happen.
Urquhart: The other cool part of stretch goals in general — what’s important about all this is that it’s still — we’re involving everybody in what we’re doing and how we’re building this and how we’re building the games we’re making. With stretch goals, at least for us, that was always a big part of that communication.
The first few stretch goals we did on Eternity, I’ll be honest, we just pulled them out of our ass. We made RPGs long enough that we could say, hey, throw in more classes and stuff. Because we had no idea we would make our goal so quickly. But then a lot of what we did is, we talked to people. We did a lot of talking to everyone that was supporting us. The cool thing about stretch goals is that they allow you to shape your game based on what you want to do, but also in concert with what people are excited about and what they talk to you about.
GamesBeat: It’s interesting, because it seems like you guys almost built the dragon, in a way, with Kickstarter, and it seems like we’re at a point with Kickstarter games that the ones most likely to get funded are the ones with a big studio or a big name behind them. Maybe smaller game projects aren’t having the success there that they used to. Is that a reason behind starting Fig?
Bailey: It absolutely is. It’s not just about getting games by these big known studios funded. That’s part of it, allowing there to be investment in those. That’s a win for the community, to be able to get involved in that. It’s a win for developers to be able to take the potential that’s been seen in crowdfunding over the last three years and do more complex, bigger games. Maybe in the future we’ll get to where we have triple-A games. That’s not going to happen with current offerings.
It’s in response to that. But we’re also committed to having undiscovered indies on the site. Our cadence that we’re planning is to run big campaigns, and then those indie campaigns — we’ll have two campaigns on the site. The indie campaign will be running during the big campaign, too. They can draft and find some of that discovery, maybe find the seed of a community they can build.
GamesBeat: Is there any worry — as we’ve seen with some Kickstarter campaigns, they sometimes experience controversy. We’re involving gamers in the development process that maybe they’re not used to. They don’t understand things, things happen that upset them. Mighty No. 9 was an issue. Is there any danger in having gamers be too involved in the development process?
Urquhart: The quick answer is that it’s all about management. Or management is the wrong word. It’s all about communication. One thing we did with Eternity, we changed certain things about the game. As an example, one thing we did is, we said we were going to put a DVD, a hard copy DVD, in the boxes. Or a Blu-ray in the boxes, with the documentary we’re making. We chose, probably four months out, that we wouldn’t do that, that we would do it as a download. How we managed that is, we just communicated with everyone. We said, hey, we’re not doing it, and here is why.
The most important thing about any crowdfunding, when dealing with your supporters, is that you’re just open about your reasons. Even if you know the reasons are going to get you yelled at, you’re being open. It’s building trust. If you build trust over the long-term, it’s like any kind of relationship. That’s ultimately how it works with your supporters. It’s a relationship. What we did is we just said, hey, we can’t do this. We could, but we don’t want to do it because — you’d think we would have been brighter about this, but we wanted to have the launch party and the day-after interviews and all that stuff. If we’d already sent out the boxes with the DVD in it, those things wouldn’t be on it. So we were like, okay, that’s not gonna work. What we did is, we chose not to, and we put something else in the box. We put a cool pad of paper in the box.
In general, people were okay with that. Some people were not okay with it, but it didn’t change our decision, because at some point it has to come down to — with decisions like that we have to weigh the pros and cons. If we ourselves feel that we’re doing what’s right, then I think that’s cool. Ultimately the answer to it all is, when people are really involved, that’s awesome. How you deal with that is, you treat it like any relationship. You have to constantly communicate with them and let everyone know what’s going on. We’ve released almost 100 updates on Eternity, for all kinds of reasons. Some are just, hey, this is what’s going on, so you don’t forget us. Other were, this is what’s going on and this is why we might be changing something.
Bailey: It’s not necessarily expectations up front. There are some small data points that can make a huge difference. On our platform, just requiring people to state at what point they’re at in development — defining those major milestones — if you went to some of the major platforms, they have no idea what the milestones even are, because they’re an agnostic platform. We’re doing that on our site.
Other things we’re adding are what platforms things are on, what languages are there. These are just small details that gamers want to know. It illustrates how we’re customizing the site to be specific to games. That’s some short-term stuff that can have a big impact. Longer term, there are things like, how can we customize this site to work for games? An example would be, if we customize this specifically for games, it looks a lot like the current crowdfunding platforms right now, but in a year, after working with game developers to figure out what works best and trying new things, it may look nothing like the existing crowdfunding platforms.
The potential that you can see is, if you look at Star Citizen, they did $2 million in their crowdfunding campaign, and then they went to their own website, created a custom website, a custom experience, and since did $83 million, or more than that now. Every time I say that number it goes up again.
GamesBeat: Feargus, we know we’ll see some sort of Obsidian games on here. Is this going to be what people would expect from an Obsidian game, an RPG sort of experience?
Urquhart: We can probably say it’s going to be an RPG. [Laughs] Obviously we like certain genres and setting. It wouldn’t be for our first one, but there’s definitely a setting we’d love to return to and make an awesome game in. That’s something we’ve been talking about a lot lately.
Bailey: I bet you Double Fine is not going to be making an RPG.
GamesBeat: Why name a company after a hotel?
Bailey: It’s a loose affiliation. Fig came up just as a regular name that we liked. One thing that came into that was, hey, there’s this hotel that’s near E3. That’s cool. It brings nostalgic memories back for us. But what I really believe is that the company brings value to the name rather than the other way around. It’s a nice name. It’s easy to get your head around. It doesn’t have “fund” in it, which I love. It’s just something that people can start to associate with what we’re trying to do.
Urquhart: Everyone has to guess what F-I-G stands for.
Bailey: Future Indie Guild! It’s actually more fun if you don’t define it.
GamesBeat: Are you guys working on any other partnerships besides the ones with Double Fine and InXile that you can talk about?
Bailey: We have another partnership already. We’re not announcing it yet. We’re in talks with a bunch of other studios. It’s fair to say that we’ve been in contact with 10 of the top 10 crowdfunding creators, all of whom have expressed interest. It’s easy to see, because you look at the data — it’s very transparent data out there, where the value is. A lot of these campaigns, these creators bring 97 percent of the traffic to these agnostic sites. It’s no secret that being involved with game creators is something that is enticing. It’s something people are excited about.
Urquhart: When we were first talking about Fig with Justin, there was a lot of this idea that it would be — having Tim and me and Brian involved, it would be a lot about us, about the bigger crowdfunding things like that. But what Justin has pushed a lot, and which I think has been great, is this idea that it needs to be about supporting game-makers in general. It’s about the small indie teams. It’s about bigger independent developers like us. It’s giving that opportunity to all different levels of teams.
GamesBeat: Are traditional publishers responding to this kind of crowdfunding revolution in any way? Are they coming back to some of these studios, saying to Obsidian or Double Fine, “We’d like to take more chances on you guys?” Or are you guys just off doing a new thing and they don’t notice?
Urquhart: I get asked a lot about how publishers have responded to us doing crowdfunding. Unfortunately some of the funniest stories I probably can’t tell you. But the thing is — if I had to guess, they watch it, but it’s not — take Activision and Call of Duty. One, they can fund it themselves and it’s $100 million they’re spending a year, I’m guessing. It’s just not a part of their world. We’re talking about the next Star Wars movie relative to something like Clerks. They’re in totally different worlds.
But because, as you see studios like us, the studios that have been successful, even in comparison to something like Gearbox — they haven’t done crowdfunding. Because of Borderlands, they have a firm base like the rest of us. That changes the conversation when we’re talking to publishers. We have our own brand, more of our own brands. We’re a little bit more financially secure. And so I think it’s changing the conversation between the bigger independent developers and publishers. I think they like it.
What’s interesting, I think, is that if you look at more of the boutique publishers — sometimes I don’t know if they like to be referred to that way, but if you look at something like Deep Silver or Paradox or 505, for them, that changes it a lot, because it all depends on how much we want to do the publishing of our own games. It can create these interesting partnerships, like we did with Paradox and inXile did with Koch for physical distribution of Wasteland 2. That’s where it’s changing in particular.
What’s great for us is that we can also look at it like, what can we do with Eternity now? How big could we take Eternity now that we have it and it’s ours? What I mean by that is, you’ll start seeing larger ripples in the impact on the larger publishers. Not this year, but in years to come.
Bailey: If you look at market analysis, the big publishers keep working in the same genres. There’s very little genre diversification. They keep working in the same franchises. I don’t remember what Final Fantasy is up to now, but it’s a lot. A lot of the chances are being taken by independent studios, Double Fine being one of them, inXile and Obsidian being others. A lot of interesting things are happening when things are financed outside publishers.
One of our band-aids is to help developers at least get 51 percent of budgets, so they retain the IP and retain creative control. If they are with a publisher, at least they go in as a co-publisher, as a partner. That’s important to us. We’re not anti-publisher or trying to do away with the system. But it’s exciting, because you’ll see — it could potentially be something where we see genre diversification and other, more experimental IP getting a shot that they wouldn’t get in the existing ecosystem.
Historically, if you look at what’s happened in the film industry, film financing came about 35 to 40 years ago. You’ve seen a lot of the properties that dominate the last 40 years come from that. Star Wars, obviously. The Godfather. A bunch of others. That was those creators breaking away from the studio framework, the studio system that existed then, and taking a chance. Shooting things on location, getting outside financing. That potentially could happen here as well, when you have this freeing up of funds for people to take chances again.
Urquhart: It’s a good point. The other thing is, who would take a shot right now on competing with Call of Duty? It needs to take someone a little bit crazy, probably. But what publisher is going to go out — take Ubisoft as an example. Ubisoft tried to come up with a Call of Duty competitor, something to challenge Activision. There’s Battlefield, of course. I’m not trying to say that there’s nothing out there competing. But you could take any of those bigger games and say, there needs to be competition.
For gamers, that’s great. Ultimately it’s what I hope for the most out of all of this, that there’s a greater diversification of games, something that potentially challenges those larger franchises. They’ll have to react, and in reacting — that makes us move forward. That’s why I’m still in this industry after 20-some years. We’re changing all the time. It keeps your brain moving. I want to yell and scream a lot, but — this can really help that aspect of challenging certain aspects of the status quo.
GamesBeat: Any final thoughts you wanted to add?
Bailey: The one thing I’d say is that this is something that’s existed the last three years. I was at Double Fine running the business side of things as COO. I was working with Feargus and Brian comparing notes. A bunch of indies would come up to us and ask about crowdfunding, and we’d be like, you guys should do crowdfunding! They’d decide to do it and we’d help them create their campaigns and stuff. Then they’d go to this tool and do it, and after it’s done they would come and ask us, hey, what prices should we do on Steam? When’s the right time to discount? All this stuff.
In the meantime, we would talk about, hey, physical distribution, should we team up and found a distributor? Do you have an artist or writer you know that could help make this better? This has already existed informally for three years. We know it works. What we’re doing, really, is just putting a framework around it and making it more formalized and letting people know about it.
Urquhart: On the game-maker side, we just want the ability to make awesome games. This is that next step in getting cool games funded. I don’t want to drive it all down to that simple of a thing, but that’s where we’re at. I don’t want to sound completely selfless on this, because it’s about us as well, but it’s about the games we can help get funded.