Extra Credits Indie Fund Thoughts

James

This has been weighing on me for some time, I’ve wanted to update you guys more frequently about the indie fund; I just have been barely staying on the bull that is my life.  Between EC, teaching, my business, trying to get out to every conference I can in order to talk about education and trying to get out to every college that wants me I’ve just been wearing a little thin, but here it goes.

Over the last eight months I’ve looked at a few dozen projects as possibilities for the indie fund.  In each case they were outside the scope of what I thought we could do with the resources we have available or they just didn’t fit the EC ethos: hence the video a few months back telling everyone that it might be a while until we find the right product…  Of course the day after that video came out I ended up seeing a project that may well be what I was looking for, but it comes with its own baggage, baggage which I’m horribly conflicted about.

About a year ago a student came through my classes, he was an excellent designer who has since been a finalist for the EC innovation awards, been in the PAX 10, had his projects called out by name by Peter Molydeux, and been mentioned all over the interwebs, but in his second semester with me he was struggling in my classes, and so we sat down and had a conversation.  I told him that he wasn’t living up to his potential and asked him what was going on.  He told me that he was just having trouble concentrating this semester and kept say how sorry he was.  In the end I ended up advising him to drop my class and take it again in the following year.  A week later we found out he had cancer.

He went home to get treatment, still building out games as he could remotely with his team.  I heard from him periodically, trying to give what thoughts I could to help him improve as a designer, always assuming he would beat this thing.  A few weeks back he asked me to take a look at something he’d been working on.  It’s not uncommon for my students to ask me to give them feedback even after they graduate, so of course I agreed.  He showed me a prototype for a game where at any point you can press tab to see the characters thoughts…and then use those thoughts to manipulate the environment they’re in. I was kind of blown away, it has a long long way to go, but it has the potential to be phenomenal.

He started to talk to me about the development process and their plans.  It’s 2D, it’s a platformer, it’s all within scope for what a small team could do… so I of course asked him about his team.  Randomly he happened to be working with Shannon Meissner, who many of you guys may remember from the Cutscene episode.  She’d been an EC guest artist.  I doubt I could find a better artist who’d be willing to work on a brand new indie project.

So I asked him to pitch me.  He and his programmer came back with a plan totally blew me away.  They told me that they don’t want to just put out a game: they’d like to really build something that they can sustain.  They took the 50% deal we’d been proposing every time we mentioned the indie fund and threw it out the window, offering Extra Credits a small ownership stake in their company if we’d be willing to invest the $20,000 dollars they needed to get the company off the ground and get them to the point where their prototype is ready for a kickstarter.  It would start as a three person company and the wages they’d be taking are kind of  a testament to their dedication…

So I’ve been wrestling with this a lot over the last few weeks.  I want to see something grow.  I want to create real jobs.  I want to get people working on a long term basis doing what they love.  I think the game has the potential to be awesome.  And you know what, I’d kind of like to say “go screw” to a system that pretty much ensures that no one will invest in them because the fact that their designer once had cancer is a “liability”.

If it didn’t come from a student of mine I’d invest in this project no question.  Heck I’d have invested in it just as a game, even if they weren’t thinking of it as a business.  But god, how can I avoid nepotism?  I’m sure I’d invest in it otherwise, but…bah…  I can’t help but feel weird about it it coming from where it does.  Bleh…

(I have no time to edit this, so sorry for the typos/stream-of-consciousness-blargh)

Recent Comments:

  • Hi guys,

    I'm a big fan of the show and I always look forward to watching your videos! (I don't think I have disagreed with a single thing so far lol)

    I haven't read all of the responses, but I assume they're mostly along the lines of 'go for it' or 'looks like you've found your game' etc - and maybe you have...

    But

    It sounds like the deal is investing in his start up company rather than publishing his game.

    I hate to sound harsh, but his cancer could well be a risk for this venture. Depending on how much his company revolves around his own input, it may not be the best investment. ?

    I trust your judgement and if you decide to go with this idea then I don't doubt it will be on the merits of the project rather than any outside influences, but the initial plan for the fund was for publishing not capital investment.

    With that said, I don't know the ins & outs of the situation and I am sure you have considered all the angles on this thing :)

  • James, I love ya and respect your work and opinions. But my nature forces me to play devils advocate here. Just because this person was a student of yours does not make him ineligible for the money, nor does it necessarily make you biased towards him. However, you do have to take an honest look at how financially viable the opportunity is.

    I don't have to tell you the economics of the industry, but I know it must be difficult to separate your emotional motivations for this project with your realistic ones. It is easy for me to admit with the information you have provided in the article that I know hardly anything about the project in question, but to me it sounds like an ambitious project with a single unique concept, and little design substance. Something that would lead to a game that is noticeable, but forgettable. Your article seems to contain a subtext of frustration that you would like to do everything you can to support this fella and his ambitions, but you are hesitant about the sustainability of the final product and how it could seriously undermine the funding project you guys are trying to use as efficiently as possible. Of course I don't know you and could never accurately speculate on your motivations with accepting this project, but I think you might want some reinforcement of a thought that you're having; "Is this the best project to fund based on the viability of it both as a work with groundbreaking art direction and mechanics, and being commercially viable enough to allow the expansion of this funding experiment, or are my emotions and good nature preventing a clear perspective of the realistic potential of this concept?" You're a smart guy, James, but the structure of this post and its sanitized, uncommitted nature in contrast to the more essay style extra credits episodes makes me think you've already come to a tough decision, and may be seeking validation within its harsh truths. Or I could be full of shit :D Either way, you know what you're doing. Just remember that a reliable house is not built with the siding, or furnace, or lighting first. It is built with a solid foundation and structural support system before anything else.

  • I say go for it. It sounds interesting and unique, two things that do not get done often. And when it shows up on Kickstarter, I will gladly throw money at it.

    But if you're still on the fence, put it to a fan vote.

  • So James is basically posting to get a permission from the viewers? That's nice of him. ;)

    Hey, dude -- if you'd support them if he wasn't your student then what the hell is the problem really? The problem is that you don't wanna appear biased towards people you've already sort of worked with. But that's just amazingly close-minded. :D No offence! EVERYONE lives their lives based on their subjective experience and you're actually talking about scrapping a beautiful project based on the fact that they happened to already know you. Nothing else seemed to fit and then the one thing that fits you go ahead and invent a reason why they cannot get what they deserve? :D

    I might come off as being a bit of an ass here, but I'm kinda writing this tongue-in-cheek. Anyways, you know what's the right thing to do as soon as you get over your "don't judge me!" ego. ;) I'm glad that you take the time to really think things through, but it sounds like it's time for action now.

    EDIT: I now realize I'm late as shit with this one. :D

  • You may want to ask him why he wants to use that method instead of the 50/50 method. There's a reason publishers don't invest for stake in devs, and it's that the devs don't normally need even a fraction of their company's value. Investing on a per-game basis instead of a per-dev basis is lower-risk for both parties and generally results in happier campers.

    In addition, I think this method of funding would be an even greater form of nepotism. You should stay neutral and treat all devs the same, because pretty soon all your devs will be looking to sell shares to you and you'll be at the center of the Shark Tank. Considering you don't have a ton of capital to invest, I suggest you stick to some initial investment with returns guaranteed or the IP back and a 50/50 revenue split as laid out in the video.

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