September 9, 2012

My hopes for the future of videogames

The recent Greenlight debate got me thinking about something I had in my mind for a good while: there needs to be a way for funding videogames that are not profitable, not marketable or commercially viable. Games that are important yet won´t generate any benefits.

I deeply believe that the lack of such a possibility is what prevents videogames from evolving. Sure there is people doing experimental games, but most of them are small and not very polished. It´s enough to look at the amount of work and care that developers put into their commercial releases in comparison to their freeware experiments. What would happen if they could invest the same time, care and energy into such experiments while not having to bother with how to market it? How far could they push these concepts? How deeply could they explore the possibilities of the medium?

I also strongly believe that this would benefit the whole industry as there needs to be a risk-free environment to be able to truly experiment. It´s the exact way it has worked for cinema: all the wild experimentation and innovation happens in short films, that are made possible through grants and funds with no return investment. And this opens new creative paths that once proven to be successful get incorporated into feature films and the mainstream cinema.

In France it works remarkably well. The SACD, the private organism that takes care of author´s rights for the french cinema, takes a cut of the box office profits, dvd sales, etc, and invests them back into funding more cinema. This means that a blockbuster hit is good for the whole industry, as it will not only benefit its makers but also will help fund other films, documentaries, tv series, experimental shortfilms and whatnot. This has created a healthy ecosystem where there is a good range of funding programs that, amongst other things, makes possible the production of projects that don´t generate any profit at all.

Could we imagine one day something similar for games? Imagine how much money could be raised if you took 0.1% from the profits of every gaming blockbuster in a year. Imagine if that money could be used for funding projects that would help develop the medium, without the need to return a single penny. Can we dream of something like that?

Could we at least imagine an independent "experimental gameplay fund"? What if successful indies committed to donate a small percentage of their profits to the fund? What if the Humble Bundle would allow its customers to put a chunk into it?

What I mean is: the money is there, but is there the will?

There would be no "Getting on Steam" debate if developers who have bigger hopes for the medium than another zombie survival game would have a real alternative.

Am I being too optimistic?


  1. I only see one problem with this: who decides which projects get to be funded with this kind of *public* fund? Who gets to judge which authors are the most promising to advance the medium?

    I much prefer the system that we have in here, where we have government-funded universities on which students make stuff as part of their studies. They need to be good enough students to qualify for the class, and afterwards their work is being judged by the teachers, so they do have an incentive to do a good work.

    The kind of solution you propose would only promote caching on the fund and making weirder and weirder titles, so that you can claim that they are art without having to break a sweat making them.

    Am I being too pessimistic?

  2. There is no perfect solution. Surely in the way to fund some genuinly good things a lot of crap would get funded too, just as it happens with short films. But that´s better than nothing in my opinion.

    Regarding who decides: a ever changing panel of experts and professionals, just the way it happens with awards and grants. Not perfect either but changing the panel each time would allow for diversity instead of the same kinds of projects being funded each time.

  3. I had this exact same idea for the Indie royale alpha bundle. i wanted X% of all proceeds to go to donation based games. i think if we can convince all the bundles to do so, they will even see increase in their bundles being sold.

  4. I think this is a really interesting idea. I didn't realize there were film industries that worked like that, and I think that system could be appropriated beautifully for the video game industry.

  5. In Norway, a fraction of the taxes at state level is dedicated to various cultural institutions. The most prominent example relevant for games is the Norwegian Film Institute, that have 20 million NOK (ca. 3.460.000 USD) dedicated to funding game development each year. Because they also value arguments other that economic profit, like a projects cultural and creative value, it provides a good alternative for us. In addition, this kind of funding is clearly linked to a recent explosion of smaller game developers being established in Norway, which in turn generate jobs and long-term tax-returns that might even repay the yearly 20 million NOK in the future. Maybe a solution is for more countries to embrace Socialism? :P

  6. Yes I kind of envy the public support that Scandinavian countries have for new media. Problem with this is that if you don´t live in the lucky country you don´t have much choice, and that ultimately, you are doing digital art which is global and has no reason to be limited to a territory.