Gabe Newell Suggests Public Funding For Games

This looks familiar!

Gabe Newell has offered another of his interesting ideas. How about gamers fund the development of games? Sounds odd? Well, it might be clever for a couple of reasons.

Speaking to ABC’s Good Game show, Newell put forth the idea that the $10 to $30 million that’s traditionally invested in games could come from the audience who’s likely to buy it. Investing at this stage, he points out, could even make you a profit.

Kotaku spotted this one, and since they’ve, um, borrowed the photo I took of him, I’ll borrow their hard work transcribing the quote! During the interview on ABC’s site Gabe explains that investing up to $30m has a huge risk involved, and one that’s increasingly difficult to take as the world continues to squirt all its money into the sky.

“What I think would be much better would be if the community could finance the games. In other words, ‘Hey, I really like this idea you have. I’ll be an early investor in that and, as a result, at a later point I may make a return on that product, but I’ll also get a copy of that game.’ So move financing from something that occurs between a publisher and a developer… Instead have it be something where funding is coming out of community for games and game concepts they really like.”

This doesn’t mean this is exactly what Valve are going to do, but rather it’s Newell throwing an idea out there. But it’s an interesting one. First of all, it means gamers would be picking games they thought worthy (who wouldn’t back a new 2D BOY project, or want to support a Tim Schafer game? (if he sodding released it on PC)). And secondly, and indeed relatedly, it does away with the need for publishers – something some developers might rather enjoy.

It’s a novel idea. So what RPS wants to know is, what game would you most want to invest in? Which developer, or which game idea, would you throw your money behind to make it happen?


  1. c-Row says:

    I would invest in a Blade Runner/Syndicate/Deus Ex mix. The overall look and atmosphere of the Blade Runner game/movie, the initial game idea of Syndicate (“Go out and kill this person”/”Steal this item”/”Wreak havoc”) and the freedom of Deus Ex of how to accomplish my goal.

    So, where can I send my money?

  2. gulag says:

    Sean Cooper

  3. MedO says:

    So what he says is, we should move the risk of maybe producing a crappy game from the developer to the customer. Sounds really good put that way, doesn’t it?

  4. Ian says:

    As long as it didn’t go into MyFootballClub territory. I’d rather leave the important decisions to the devs.

  5. Stupid Fat Hobbit says:

    The Kotaku piece goes on to suggest that people who invest in a game in this way would get a say in the development process, which would be a terrible idea. What self respecting developer would agree to change his game design based on a popular vote? That’s not what Newell seems to be suggesting himself, though.

    Also, I wonder how much he’s be looking for each investor to contribute. Would it be something close to the retail cost of the game (more of a long-term preorder), or in the region of hundreds or thousands of dollars?

  6. Lobotomist says:

    Public funding for games ?

    You mean like L4D ?

  7. Aphotique says:

    Does the developer have to be current? If not, Black Isle Studios. Else, Obsidian and BioWare for obvious reasons.

    Game idea? New Planescape: Torment, or an mmo that faithfully follows the UO formula…but looks like Aion. XD

  8. Serenegoose says:

    Well, sounds interesting, if a gamble. I’d not like it to become standard though. I’m happier for big publishers to take duke nukem forever sized risks for no return, you know? Sure it’d only be like £60 (random figure pulled out of nowhere, I’m sure it would be anywhere between 1p and individual choice) of my money, but hells, I need that for real products I’ll get the moment I hand cash over.

    Or am I missing what he’s saying?

  9. Jayt says:

    Yeah I watch good game regulary and saw this. I just want L4D2 to be released so they can start talking about the real games I want to hear about (hl, portal etc)

  10. jon_hill987 says:

    I’ll invest in almost anything if it will stop Microsoft molesting the game in question. Delaying stuff on PC so their X-Box looks better, forcing GFWL on us despite it being quite possibly the worst designed piece of software I have ever used. If it can put publishers out of the question it would give studios more creative freedom and could only be a good thing.

  11. Pags says:

    Didn’t Mount & Blade already do this?

  12. TauQuebb says:

    Dwarf Fortress is being developed on donations alone and imo is one of the most in-depth games I have ever played.

  13. Radiant says:

    Thing is a lot of publishers are good for developers.

    I know there is an atmosphere of them vs us between the two but a lot of developers do need to be reigned in a little and have their games subjected to stringent testing to polish out the ‘obvious’ flaws.

    If someone like Peter Molyneux tried to accomplish everything he said about one of his games, with no one to answer to, he’d spend billions of pounds and we’d never see the bloody thing.

    And if it was public funding it’d be a billion pounds of our money and we’d have no say in the matter.

    “It’s done when it’s done” is all fun and games when it’s other peoples money.

  14. Radiant says:

    But yeah I would like a hundred grand to make a game I call ‘Fuck Simulator’.
    It’s a potential franchise and I need to do a bit of research.

  15. Gap Gen says:

    Interesting notion. I’ve donated to small developers before, but only in small amounts, and without expecting a return on my investment other than getting more games in the future.

    One problem is if the community feel as investors that they have a creative say in the game’s design. This could be a bad thing, potentially.

  16. Patrick says:

    a RTT like Harpoon, but better. So lots of realism, moddable and for the sales figures: 3D :)

  17. Hermit says:

    It’s an interesting approach. Seems like the sort of finance plan that could benefit a lot of indie devs.

    Your main difficulty would be finding the investors, though. You’d probably need to be a fairly established outfit, since you’re essentially relying on having an established community to rely on. I expect people would be much happier investing in 2DBoy’s next project as opposed to an entirely new developer with nothing more than a spoon and a dream.

    That said, it’s a system that can work. There’s independant films out there that have successfully used this sort of model.

  18. W.Yutani says:

    It’s a good idea in theory, but It does assume that each game you invests in actually a) get finnished and b) is any good.

    The increasing frequency that studios are getting merged, dropped and bought-out at the moment means that your beloved game you’ve invested in could easy get shelved or dropped. Or as Stupid Fat Hobbit suggested, what if you feel like a second rate job has been done on your investment – games forums are full enough of whiners as it is, let alone adding money into the equation.

    It is a nice idea, but I can’t se it working in reality. (plus how irritated would you be if you’d pre-payed your £30 into Brutal Legend, only to discover you now have to go out and buy an XBox just to play it) – sorry a bit of a negative post there.

  19. negativedge says:

    The problem with this is investors generally get to have a say in how a company operates. In this case, that would mean we’d get gamers telling developers how to make games. And gamers are idiots.

    This can almost work with very small titles with dedicated, open fanbases, but anything large (ie, what Gabe is actually talking about) is a disaster waiting to happen. And who gets to hold the developers accountable? Most studios don’t get to go all Ion Storm on a publisher because there is something visible, solid, and intimidating to answer to. You don’t fuck with your breadwinner. But if the cash is coming from ten thousand different average joe’s? Who cares if they lose their money – what are they going to do about it?

  20. Sinnerman says:

    I suppose that if Julian Gollop needed money for the next Chaos or Laser Squad I might think about it. As long as it had a decent single player mode and wasn’t an RTS.

    I download a fair number of free indie games. I wonder what I would do if I really loved one of them and they said it was only a prototype and they needed to raise money for the final product. I’m guessing that for most indie games there would not be that many people interested at that point and I would have to give a lot more than the cost of a game for it to make a difference.

  21. negativedge says:

    This essentially happens with many indie titles anyway. When they put up that preorder page on their game’s website, they aren’t doing it because they like you. They’re doing it because they need the money. And then there’s the recent Telltale Monkey Island fiasco, where you are in fact forced to pay for something that doesn’t exist.

  22. Hermit says:


    I found it amusing that many people took Telltale to task over that one, yet a lot of those people could also be found in the Natural Selection 2 pre-order thread saying “Woop, preordered my special edition!”

    The fact that preorders are a pretty popular option with a game’s core audience is perhaps indicative that gamers are only too happy to hand over money early. Even better if that money goes direct to the devs and helps ensure the title is finished, rather than to a retail outlet like Amazon or HMV.

  23. Slippery Jim says:

    This would be a great idea! Then people could enjoy more games that are new and innovative, rather than mainstream and formulaic.

  24. Radiant says:

    I like how no one has brought up that we already fund game development by, you know, actually buying games.

  25. RobF says:

    I’ll happily undercut Radiant if anyone wants Fuck Simulator – £2.50 and a packet of Rolos and I’m yours.

  26. Sinnerman says:

    @negativedge; I was thinking more of a different budget level and point in the process. Someone makes a free game in their spare time and it gets some positive feedback. Say they didn’t have any savings and had a mortgage to pay off, how would they make the decision that it was an acceptable risk to work on the game full time and pay for things like professional artists, musicians and voice acting.

  27. Pidesco says:

    What the gaming industry needs are private, big money investors who invest in game developers, not because it’s their business, but because they see it as an artistic endeavour worth supporting, like painting, or film.

  28. Optimaximal says:

    plus how irritated would you be if you’d pre-payed your £30 into Brutal Legend, only to discover you now have to go out and buy an XBox just to play it

    The thing is, if enough PC owners invested in it (which is most likely, since the majority of Schafer’s built-in user-base was the PC-crowd until his miss-chosen words offended the AIM) then the PC would be the lead platform…

    The shareholder who speaks loudest gets the biggest say, after all.

  29. LionsPhil says:

    Jesus. So you people want to move from executive meddling from a few publishers to executive meddling from a whole asylumload of fans? At least the former have a chance of having a consistent opinion.

    The mental image you have here should be the No Mutants Allowed forum having control over the development of a true Fallout 3.

  30. Larington says:

    I suppose technically it works for say, Dwarf Fortress, where people are donating towards the development of an interesting game project. However, I’m not convinced this will translate well to a much larger scale project like a $10 mil upwards game.

  31. BigJonno says:

    @Pags: That’s exactly what I thought. I think it’s a great business model. Produce a trial version and ask people to pay for access to the current full alpha/beta version, with the promise of receiving future updates for free.

    If it can work for an open world game like M&B, surely it could work for more linear games too.

  32. Mike says:

    There’s a lot of government funding kicking around. Some developers have received half a million upwards in the UK to get better game technologies developed in conjunction with university research.

  33. Stijn says:

    You know what I suggest? Releasing episode three, ffs!!!!11

  34. EyeMessiah says:

    Data of Cortex Command “fame” has a scheme whereby you can buy CC before its finished, and the earlier you buy it the cheaper it is, which gives interested players an incentive to buy into the game and help fund its development.

  35. cliffski says:

    They could just make games cheaper.?

  36. Dominic White says:

    While as LionsPhil rightly pointed out, there are a LOT of problems inherent in the public investing/controlling development. The thought of an NMA-led Fallout 3 is both hilarious and terrifying. I’d imagine that shareholder meetings would end up a bloody duel to the death.

    Still, traditional publishers are often less-than-benevolent to their patron studios. Anyone remember Knights of the Old Republic 2? Horribly unfinished, right? There’s a reason for that – midway through development, Lucasarts cut the studios alloted time by six months. They ended up spending the remainder of their development time (as they had budgeted for much more) just trying to sew up enough loose ends to make the game playable, and there’s vast reams of unfinished content left unused in the game data files, some of which is being restored by fans.

    As others have mentioned, though, a bunch of indie devs do offer to let their early adopters/fans help fund, and even steer the development of their games. I recently preordered Overgrowth, sequel to remarkably good brawly-adventure Lugaru (a bizarre hybrid of Conan the Barbarian and Watership Down). One of the most notable things the devs are doing is uploading weekly internal alpha builds for all their preorder customers to monkey around with, and help bug-hunt for, or suggest changes. The customers aren’t in charge, but they can definitely get their voices heard. I’d like to see more of that approach.

    Also, I like seeing the process of a game being developed, from early engine tests to finished levels. Unfortunately, a lot of gamers don’t know anything about development, and just aren’t mature enough to handle this, and will fly off the handle if ‘SVN Alpha 34c’ doesn’t perform to their expectations.

  37. Crispy says:

    it’s an interesting enough idea, but it’s one that only really works in Valve’s favour. People would only really want to risk investment in established companies. So what would happen to unnkown indie companies? They wouldn’t get a piece of this pie, only companies like Valve, Blizzardvision, Bethesda, EA, etc.. It wouldn’t change the landscape for the better in general.

    The legal costs involved on a per-person basis would outweigh micro-investments, so microinvestors would have to be part of a syndicate of some kind (like you have with angel investor groups). But this group would have to be independant from the developers.

    To establish an investor group providing cashflow in the same proportion to an angel investor group but done through microinvestments would make it impossible for the group as a whole to decide on which games to back.

    I’m not sure its a workable idea.

  38. Gap Gen says:

    Yeah, if the work of developers produce technological side-benefits, then government money seems like a good idea. There’s a Taiwanese paper out today where they’ve done an astrophysical fluids code on GPUs – given Taiwan’s chip manufacturing industry, this seems like a good idea for them. Unfortunately the code is called called GAMER, which is a bit cheesy.

  39. Trezoristo says:

    That would actually entitle the community to act entitled, a scary thought if you ask me.

  40. Tei says:

    Theres 1 web game that work like that.

    That webgame have a subforum called “Features”. On that forum theres a list of features with a prize tag (how much will cost to the dev to create that feature).

    “Animated avatars 3000 €”.

    You want it? pay for it. Once theres 3000 €, the dev start doing the work.

    Is a system that may work for a webgame with a existing fanbase that put his money where is his mouth. Is also “Developping games as a service”… .literal.

  41. Nelson says:

    Stardock is almost doing this already with Elemental: WoM. Those who pre-paid for the game (full price over a year before release), get to be part of the development process through extensive alpha/beta testing. It seems to be working quite well. But imagine if people invested early in, say, Duke Nukem and it fell apart . . . ouch!

  42. LionsPhil says:

    Part of investment is risk.

    But, yeah, there was enough flaming over how people deserved that game when they handn’t actually contributed towards it.

  43. EtsSpets says:

    Ive wanted to do that for years. I dont know about you guys but i just seem to like the style of some developers (as a company of developers and as individuals) so i wouldnt mind paying 10-20$ per month to have the develope games i like. And in the end we are paying for the games anyway. So we would be eliminating one useless link in the process – the publisher.

    In any case, it is a matter of time before all (multi)media will be funded by the end user(groups). Because i think there are enough startrek/wars/gate fans out there to support even all 3 of those series.

    And thinking like that, that kind of step would eliminate a lot of excess expenses. And i would say f*ck the TV channels too make it a steam like app with a bit more secure (biometric) login and get your games/music/tv shows etc from the same place.

  44. Vandelay says:

    Amazing this is coming from Gabe. One glance at the Steampowered forums and the amount of whinging that comes from there would tell you that letting those people have a say would be a bad idea.

    Still, I could certainly see this working out for small independent companies. Really isn’t to dissimilar to what happens in the rest of the entertainment industry.

  45. Elman says:

    An X-Com remake that improves the original and adds multiplayer.

    That is all.

  46. EtsSpets says:

    The star* series was just an example i would assume the other popular series would be the same.

  47. jim says:

    “Radiant says:

    I like how no one has brought up that we already fund game development by, you know, actually buying games.”

    pretty ignorant statement, you actually fund publishers through buying games, and the publishers then squezze developers and pay them virtually nothing, often running them right out of business through late and/or non payment, they often don’t see a fraction of the profits their games make. If you cut grasping publishers out of the equation, all the money that would go on paying their boards and employees huge salaries, and all the money that would go on dividends to their shareholders then goes to develiopers. Imagine if the billions upon billions that ea/thq/actiblizzard make each year went straight to devs, that’s the eqivalent of a couple of hundred extra AAA titles being funded each year.

  48. cliffski says:

    you can listen to peoples suggestions without being a slave to a mass of opinion. I’ve had some really good ideas from people reading my blog for my next game, and also some ideas that I know I won’t use.

    As well as actually being influenced by potential buyers of the game, it’s a good way to get a sort of barometer of how certain ideas will go down. There are a ton of games that would benefit from this. Spore was horribly dumbed down and casualised, and if pre-order buyers had tried an alpha, they could have fed that back to the team before that direction was done and dusted.

    The mount n Blade and Dwarf Fortress model is an excellent idea, and one I’m strongly attracted to myself.

  49. Mike says:

    I misread Cliffski’s post as mentioning Mount, Blade and Dwarf Fortress. However, this is almost certainly the game I would fund.

  50. Dominic White says:

    Ha, I just noticed that Cliffski is doing a cross-promotion with Overgrowth, too. As the Overgrowth dev-blog says, it’s a good way of leveraging the advantages of indie studios.

    link to

    And yeah, the Mount & Blade/Cortex Command approach strikes me as a nice way of doing things. Invest early for an unfinished game on the cheap, which grows into a full product at the end, or buy later for a more polished, more complete product.