Kickstarter isn't the only way to make insane amounts of money without even releasing a game. MechWarrior Online has been having a concerted "pre-order" campaign, and has announced it's made $5m in the process. The stampy robot fighting game is yet to enter open beta, but despite this it's accrued those extraordinary sales figures since July. And let's stress - this is for a free-to-play game.
This is a collaboration between a Canadian start-up, Infinite Game Publishing, and Mechwarrior developers Piranha Games, creating what they called the Mechwarrior Founder's Program. This was a tiered system that allowed people to purchase in-game currency and bonuses ahead of release - months ahead of release - for a game that ultimately can be played for free. Gamers like spending money.
Of course, there was a slight twist to this: paying meant you got access to the closed beta, so could be enjoying the game a couple of months ahead of the open beta phease, which in an F2P game is basically release. There were three packages - $120, $60 and $30, the lowest price netting you $40 worth of in-game cash, a month-long premium account, some silly tag thing, and the early access in August. You can see why people might have gone for that. At the highest level you got extra mechs, $80 of mechdollars, three months premium and your name in the credits because that's a thing. So it was essentially investing in advance of release, in order to get access and lots of bonuses once it's gold.
Of course, they were getting access to an unfinished game, and one Jim found to still be rather scrappy a couple of weeks ago. That's as it should be, of course - it's what closed betas are for. But that didn't seem to put people off.
Clearly $5m sounds an awful lot - and let's be frank, is an awful lot - but it's only a small chunk of what they'll need to make if this is going to be a success. While it's extremely unlikely they'll be so candid with their finances after the game's out and running, it's definitely a good sign for the attempt to revive the enormously popular stompy-robot franchise. And Infinite Game Publishing say it's a good portent for their plan to do this two more times with two other indie F2P titles. Says CEO Nick Foster, in full business-gobbledegook speak:
"The success of the Founder’s Program reinforces IGP’s vision to help independent developers build exceptional games with the right economic model for the global marketplace. We are in a unique position to be able to deliver a pipeline of high quality, innovative content for online game players."
It all points toward the F2P model still having a lot of money to be squeezed out of it, so long as you can find the right ingredients. And while this isn't really pre-ordering at all, and they're silly for calling it that, it also proves that players are willing to invest if they're confident enough. (It also slightly gets it out of the place where we shout at people for pre-ordering games that might turn out to be shitplops, since it ensured access.) Question is, can it keep it up once people know what in-game payments will actually be worth?