Video game developers looking to get their ideas off the ground have a new way to raise some quick cash. GameLaunched, an international, game-focused crowdfunding platform, debuted last month. The website's co-founder Steve Foley lives here in Vermont; he works out of his home in South Burlington.
Why does Foley think the world needs yet another crowdfunding website?
Because gaming is a huge and growing niche in the crowdfunding world. Last year alone, 2796 game projects sought funding through Kickstarter, according to a year-end report produced by the site. And fans have proven willing to back games. That same report noted that, in 2012, Kickstarter gaming projects generated $83 million in pledges — more than projects in any other category.
But just 911 gaming projects actually met their Kickstarter goals and got funded. Foley says that's in part because the big, catch-all crowdfunding site isn't doing enough to support this robust niche. He thinks he and his team can do a better job connecting people passionate about games with projects worth supporting.
Foley (pictured at right) describes himself as "a geek at heart," but he's not a coder. The 40-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. After studying sports medicine at Lyndon State College he began working in physical therapy, and eventually parlayed that experience into a career as a medical device salesman. A year and a half ago, he started talking with a friend in Oklahoma, another medical device salesman, about launching a start-up. They're still seeking investors for their first venture, a feedback system called i-ask.
Last fall, Foley's friend, Kevin Bailey, decided to try funding a video game idea on Kickstarter. The project failed to meet its goal, but Bailey and Foley learned a few things in the process.
For starters, they found that gaming projects on Kickstarter get buried by thousands of others seeking funding. “Everything embedded in that segment gets lost very quickly,” he explains.
And they learned that Kickstarter doesn't offer much support for game creators. “Kickstarter does not promote, does not help you, does not even want you to mention Kickstarter,” he says.
So they set out to build an easily searchable site specifically designed to attract gamers and promote games. They worked with a Hinesburg developer to build the site. And they recruited a team of 19 industry professionals from all over the world to serve as a volunteer "launch crew." These advisers review projects posted to the site, offer feedback to creators and promote games they think are worth noting.
Another distinguishing feature of the site: It's international in scope. Kickstarter only accepts projects from the U.S. and the U.K. GameLaunched is open to proposals from all over the globe. Several other game-focused crowdfunding sites have popped up in the last few months, but Foley claims his is the only truly international marketplace.
GameLaunched incorporates other neat features, too, including a leaderboard that will allow backers to make contributing and supporting the projects on the site into a game. Backers earn points by giving money or promoting projects via social media.
"It's a really cool formula that I think has great potential," says Edmar Mendizabal, director of business development for Montpelier- and New York City-based 2Dawn Games, Inc. Mendizabal, who founded the Vermont Game Developers Association, and recently asked the state legislature for funds on its behalf, says GameLaunched is "absolutely" an asset to the burgeoning Vermont game community.
But Mendizabal notes that it's too soon to tell whether the site will catch fire. There are currently just seven projects accepting funding, and none has raised more than $350. It seems unlikely that any of them will reach their fundraising goals, which means that no money will actually change hands.
He's also warns that the creators are aiming small. Most of them are trying to raise just a few thousand dollars. He points out that those goals are likely undervaluing the real cost of producing the games. Mendizabal cites Torment: Tides of Numenera, which recently broke Kickstarter's game-funding record. The creators were asking for $900,000; they raised more than $4.1 million.
Foley notes that he's got more projects in the pipeline, some of them more ambitious endeavors from bigger developers that he hopes will attract interest.
And he points out that, even though his site makes games easier to find and back, creators who use it still need to promote the heck out of their projects if they want to get funded. Take Huntsman: The Orphanage, for example.
By all appearances, Huntsman is a pretty impressive game project. It's already been greenlighted on STEAM, an online game distribution channel — a noteworthy achievement, given that the site's millions of users vote on what gets approval there. There are currently just 38 projects in that queue. Hunstman is one of them.
Here's a description, from its GameLaunched page:
Huntsman: The Orphanage [is] a 3D first-person walkthrough of an abandoned orphanage and its rambling grounds and hedge mazes, where your only weapon is your wits and your only equipment is your mobile phone — lucky you loaded it with a torch app! Find the missing orphans trapped in other threads of time and space, re-unite them with their most treasured possessions to help them find a way back, and avoid coming face to face with… the Huntsman!
Sounds intriguing, right? Take a minute to watch the trailer. It's totally creepy.
But to date, Huntsman has attracted a mere $350 in pledges on GameLaunched. What gives? Foley says the Australian developer who created it hasn't quite embraced the promotional aspect of the campaign. On the bright side, he may be getting a grant to finish the project.
Regardless, Foley is convinced he and Bailey have hit on a concept that will work. "To me," he says, "There's just so much upside potential for it to take off." They haven't invested much — just a few thousand dollars, and their time. And they're having fun with it. "I've always been a big gamer all my life," says Foley. This is just another extension of that passion.