Inside the Indie Fund: a better deal for developers

Matt Purslow at

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At a panel at GDC, the team behind the Indie Fund - an experiment in successful indie developers putting funds to their peers - revealed the success, failures, and the first batch of three games that have received cash.

The fund launched in 2010, with not just the intention of making great games, but to improve the situations indie game developers find themselves in when negotiating with publishers. The Fund team is compirsed of some stellar indie talent; among them members of 2D Boy (World of Goo), Number None (Braid) and thatgamecompany (Flow). Games developers that receive Indie Fund money own their own IP, and pay back their investment in fairer terms. If their game fails to recoup costs, then the developer is relieved of their debts after three years.

Read on for the details, and videos of three promising titles.

“We want one time customers,” explained Ron Carmel, of 2D Boy. “We want you to finish your game and have enough money to make your next game. And no matter what happens, after three years, everything you make is yours.”

The Indie Fund negotiates shorter, more transparent submission processes with digital download stores and advises developers on their negotiations with publishers.

Kellee Santiago, president and co-founder of thatgamecompany, explains that the standard milestone process offered to developers by publishers isn’t conducive to making great games:

“Wait - isn’t [milestones] one of those things that we suffer thorough with our publisihers or funders that we hate? It’s patronising for a publisher to hold a milestone delivery payment. As a developer my ability or my motivation goes way beyond the token amount. It’s my game, right? I want to accomplish and make forward progress. I want to make something great. I want to make progress. It’s my reputation on the line. Attaching a payment to it is degrading.”

At present, the Indie Fund is putting cash into three unique IP's.

First up is Monaco from Pocketwatch Games - a one-man team made up of Andy Schatz. He describes the game as 'Co-op action stealth - Pacman meets Hitman', which is a pretty awesome way of explaining the top-down retro heist game. Up to four players can take part in Monaco's heists, either locally or online. Each player takes on the role of a different team member, with each class offering unique skills that must be taken advantage off. Hackers can disable security measures whilst Muscle blow holes through vault walls. The game is due out on PC and 'at least one console', and naturally has a done-when-it's-done release date.

Programmers Scott Anderson and Steve Swink are working on Shadow Physics, the second game supported by the Indie Fund. The game is a 2D platformer 'similar to Mario' that takes place in a world of shadows cast by 3D objects. The player can overcome obstacles and progress through levels by completing physics puzzles with the 3D objects through interaction with their shadows. It's a charming idea, and you can see some early footage of the game in action in the above video.

Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion - or Q.U.B.E for short - is the third game supported by the Indie Fund. As you can see in the above video, developers Toxic Games are working on a Portal-esque first-person-puzzler that deals with the cleaver implementation of block manipulation in order to progress.

Andy Schatz of Pocketwatch Games explained how the Indie Fund helped keep his project and passion for indie development alive: “I’ve been indie for six years, and wtched my bank account dwindle. ... I was already at the point where I was ready to quit being indie. Then Monaco won the Indie Fund and gave me a cash boost. Development in the past year has been filled with unexpected flips and starts. At PAX we were showing loads of progress, but the month following I was burnout. But that hasn’t given leverage to my funding partner. Because the process, getting a deal on a console has been slow, but despite all those unexpected things that happened, this hasn’t led the Fund to saying: 'You owe us all this, and now you’re screwed buddy.'"