Money and the road to EXIST(ence)
December 16, 2014
Maybe you’ve heard the news on social media a while ago or just us screaming at the top of our voices: We got funded by EXIST! Today the official funding confirmation finally arrived at the office! Whew!
But … money? Really? Aren’t we “independent”? And still no word of the first game? Why bother with two months of boring paperwork? Well, read on. Also if you don’t know what EXIST is – don’t worry though, you don’t have to.
Most people who are in the so-called “independent” games scene don’t like to talk or even think about it: Money. After all, we are into entertainment and fun. We want to craft games. All day long. So money is a topic which is too serious for us, isn’t it?
Inevitably, the moment you set out to make games for a living, money is something you absolutely must take into consideration. The need to make money (or to have money to begin with) is pretty dominant, unless you have the infamous rich uncle paying for your everyday expenses and you can work in the even more infamous garage (or alternatively in an attic).
At the beginning, we were fortunate enough to be capable of covering our costs through the award money that we had received from the German Games Award in 2013 for GroundPlay. Shortly after this we were granted a rent-free office by HAW Hamburg. Still, it was obvious that this black day when we’d run out of shiny metal coins would come. And it was bound to come before we’d be able to release our first game in order to make money at all. It felt like a dead end sign, hinting our path would soon stop continuing. We needed to make more money with the money we had. Quickly.
There were a few possible ways to go from here:
- Make a publisher deal.
- Find an investor.
- Pick up a loan.
- Try crowdfunding.
- Find work for hire.
- Apply for public funding.
The list could certainly go on a bit, but these were the main options to choose from. However, our very own self-picked constraints narrowed the options down a little. If possible, we wanted to keep out third parties and obligations to those out of the equation. That excluded options 1 to 3. Also 4 to a degree, because even if we like the idea of crowdfunding, the crowd is yet another “party” to report to.
Work for hire is something we considered and already did to a degree, but it is nothing we are planning to continue on a larger scale. Since this is very time-consuming, it would have taken us much longer to get anywhere near the amount of money necessary to complete our first game. We feared that splitting resources, on the other hand (like some of us working exclusively on assigned projects, and some exclusively on our game), might be discouraging and counterproductive to the team spirit.
So we kind of chose the risky shortcut: We applied for public funding. In Germany, there are several ways to get public funding for games: Filmförderung (movie funds) usually include games nowadays. But most of them are tied to a certain federal state or region. Unfortunately, there is no such thing in Hamburg, where we are located. Although Hamburg has a really awesome game dev scene, this is something that is really missing in the self-proclaimed “Gamecity.”
Alongside InnoRampUp, which is only considerable when you already have something close to a prototype, EXIST was our best public funding option, since it is a scholarship, closely tied to a college or university (just like our office). EXIST is public funding from the European Social Fonds for technologically-oriented start-ups. To get funded, all you have to do is apply and describe your idea, financial plans, and market research as detailed as possible. But that is easier said than done. For us that meant doing research and writing plans for nearly two months. With three people. Full-time. We never imagined it to be this time-consuming.
To make all the tedious paperwork worthwhile, EXIST will, when accepting your application, fund the living expenses of three people for up to one year, while granting additional money for hard- and software as well as hiring more people. There also is a small budget for business coaching. But if they refuse you, you get nothing. You lose. And to make things even worse, many promising game development studios who had applied for EXIST in the past got turned down. So we pretty much went all-in with that. Not getting the funding would have meant losing 2 months we could have used to work on the prototype, which in turn is essential in order to pitch the game elsewhere.
This is why we were eagerly waiting for the result during the next three months to come, anxiously calling our advisor Werner Krassau again and again and asking for a response from EXIST – to no avail. Finally, the relieving result came in: “Decision positive.” And what a relieve that was! We can still hardly believe our luck, as you might witness below.
This does not mean that we’re rich now, nor does it guarantee success of what we do. This does mean that we are able to work on our game for another year, (for the most part) without troubling thoughts of the unpleasant, but yet essential money-issue. The dream of the “indie” game developer has come true!
Thank you for being so tremendously supportive, HAW Hamburg, Werner Krassau and EXIST. We’ll make it count.
Respawn 2014 – Reincarnation of the Indie Spirit
August 19, 2014
At this year’s Respawn – Gathering of Game Developers there was one question which came up several times: What does it mean to be indie? There has been much discussion about „the i-word“ lately, especially since indie studios are getting more and more support and acknowledgement from the big players. At Respawn, apart from getting to know great new people, we got lots of input on the struggles of „wearing many hats“, „the suit“ or just trying to be yourself in the games industry.
Respawn is a very small conference, which is why it is easy to get to know people even if you’re not the super connector in your team. It is also much less of a hassle to get around and easier to switch between the talks than at large conferences. This is owed to a very neat idea: Since all the talks are in one large hall, only separated by light curtains, it would usually be hard to focus on the talk you want to attend. But at Respawn you get a headset when picking up your conference badge which you can use to tune into the channel of the talk you are attending and hear what the speaker says in crystal clear. This gives you the advantage of being able to tune into the talk on the other side of the hall and hear this just as clearly. Kind of like a radio station.
It also has some downsides though. As some speakers pointed out, they never know whether you are really listening to their talk or a different one because you discovered you find it too boring/it is not the topic you expected/you have an MTV-generation attention span of ten seconds and need to zap around. Another rather unpleasant disadvantage of this is that you basically can’t hear a thing without the headset. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue of course, if they’d had ENOUGH HEADSETS! So we arrived in Cologne after a five-hour drive, happy to finally soak up all the information from the talks and they told us they’d run out of headsets.
We were especially upset because two of us three had come to Cologne just for Respawn. So at the beginning, it felt like watching a silent movie – only with large audience background noise instead of the ridiculous music.
Even when the speaker talked really loudly, it was barely audible and hard to listen to. This resulted in me spamming the organisers with complaints on Twitter during the first three talks since I was really disappointed (I had missed the talk with Wolf Lang from THREAKS!!). Their Twitter account apologised and admitted that this was their mistake. During the last talk of the first day a few people returned their headsets and so we could hear in the end. Luckily, the problem didn’t return the next day. Still not amusing. But back to the content.
One of my favourite talks was by Sebastian and Mareike from Studio Fizbin, who won this year’s German Computer Game Award in the category „Best German Game“ for their charming adventure „The inner World“. The talk was about character design, titled „Finding the Hunakel“. Mareike explained the difference between inner and outer character, which can be quite contradictory. Together with the audience, she then created a cute turtle that was also a great womanizer.
Another highlight was Andreas Suika’s talk, who just co-founded Daedelic Entertainment Studio West in Düsseldorf. His very entertaining presentation about communicating game design was packed full of hands-on experience tools and approaches.
If you have read the editorial of the latest Edge Magazine issue, you might have noticed that there is much discussion going on about who or what is really „indie“ and whether this word is appropriate at all. Since the release of „Indie Game: The Movie“ everyone has this picture of the struggling artist on their minds. But how do we get to earn a living from it without Phil Fish insulting us on Twitter?
Jason della Rocca from Execution Labs gave a great talk about the struggles of „embracing the artist mentality as an indie dev“ versus running a successful business that is actually sustainable. He had many examples of indie developers who did things right in his talk „7 Habits of Highly Effective Indies“.
There were also a bunch of discussions at this year’s Respawn. One of them was about gender issues. I had feared it would be a classic fight between machos and feminists, but it was, refreshingly, as much about character design and stereotypes in games and the industry itself. One of the discussed questions was how much thought you put into the male/female point of view as a character designer and whether male designers can make believable female characters and vice versa.
The grand finale was the Speedpitching-Session, hosted by André Bernhardt from Indie Advisor. Really great games and ideas! A memorable moment was when the last idea was pitched: A game which is basically a fork lift simulator with puzzle elements, called Forked Up. The presentation itself got withering criticism, but the game looked awesome. This lead to Dunium Games getting an appointment with one of the jury members at Gamescom, who appeared to be very interested. We don’t know if this lead to a publisher’s deal, but very impressing! Congrats!
Conclusion: This is definitely an informative and fun conference for every indie game dev or freelancer in the games industry. It is easy to get to know people, even if you’re not the most extroverted person. This is all under the premise of Respawn getting the headset availability problem solved, of course …
Off we go!
August 11, 2014
Finally, after months and months of struggle, our website is finally online. Okay, it really wasn’t THAT hard. It neverless took its time. But forget about it! What’s done is done. The most important part is: We have a web page and are hereby now officially digitally existent!
Feel free to take a look around, browse here and there. You may find something interesting. Also, maybe not. Who knows? Certainly not you, ’cause you’re still here reading this uninteresting news!
Have a most awesome day,
the Osmotic Team