The ‘buy your way into beta’ or ‘crowd-funding’ or ‘founders programs’ out there are quickly becoming a norm. For the sake of this post let’s call all of them founders programs. I have purchased several of them. Personally, I do not think they are necessarily a bad concept when handled properly.
These founders programs can get expensive. I’ve paid $10, $20, $40, $50, $100 for them. I’ve even supported some games as a founder that I think are still three years away, and I supported them over a year ago! How much is too much? Realistically, I have yet to see a founders program show me a true return on the investment. I give the money in exchange for access, which I suppose has a qualitative value. I give the money to support a team or IP (which I suppose also has an odd sort of value to it). I give in exchange for trinkets, tchochkes, baubles, etc., that I use for probably 5 minutes in-game then replace or put in my bank because I feel too guilty to delete them.
What games should, realistically, have founders programs? The business side can argue any of them when players are willing to pay money today for a game tomorrow. It’s finance 101. But should they? The consumer advocate in me wants to say that sometimes it’s not always a good idea to take money from people so quickly.
Let’s look at an example of a good founder’s program. This has nothing to do with the game itself being good, bad, or the final product being worth the money. I simply like how they handled their program.
The founding price was a hefty $100, but let’s look at the process. The game truly was in development for the entirety of the earlier phase of the program, and still is to this very day. Many of the core features are still not in the game. Every week the developers go on camera and discuss how the founders themselves have influenced the direction of development. Players are finding new ways of playing the game that the developers never considered or thought impossible.
Landmark is becoming (hopefully) a better game because the founders were able to participate. The cost of admission has yielded months of play, tons of insight into the game’s development, and access to a great community. Those who payed the founding price were sold on the idea of being part of the development process and the devs delivered.
I could go into examples of bad founder’s programs, but I’m not in the mood to knock people down this early in the morning. I think you guys are smart cookies and can take the above example and weigh it against other programs in the past, present, and future to decide what you feel is ‘good’. In the end, the topic is highly subjective.
A good founder’s program should:
- Bring people into the program early and allow them them to influence or truly found the game in some way
- Not be just about getting access to a highly publicized beta
- Develop a community around the founders to create that sense of a club, fellowship, or belonging
- Offer something of value to the founder, but, after the game has released, not create a sense of have and have not between founders and those who would not or could not buy into the program
- Involve developer participation, open channels of communication, and have a respectable feedback system
I think the next few years are going to see a lot of programs for players to buy in early. How the developers handle these programs will most definitely leave a lasting mark on their final product. There’s a huge opportunity for these companies to gain access to funding they need, all the while making their games better as a result.