Charles Fang Yu
VoxPop Games: How to Save a Community
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
On October 9th, The Verge released a rather bleak article with first-hand, detailed accounts of how independent game developers, for the most part, are unable to make a stable living plying their craft.
In all honesty, this was probably abundantly obvious to anybody who has ever tried to involve themselves in the indie games space. After all, Gamasutra released this article a full 4 years earlier. Still, The Verge was right about one thing: in the gaming community, we tend to focus on “the enduring image of the indie auteur […] who struck critical and commercial gold following 2008’s ‘indie boom.’”
In reality, independent developers have been bleeding for years, and despite high profile names like Hideo Kojima and Keiji Inafune throwing their hats in the ring, the community won’t be able to sustain itself. And yet, with interest in smaller budget games seemingly at an all-time high, and a number of high profile smash hits reaching mainstream success, such as the Untitled Goose Game, Undertale and Stardew Valley, there’s one question that should be on everyone’s mind:
Like any kid who’d grown up with video games, I always wanted to be a game designer; and when the indie boom came, I knew which kind I wanted to be. After high school, I chose to go to NYU to study game design, since most of my professors were successful independent developers themselves.
I had every reason to be optimistic about this path. I was excelling in my classes, I had a backlog of prototypes and design documents, I had built a good relationship with several of my professors. In fact, one day I sat down with a couple of those professors to ask for advice on how to follow in their footsteps. One of them looked me in the eye and gave me his answer:
You see, despite how much money indie games as a whole generate (over $1.2B annually for Steam alone), individual developers still struggle to make a stable living. Even successful games generally have shorter sales tails than in the AAA market, and very few independent developers have follow-up successes after an initial hit. This seemed counter-intuitive to me, so I started doing research into why this is the case. Fortunately, the answer turned out to be pretty simple - advertising.
Consider this: it isn’t at all uncommon for over 2/3’s of a AAA game’s budget to be spent on marketing. The posterchild for this phenomenon is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. $50 million dollar development budget. $200 million dollar advertising budget.
Most independent developers meanwhile, are solo devs with no such advertising budget. Instead, what dictates an indie’s sales success is the often fickle, unpredictable world of memes and online influencers. Even if your game catches the public eye, your problems aren’t over. Even successful indie titles tend to have a very short sales tail compared to mainstream titles. Many indie creators also find themselves struggling to find follow-up success with their other game outings after their initial big hit.
VoxPop’s solution? A profit-sharing game distribution & development system.
A small portion of each sale is reserved for users who help promote sales. Whether by seeding files, recommending games, or even on-boarding new platform users, Gamers and Developers get to take a share of each sale they help to enable. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. Aren’t we cutting into their profits even more? But when you peel back the layers, you can see how powerful of a tool this is for smaller independent game developers.
Devs on our platform get to control what percentage of each sale is reserved for incentives. If you want more eyes on your game, you can increase that percentage to cap. Suddenly, your users stand to earn even more money from promoting your game, and so naturally, you can create more organic word-of-mouth, everyman advertising this way.
Another way this system benefits developers is in how it ties them to influencers. Many Streamers and Let’s Players have trouble monetizing their channels. For them then, promoting these games on VoxPop to their viewers represents an additional revenue stream.
In essence, what this system really represents is a way for developers to leverage their IP and a portion of their future profits to get more eyes and ears on their artistry, and thus, more sales. VoxPop Games will be the marketing engine that independent developers have always needed.
You should know, our concern doesn’t just come from spreadsheets, market fluctuations, or a simple desire to profit. Our COO, Marc Anthony Rodriguez has many years in the games industry, and has given a TEDx talk on gamification. Those professors I mentioned, Professor Eric Zimmerman and Bennett Foddy, are respected independent developers themselves, and jumped on as advisors because they believe in this solution as well.
And for me, personally, VoxPop represents my last, best chance at saving a community I love.
We, all of us at VoxPop Games, have fallen in love with this space and the people in it. This was always the motivation for the platform: to staunch the bleeding in the indie community, and help promote all of the wonderful, vivid voices it gives birth to.