Bet you never thought you’d care about: Business models

13 04 2013

Kicking off a series of posts on things you probably didn’t think you think about when you decided to become a games designer. Time to pull on your business socks, because it’s business time, ooh yeah, it’s business time.

Business models

Sites such as Kickstarter have changed the landscape, both by directly by letting people crowd-fund their projects, but also holistically by drawing attention to the fact that the established paths to getting things made are not the only fruit.

GDC this year (and possibly others, but I doubt it goes back that far) had a specific track for talks on ‘Free to Play’ games, the murky world of in-app purchases, freemium and freeware.

And by murky I mean opaque, confusing, vague and messy rather than straight up shady, as there are no one-size fits all paths to success.

Here are a few examples that have caught my eye recently.

Paid Alpha

RPS reported on the Game Death Inc incorporating the tiered reward payment model right into the game subscription itself.

This reminds me that Tiny Speck had a sort of ‘investment subscription’ model for the lost lamented game Glitch during the Beta phase. The promise was that paying to upgrade your account during the Beta, would get you a stash of enhancements and unlocked items once the game went live.

(iirc When the game went under Tiny Speck offered to refund these subscriptions, which I personally ignored as I felt I’d gotten what I’d paid for already).

Humble bundle

Humble bundle buy a virtual box full of games, and if you pay more than the average, you get a bonus game thrown in (cleverly pushing the average up). The nice part is that you can choose how your cash is sliced up between the suppliers of each game as well as how much goes to charity.

Since most people already know about Humble bundle, here is something cool you might not have seen. Pippin Barr has created The Mumble Indie Bungle, a collection of games based on Indie games but if they’d been copied by someone who completely misheard what they were. Titles include Gurney, Proteas and World of Glue the last two I’ve played and they are actually fun and funny beyond the initial joke – get them here.



Kickstarter and Indiegogo are probably known to you, but one website I discovered through a rash of marriages happening last autumn was Honeyfund. Honeyfund is a kind of wedding registry that allows the marrying couple to list a bunch of notional things such as ‘cocktails on the beach’ or ‘dinner at a fancy restaurant’ that their well-wishers can donate money towards. This is nice because it’s expressive than cash in an envelope but doesn’t leave the newly-weds with more towels sets than they’ll use in their lifetime.

Similar to this is the Dodge Dart registry, a crowd-funding site to help your friends and family chip in to buy your first car – a rite of passage in America. This site was made up by people at the company I work for Wieden+Kennedy.

Obviously you can only buy Dodge cars through their site, so this is another interesting example of crowd-funding platforms being assimilated into private products.


Another unexpected shift in the post-Kickstarter era, is how project case studies are communicated. All Kickstarter projects are expected to keep a progress diary and keep their investors/consumers up-to-date. But the consumers being the same people as the investors is a pretty new phenomenon and consumers are getting a more transparent level of insight on the development process.

Double Fine are of course the masters at this, as with most other things.

Although this pre-dates Kickstarter (I think) Lego Cuusoo is a great example of a company putting its market research directly into the hands of its consumers. Kickstarter added a ‘put your money where you mouth is’ element to this.
Mainly – how frikkin awesome would Adventure Time Lego be?!!




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