saricden

Patreon for open source game devs?

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Hey all,

I was wondering what you fine folk think of the platform Patreon.

To be honest, I'm a little back and forth about it. It seems like a good thing and in theory would be a really cool way to fund creative endeavours that aren't designed to turn a profit, but can spur good in a variety of other ways. For some reason though accepting money via donations throws up some weird ethical issues within me that I can't quite pinpoint.

Does anyone else share these feelings?

I think potentially a pretty cool model could be as follows:

A developer starts making some open-source, creative commons friendly games. The development of these games would be just like any other, with all graphics, music, story, etc. from scratch (and hopefully of a solid, consistent quality). The games would have no monetization whatsoever (no ads, no microtransactions, etc.), but there would be an accompanying Patreon page for the developer, if fans were interested in supporting further. Ideally the games would target two audiences:

  1. Players who're just generally interested in playing a good quality, legitimately free game
  2. Aspiring developers who really like and/or are inspired by the characters/plot/scenery/music/anything in the game

Regarding target audience #2: I think it's safe to say a great many of us share memories of wanting to use a beloved video game character in a creation of our own. Not necessarily to profit off of, but just to make an awesome game (or movie, or anything) with characters we love. For me those characters definitely came from The Legend of Zelda.

But of course, if you start making your own games with copyrighted characters, someone in the legal department of some massive company or another isn't going to be happy about it. SO the reason I think a project like this could be so cool for target audience #2, is that if they genuinely liked the characters (or music, or scenery, or whatever) in this open source game, they would be absolutely free (heck, encouraged) to go nuts and make stuff to their hearts content, publish wherever, and do whatever with.

If the developer was able to make enough to live off of, and just spend their time creating games... Well I think that'd be a pretty awesome life. Because lets face it, I think a lot of us would continue to putter around and spend our time coding games and random stuff even if we made the next angry birds and bought an Aston Martin. I know I would... So why not try to build a fan base who could support you while you just spend your time making the stuff you love to make anyways, and just worry about delivering awesome stuff?

Whew I wrote a whole essay there. I hope I described my point well enough... :mellow:

TL/DR: Do you think a developer making legitimately free, open-source, CC friendly games (the assets of which were encouraged to be used by creative fans) could viably support themselves in an ethical fashion via monthly donations with a Patreon page?

In terms of viability, I'm fairly sure it would take a long time to build up such a presence and a fan-base, but certainly a massive dissatisfaction (in terms of marketing-lingo) a project like this would have over it's competitors would be it's true freeness of play AND lack of stifling copyright law.

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And if it ever got to the point where you had enough to live off of, you could reinvest the surplus donations into servers or something and start developing online games in the same fashion (although of course there would be some tough bridges to cross there in terms of security, etc).

AND this is all assuming the games are actually good at all. If they totally flop the whole idea, etc. is moot.

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Personally (as someone who both uses and gets funding from Patreon) what I've observed is that it's all about the individual, not so much the project. Obviously the project itself helps massively, but I find that really patrons choose to fund that project if, and usually only if, they feel some kind of connection with the person running it. Perhaps that person is very visible in a community, helps other people out, posts lots of great content - it varies a lot, but I do honestly believe that patreon is about people, i.e. you fund the creator more than what is created.

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It's all about timing, vision and dedication. 

 

In regards to Patreon, It's about 50 50 for me. The project has to be good and intuitive, and the main developer has to be somewhat of a role model in their community. Other then that, my incentive meter to donate drops back to zero.

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I think Patreon is currently the best option for supporting creative individuals, and it works for the most recognizable ones - I wonder how the global stats look for all the others.

I was wondering about something else, and I'm gonna use myself as an example. There are recognizable devs doing some huge project of their own, so it's easy for them to offer different levels of awards for those supporting them. But what about someone doing all the little stuff here and there, what he could offer? Obviously not giving anything in return for different levels of monetary support or giving the same for everyone won't work.

I was thinking about starting my Patreon page, but I have no idea what to offer. I'm running the Gamedev.js Weekly newsletter, so a slot there could be interesting, but I have no idea how it would work in the long run. I'm also organizing the js13kGames competition, but it's more of a one-time-in-a-year event so supporting it month over month makes less sense. I'm also writing tutorials for MDN Games and creating snippets of code for that, but again - what I could offer over what I'm doing right now? Right now I'm just doing stuff and sharing it. Also, how do you balance different levels of awards with different small projects you have?

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On 13/02/2016 at 4:15 AM, rich said:

Personally (as someone who both uses and gets funding from Patreon) what I've observed is that it's all about the individual, not so much the project. Obviously the project itself helps massively, but I find that really patrons choose to fund that project if, and usually only if, they feel some kind of connection with the person running it. Perhaps that person is very visible in a community, helps other people out, posts lots of great content - it varies a lot, but I do honestly believe that patreon is about people, i.e. you fund the creator more than what is created.

 

On 13/02/2016 at 11:39 AM, WombatTurkey said:

It's all about timing, vision and dedication. 

 

In regards to Patreon, It's about 50 50 for me. The project has to be good and intuitive, and the main developer has to be somewhat of a role model in their community. Other then that, my incentive meter to donate drops back to zero.

Thanks you guys, that's seriously insightful. The format Patreon takes on it's homepage totally coincides with it being largely about the person. I mean the slogan in their title is: Support the creators you love. This is cool because it totally defines a clear distinction between Patreon and other crowdfunding platforms.

The only downside I see (for us as developers) is that what we do isn't inherently expressive in terms of people getting to know us as creators. I mean I love Shigeru Miyamoto because he brought the Zelda series to life, but I certainly don't know what he's like as a person (but if you're reading this Shigeru, email me we can be besties :wub:).

Perhaps this is a deeper topic that delves into expressionism through art, but as a medium lets be honest, code is both awesome and complex. I love that Google (sorta recently) made a big push to get people engaged in their DevArt competition. Code gives you the ability to be creative with function as well as form, and is one of the reasons I'm so drawn to game dev, as it really encourages this creativity.

Youtubers certainly have it easier in this regard, because when they speak to their audience they're doing so through video, which I would say is almost as expressive of oneself as talking to someone in real life (or at least listening to someone rant lol). Not to say making good Youtube videos is easy, certainly not, but if you're a naturally expressive person and can get over camera shyness it is fairly direct in terms of conveying emotion through body language, tone, and all the other subtleties that make human interaction so immensely complex.

I think a really good video that's emotionally imbued would perhaps be a good way for us to garner attention for our work in a way that lets people know who we are and what we're all about. And as much as it is a site for creative people I think describing yourself as a creative person probably wouldn't help you to stand out much, considering the fact that everyone on Patreon is going to be creative. I could be wrong here, but as soon as I get a credit card I'm going to find some projects I like and become a Patreon of them (will definitely donate to you @rich, thank you so much for your dedication to Phaser + this forum, this is how game dev always should have been). I'm sure experiencing both sides of Patreon would help me grasp a way better appreciation of what people look for.

14 hours ago, end3r said:

I think Patreon is currently the best option for supporting creative individuals, and it works for the most recognizable ones - I wonder how the global stats look for all the others.

I was wondering about something else, and I'm gonna use myself as an example. There are recognizable devs doing some huge project of their own, so it's easy for them to offer different levels of awards for those supporting them. But what about someone doing all the little stuff here and there, what he could offer? Obviously not giving anything in return for different levels of monetary support or giving the same for everyone won't work.

I was thinking about starting my Patreon page, but I have no idea what to offer. I'm running the Gamedev.js Weekly newsletter, so a slot there could be interesting, but I have no idea how it would work in the long run. I'm also organizing the js13kGames competition, but it's more of a one-time-in-a-year event so supporting it month over month makes less sense. I'm also writing tutorials for MDN Games and creating snippets of code for that, but again - what I could offer over what I'm doing right now? Right now I'm just doing stuff and sharing it. Also, how do you balance different levels of awards with different small projects you have?

To be honest @end3r it kind of sounds like Patreon might not be the platform for you. Your work definitely sounds very creative and very interesting but I think for that to work on Patreon you'd need a way of relating it to yourself, and perhaps a selfless greater good.

I could be wrong here, but I think typecasting yourself into a very particular niche makes it a lot easier for people to understand you and what it is you do. This is actually something I struggle with a bit and often makes me think Patreon perhaps isn't the direction I should take. I love making games, however I also love making web applications, and skateboarding, and editing videos, and so on.

In some ways (possibly invalid, as I mentioned before I don't have a great understanding of what it's like to be a Patreon), I fear having a Patreon page where you show yourself in one niche, but then are discovered to be spending time engaging in projects of a different niche might draw distrust from your Patreons.

For example, if I made a Patreon page that painted me purely as a game developer, but then it was discovered that I also spent time working on a skateboarding website my (hopefully skewed) intuition tells me that people might feel... Betrayed? (Again this could be totally invalid, I don't have a strong understanding I can lean on here, @rich maybe you could weigh in).

But to combat that, the logical choice I see would be to be really transparent on your your page that you're involved in a lot of different stuff, though this in turn would make your niche broader and might make it harder for people to understand you. However in your case @end3r, I think that wouldn't be such a problem for you, as your various efforts all seem to fall under the same umbrella.

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Thanks for the honest feedback @saricden!

9 hours ago, saricden said:

In some ways (possibly invalid, as I mentioned before I don't have a great understanding of what it's like to be a Patreon), I fear having a Patreon page where you show yourself in one niche, but then are discovered to be spending time engaging in projects of a different niche might draw distrust from your Patreons.

However in your case @end3r, I think that wouldn't be such a problem for you, as your various efforts all seem to fall under the same umbrella.

Yeah, I'd say it's not about different niches, because my projects and my passion revolves around evangelizing about HTML5 games. Through giving talks at conferences, writing articles and tutorials, organizing a competition, sending newsletter, making games, sharing code. It's always "that HTML5 gamedev guy".

9 hours ago, saricden said:

For example, if I made a Patreon page that painted me purely as a game developer, but then it was discovered that I also spent time working on a skateboarding website my (hopefully skewed) intuition tells me that people might feel... Betrayed?

That's why I set aside my other, unrelated projects, like the Neuroshima Hex board game for which I'm running the fan website and community, but I don't mix it in any way with the HTML5 gamedev "topic".

I suppose people should just try and start a Patreon page and see what happens - if it will work for them, then great, but if not, then at least they will have a clear feedback and can move on.

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Just to play devils advocate...

If you're a game developer, its either a hobby (so you have a job to pay the bills) or you actually want to make games that, ultimately, people want to play. (Creating games just for yourself is a great thing, but unless you get lucky, thats a hobby, create games you love yes, but you probably want people playing your game, breathing life into it). 

If your sole source of income is donations arent you saying: "This game/s isn’t good enough for anyone to actually want to pay for it?"

If you have confidence in your game then people are going to pay for it. You might not get rich, thats a separate concern, but even if your game is niche you’d probably be able to make enough income from it to live (for a while, games tend to have a shelf life, particularly where payment is concerned). If you are in the game development business above hobbyist then you need to be making money from your product/s. This could mean that you contract to pay the bills and develop between times, but, I dont think that sort of payment is what you are talking about.

Patreon (and other services, I dont include indieGogo or Kickstarter as you are, in theory, paying for a potential product there) should probably be viewed as a supplement, not your end-goal for monetization. I have no idea what the stats are, maybe you can make enough to have a good lifestyle off of the donations, but if you are its because your product is superb.

The model you suggest is fairly similar to in-app purchases, where a small subset of your customers sustain a larger player base. Your suggestion is more idealistic of course, but, you're going to have to direct players to your patreon page (potentially fairly aggressively if you need cash to continue your service) so for the player it becomes pretty much the same as decent IAP games, the difference being that with an IAP players get an instant reward—most computer games are extrinsically rewarding so the lure of instant 'rewards' is great for players conditioned to expect them, of course, some games are primarily intrinsic motivators so maybe those sort of games would attract players more likely to donate to a 'cause'?

Just to clarify, I'm not saying that things like Patreon or Gratipay (is that even still going?) are inherently bad models, just that they should not be relied upon to keep a roof over your head and power in your computer although they probably provide a decent enough bonus payment. 

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