Investing in the Future of Indie Games

Investing in the Future of Indie Games (photo)

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Every winter, there’s a video game pilgrimage to San Francisco. College students, journalists and dealmakers descend on the city’s Moscone Center for the annual Game Developers Conference, looking to discover or become part of the Next Big Thing in interactive entertainment. At the yearly confab that draws them together, members of development studios all over the world — who toil in near-total anonymity — come up for air and compare notes on process and quality of life. The artists, programmers, coders and designers also come here to plot out their next career moves or, at least, to get re-inspired and re-energized.

The most inspiring and energizing thing at this year’s GDC may have happened on its first day. During the opening hours of the Indie Game Summit, developer Ron Carmel gave a talk that announced the formation of the Indie Fund. Carmel outlined how this new organization would help fund other aspiring independent game developers. The San Francisco resident — who, along with partner Kyle Gabler, makes up dev studio 2D Boy — became one of the DIY gaming scene’s established stars with the success of “World of Goo” two years ago. So it was big news that he and several other successful indie developers would be pooling money together to grow the ranks of people who want to make games on their own. To find out more, I reached out to Carmel and another IF co-founder, Aaron Isaksen of AppAbove Games, to talk about Indie Fund’s origins.

It seems like game developers tend to work in bubbles where they lose touch with the outside world. That isolation must be even more intense so for indie developers, who have less manpower and sometimes even work solo. So how is it that you and Kyle, Kellee Santiago, Jonathan Blow and the others got together to form Indie Fund?

Aaron: Considering that indies aren’t encumbered by bureaucracy, lengthy employment contracts, and scary non-disclosure agreements, its actually much easier for us to share information and ideas with each other than if we worked for a traditional company. Skype calls, email, mailing lists, wikis, blogs, conferences, face-to-face lunch meetings, and cafe work groups keep us plenty in touch with each other. We first started tossing around ideas for Indie Fund at a meetup of indie developers at GDC 2009, hashed out a lot of the details over email and Skype, and then I think we met one more time in person at GDC 2010.

Ron: The opposite is actually true. Yes, we work in small teams, sometime teams of one person, but it’s a tightly knit community. We talk to each other regularly, collaborate on small projects here and there, and actually spend quite a bit of time together both during conferences and in everyday life. The San Francisco Bay Area in particular is a huge indie hub. Kyle and I are here, as is Jon Blow (“Braid”), Derek Yu (“Aquaria”/”Spelunky”), David Hellman (“Braid”), Colin Northway (“Fantastic Contraption”), Chris Hecker (“Spore”/”SpyParty”), Steph Thirion (“Eliss”/”Faraway”), and I could go on. But to answer your question, the idea for Indie Fund came up at GDC last year in an informal gathering of indie developers, and evolved during ongoing conversations in the following months.

In any medium, the concepts “indie” and “money” are set up as polar opposites. It’d be one thing to form a creative support group of all you indie developer guys, but what sparked the idea to create a financial body?

Aaron: There is nothing wrong with indies making money. They aren’t polar opposites at all. The real question is who has control of the money and who gets to keep it. We are trying to keep indies financially and creatively independent, and the way to do that is to keep as much control as possible in the hands of the indie developer.

Ron: Last year at GDC a bunch of us were talking about how and where to get funding from… anything from government grants to publishers. Few people were pleased with their funding sources. Government grants are cumbersome and involve a ton of paperwork and lengthy evaluation processes, and publishing deals often mean accepting bad terms. Aaron raised the question of why aren’t indies funding indies. The concept has been around for a while, but for some reason that was the day that it caught traction.

The most striking thing about the Indie Fund details you talked about at GDC 2010 was that the organization wouldn’t seek any IP ownership or control of the games you help. Isn’t there a business liability here, in terms of not being able to replenish the Fund?

Aaron: Indie Fund is intended to make a profit, so that we can be self-sustaining and invest in more games as the years go on. There are other ways to make profit on our investment other than owning IP, such as by getting a royalty rate on sales. The reason we don’t want to control the games is that it’s not sustainable or scalable. We all have our own games to create, and we want to help developers that can get games done on their own, if they just had the financial means to do it.

Ron: The fund will make money by getting a share of the revenue generated by the funded games. That is in line with our goal of helping indie developers get and stay financially independent. Making the fund as profitable as it can be can not come at the expense of this primary goal. So yes, we’re giving up some potential profit.

Another thing that you talked about at GDC was that the Fund wouldn’t be supporting projects that are at the ideas stage and that prospective applicants would need to have playable prototypes. What’s the thinking behind that decision?

Ron: There are several important milestones in the development of any game. The concept, the playable prototype, and the execution. I think the vast majority of games die in the space between concept and prototype. It’s very difficult to predict whether a game will be compelling before it’s prototyped and played. Right now, investing in an idea is simply too risky for us. Additionally, having a playable prototype says a lot about the team’s commitment as well as their ability to execute.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.