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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.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.