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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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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