Getting money to make a AAA game is hard. When anyone is lucky enough to get the funds they need, it usually comes from a giant game publishing company that wants the rights to the game, not to mention complete control. Those publishers have shareholders who demand a high return on their investment, so they avoid risk when choosing game projects to fund.
That narrow, risk-averse path to funding has led to stagnation in the AAA space, driving many talented developers into the freewheeling, but less backed world of indie games. These developers need to be creative to fund their projects, utilizing everything from sponsorships to Kickstarter campaigns to massive pre-order stunts.
Slightly Mad Studios in the UK has created a new venture called World of Mass Development that aims to combine the best aspects of AAA and independent game funding. It works somewhat like Kickstarter, but is made specifically for AAA game development. Developers can put their games on the site (Slightly Mad's own latest game C.A.R.S. is the debut project) and offer gamers the opportunity to donate to them in exchange for perks. The users can sign on and give money to whatever projects they'd like to see completed.
Where WMD differs is how the donor-developer relationship continues past the initial donation. When one donates to a Kickstarter project, their role is pretty much done after giving up the money. But with WMD, depending on how much money one decides to give to a game, they get varying degrees of access to the project until it's complete.
Lower levels, costing 25 euros and up, give perks like being able to review the minutes of game design meetings and play monthly builds of the game. At the highest levels (which can cost as much as 110,000 euros!) donors can PM game designers, participate in their meetings, play every new build of the game as it's created, and see all the source code.
In addition, the gamers who donated to a game's completion are rewarded with more than just perks—they get a split of the back end as well. Developers who use WMD earn just 30 percent of the revenue from their game. The rest goes to the donors who made it happen based on the relative size of each of their contributions.
This might seem unfair to game developers, but it's also the factor that could drive the size of investments up and turn WMD from an indie funding project into the AAA funding project it sees itself as. Investors need to know they're getting some kind of return if they're going to plunk down enough cash to fund a AAA game.
This could be a great two-way relationship. Gamers with means can see how a game gets made, contribute to one that they believe in, and get paid if they chose wisely. Developers get a big cash boost and get input from their target market during development.
But I can also see where having the wrong entitled 110,000-euro gamer involved in a project could be even more maddening than a publisher. Whatever the risks, gamers and developers need each other to get anything done, and hopefully WMD will help to bring them together and make a dent in the publisher-dominated structure controlling the AAA space today.