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Grassroots-funded media: The final frontier?

Grassroots-funded media: The final frontier?

By Joshua DeLung

Recently, Double Fine Productions and 2 Player Productions partnered to boldly go where no such partnership has gone before. If outer space is the final frontier of human exploration, then grassroots-funded media may be the equivalent in the entertainment industry. These two companies have embarked on a project — a video game and documentary about its development — funded by an unprecedented number of fans. Except, this business model works a little backwards — fans (not investors) fund the project before it’s completed. Media funded by dedicated fans could be the future, so pay attention. The implications would be huge for in-game advertising, product placement and similar communication tactics for many reasons, especially because developers could completely bypass publishers.

In early February, using the creative funding platform Kickstarter, Double Fine and 2 Player launched their campaign for “Double Fine Adventure.” The impetus for the program was that Double Fine, an independent video game development studio, had fans who wanted an old-school, point-and-click adventure game, but they couldn’t get a video game publisher to sign off on the project. So, legendary designer Tim Schafer decided to ask those same fans to help get the game made, and he wanted complete transparency throughout the process. 2 Player, a production company dedicated to documenting gamer culture, therefore stepped in to document the entire development process, releasing monthly video updates for fans.

Originally, Double Fine set a goal of $400,000 for the project. Reaching that goal took eight hours. In fact, in 24 hours, Double Fine raised $1 million, only the second project on Kickstarter to ever do so. With more than 87,000 backers, “Double Fine Adventure” raised $3.3 million by the time the campaign ended last week. So, what happens with all that additional funding? Schafer says it will only make the game better, allowing for features such as an original soundtrack and distribution on multiple platforms (such as iOS, Android and Xbox Live Arcade instead of only on PC, for example).

While not every indie game developer, up-and-coming hip hop mogul or aspiring artist has an existing fan base large enough to raise $3 million for a project, Double Fine’s Kickstarter success has blown away Schafer and others across the media industry. Though a small studio, the developer’s past successes are well-known among gamers and the games press for their great stories and stunning art. It all goes to show that developing plenty of goodwill with customers by consistently delivering a quality product, and communicating with customers honestly, goes a long way. In fact, they might start to love you more than you ever knew. Perhaps Weird Al’s next album or Michael Cera’s next film will be funded by fans.

If products (Kickstarter’s other million-dollar project was an iPhone dock) and media start being funded directly by the people who want them, the marketing landscape could change. Reaching consumers well before a product hits the market could be a more crucial sales and PR opportunity than ever. Advertising would evolve, especially in cases where a middle-man like a publisher could usually have a say. And the value of email lists containing project backers… well, wouldn’t you like to know who was willing to directly fund your competitor’s newest gadget?

We’ll keep an eye on platforms like Kickstarter. And please — do not give the ENC staff any more encouragement about starting a fund to build a taco salad machine.

Image courtesy Flickr user hummyhummy.

About Joshua DeLung

Senior Director of Communication Services, specializes in strategy, public relations, writing/editing and social media.

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