Image courtesy of Saibot Studios

How to fund your indie game

Unreal Evangelist Team
Are you ready to start your new project? Do you need to hire a team or set up an office somewhere? Maybe you have already started working on your project and need extra time and resources to add that game-changing feature or bring your finished game to a new console. Finding funding can sound overwhelming, but like any big challenge, there are many strategies that you can follow. 

While funding can be a fundamental need, how it works can vary from region to region. As part of Unreal Indies Week 2021, we connected with amazing indie teams from Argentina, Iceland, Australia, and Poland to learn how they got their games funded. 

Saibot Studios’ Tobias Rusjian

After the success of their episodic horror-drenched game Doorways, small Argentinian developer Saibot Studios developed its most recent project Hellbound after releasing the free-to-play Hellbound: Survival Mode as a demo on Steam. That demo received so much positive feedback from shooter fans that it led to the creation of the full-fledged campaign, which was published with the help of seasoned developer/publisher Nimble Giant.

Providing some background for how Tobias Rusjan got his foot in the industry, the Saibot Studios co-founder explained, “In 2011, I quit my job to start making my own games. I contacted my uncle to help me out with money while I stayed at my mom's house. In 2012, we officially started Saibot Studios, with a team of only two.”

They worked on their own IP, the Doorways saga, for five years, releasing three titles in the process. “The team and quality of the games kept growing with each release,” Rusjan said. That road, however, did not come without its challenges. “But it was always pretty tough since we were just a few guys doing a crazy amount of work. I did all the programming, but also design, 3D modeling, animations, and even sound effects. And that's only related to the game itself. Then there was all the direction of the projects, the marketing, paying salaries, and a lot more.”

With Hellbound, the studio aimed to create a 90s first-person shooter in the modern era. To get the game funded, the studio found several means. “For the investment, we got national government funding, launched a Kickstarter, and even got an Unreal Dev Grant,” Rusjan stated. These financial contributions paved the way for Saibot Studios to find a publisher to finish the title. 

Sharing what he had learned, Rusjan stated, “What I think always helped us get the funds and the attention we needed for our project was to have prototypes in our hands.” He added, “We always worked very hard to have something solid to show to the world, and not just an idea or a document with some references.” 

Hellbound is available on Steam. You can also follow Saibot Studios on Twitter @SaibotStudios.

Myrkur Games’ Halldór S. Kristjánsson

Myrkur Games is an Icelandic game developer working to create The Darken, a narrative-driven fantasy-adventure series, which aims to infuse realism with an intricate, real-time narrative. The studio was founded in 2016 by Daníel A. Sigurðsson, Friðrik A. Friðriksson, and Halldór S. Kristjánsson with the help of Reykjavík Invest’s funding. 

While Kristjánsson studied game design and programming at Reykjavik University, at the beginning of the project, he noted that the team had to maintain steady non-development work to get the ball rolling, “We were working part-time jobs during the evening. I was working as a northern-lights tour guide here in Iceland during the night and then developing during the day.” Eventually, however, he stated, “from there on out, we actually participated in the accelerator program here in Iceland, who became our first investor,” adding, “And then we raised investments through friends, family, angel investors-- and on and on it went.” 

For pitching advice, Kristjánsson stated, “I think the number one tip I can give anybody is just ask for feedback. Pitch to everybody, get them to give you feedback and then try to incorporate that feedback into your pitch. Try to understand why you're getting that feedback. What are you missing? What are you not articulating the way that you should be? And just think of your pitch as a live thing more than a thing that you do once and then deliver.” He added, “Another helpful tip when pitching is don't just pitch your game. Pitch the entire idea behind it. Pitch the company that you're building. Pitch the team that you're building. Pitch the vision that you have, of where you think you're going to be in three years, five years, and seven years. [Ask yourself] how is your game going to make money? Why does this make sense to make right now as a game? Try to incorporate all of that into your pitch rather than pitching just specific game mechanics or art styles.”

You can find out more about The Darken and Myrkur Games on the studio’s official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube channels.

Brimstone Brawler’s Christopher Galea

Chris “Ategig” Galea has spent the last 10 years working with game engines creating virtual experiences for industries such as architecture and aerospace. He is now using that knowledge to create his dream game, Brimstone Brawlers, as the title’s lead developer. Currently, in early access, Brimstone Brawlers is a local and online multiplayer PVP arena brawler with peculiar characters set within the Lovecraft-inspired, gothic city of Brimstone.

Galeas’ game development efforts started off as a side project but have grown into something much bigger. “[I] have dedicated a lot more time to it. We don't exactly call it a hobby anymore. It's more of a kind of second full-time job, I guess, which can get quite hard sometimes, but we're having a lot of fun developing it,” Galea stated. He attributes Unreal Engine for much of their momentum thus far, “I currently use Unreal Engine in my day job creating immersive experiences in area space, but it's really given me the ability to -- as we've gathered more support over the last couple of years, it's given me the ability to reach out to some freelance artists to bring them on board with the project and help kind of define the style, as well as gameplay elements of Brimstone Brawlers.” He added, “Unreal Engine has really empowered us to create a game with a fairly big scope for a couple of developers. So, without all the out-of-the-box features and things like Blueprints visual scripting, I don't think it would be possible for [us] to create the current game we have at the moment.”

For now, Galea stated that they are working hard to fund the game. “So far, the project has been entirely funded by myself. So I'm still working nine until five at a day job to fund the game’s development, but we've since released onto Steam in early access, and all the money we've made from sales so far has gone back into the game. And I'm planning to use most of the money we make in the future to go back into the game as well to generate more content and create more systems.” He added, “Brimstone Brawlers has been entirely self-funded up until now, but we are looking to change that by reaching out to some publishers and hopefully getting one of them to jump on board. We found that our players are extremely excited for our up-and-coming features, which we've defined in our roadmap, and we think getting a publisher to come on board would be a great way to fast track some of those features.”

In providing advice from what he’s learned thus far, Galea stated, “I think when pitching to publishers, my biggest tip would be to know who your target audience is. For example, when we speak to a platform holder, we will talk about things such as the value we will bring to their players-- the players of that specific platform. Whereas, if you're talking to a player directly, you want to kind of describe the value that your game will bring to that player if they decide to invest their free time into playing your game.”

To keep up to date on Brimstone Brawlers, check out the game’s website, follow the title on Twitter, like it on Facebook, and join them on Discord.

Modern Storyteller’s Nick Pearce

After creating wildly successful mod, The Forgotten City, which racked up millions of downloads and became the first mod in history to win a national Writers’ Guild award, modder Nick Pierce quit his day job as a lawyer and handpicked a small team of industry veterans to form Melbourne, Australia-based indie studio Modern Storyteller.
They are currently developing The Forgotten City as a standalone game. “The goal of the standalone project was to level up every aspect of the original mod, but making an indie game from scratch is a lot harder than making a mod,” Pierce stated, adding, “Fortunately for us, Unreal Engine does a lot of the heavy lifting. Even though we're only a small team with an indie budget, we've been able to create a gorgeous game world populated by beautiful, well-animated character models. And that's something that, historically, only much larger studios could do. It's really allowed us to punch above our weight and do some really cool, unique things.”

Pierce elaborated on his road to the game’s development, “When you make an indie game, I'm not going to sugarcoat it; finding funding is always a challenge. I got started with a combination of savings from my 10-year legal career as well as grants from Film Victoria, a government arts body here in Victoria. And once the game was more advanced, we were lucky enough to land an Unreal Dev Grant, a no-strings-attached grant from Epic Games that extended our production runway long enough for us to land a publishing deal with Dear Villagers. And as a result, we now have a budget to make the game we always wanted to make.”

For more information on The Forgotten City, check out the game’s Steam page. You can also follow developer Modern Storyteller on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Varsav Game Studios’ Lukasz Rosinski

Developed by Polish company Varsav Game Studios, Bee Simulator offers a vast and colorful world where, as the title may suggest, you play as a small bee. The project germinated through unconventional means. “My background is not in computer games, but within the Polish capital markets,” Varsav Game Studios Founder and CEO Lukasz Rosinski told us. He added, “I've been working with brokerage houses here in Poland and financing many technological companies; among them were some companies that were game developers.” Rosinski leveraged his relationships within the investment industry to ultimately jumpstart Bee Simulator. “I started to think about financing this project, of course, by using the capital markets here in Poland. I asked some of the investors that were involved in some other games companies if they would be interested in financing my company,” Rosinski stated, adding, “They really liked the idea.” Varsav Game Studios created a demo that began creating some buzz for the endeavor. “It was much easier to finance the game when we had existing demos showcasing what the game would be about. So, the first year of development was financed by these investors.”

Varsav Game Studios then showed Bee Simulator at Gamescom, which attracted even more attention. “As I remember, seven publishers were interested in the project. So, they wanted to talk deeper and to know the full idea and scope of the game. We talked deeper with three of them and finally decided on one. 

This deal paved the way for Bee Simulator to ship to retail shelves, which was an important goal for Rosinski, who stated, “Because Bee Simulator is a game that is designed to be for both children and adults, we thought that it could be an ideal present for Christmas.”

Speaking from his experience, Rosinski shared, “Here in Poland, we've got donation programs from the government that are helping to develop technologies, which we’ve received for our next game.” 

If you would like to follow Varsav Game Studios’ latest upcoming projects, make sure to check out its official website, Twitter, and Facebook page. Bee Simulator is also out now for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. 

Things you should know about funding

Game development is a risky and expensive proposition, with many unknowns factoring into the equation. While self funding and assistance from friends and family are common threads from indie developers when starting out, obtaining sustainable support for other channels should be a priority.

There are a number of avenues to gain funding, but be aware: pitching your project and seeking funding is almost a full-time job in and of itself. Some sources of external financial support include:
  • Incubators: They specialize in nurturing teams that are in an early stage of development. They may invest monetarily or can simply provide the team with a free workplace, hardware, or access to mentors with different skills, and networking opportunities.
  • Venture Capital: Venture capitalists may help you take your project to the next level, perhaps by fully or partially funding the development of the project, or by helping you reach the right partners.
  • Publishers: A collaboration with a publisher can take many forms, ranging from full project development funding, to partial funding, to being focused only on the distribution and go-to market costs, and perhaps even only for a given platform.
  • Regional or national government grants or business loans.
  • Awards and other incomes
  • Crowdfunding

Things you should know about Epic MegaGrants

Have you heard about Epic MegaGrants? Epic Games has committed $100,000,000 to support game developers, enterprise professionals, media and entertainment creators, students, educators, and tool developers doing amazing things with Unreal Engine or enhancing open-source capabilities for the 3D graphics community. 

We love supporting UE game developers of all sizes with funds to fuel their projects. You can also apply for a grant to help transition your game from another engine to UE. Are you developing software that integrates with Unreal Engine? Are you creating open-source tools or enhancing the capabilities of open-source software to benefit the 3D graphics community? We also love supporting open projects that solve tough problems or improve workflows. Show us your projects, and you could potentially earn a financial grant to help fuel your success! For more information, reach out to your regional Unreal Engine evangelist.

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