Michelle Travis

Michelle Travis

Apr 01 2014

Money, Money, Money - The Search for Funding

In his book WALDEN, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

Now, I consider myself something of an optimist, or at the very least, delusionally cheerful in the face of adversity. But somehow I don't think Thoreau ever had to worry about trying to fund a gaming studio. Because developing a game, and even moreso a larger world of continuity for it, is definitely building castles in the air. But how does one put a foundation under it?

None of us here at Ætheric come from particularly affluent families (unlike, say, Bill Gates), and while almost all of us are gainfully employed in reasonably well-paying jobs in our regular lives, it still doesn't leave much to spare for funding the games we have in various stages of development. Right now, in addition to each of us contributing toward office operations, the most valuable thing we can contribute is our time. It's also a standing rule at the Ætheric office that life insurance policies are not acceptable funding options. Nor is hoping to win the Powerball or Mega Millions lottery.

Back in December (not the most fortuitous time, admittedly), we ran an IndieGoGo campaign that regrettably was not nearly as successful as we had hoped. It did help get the word out, and drew the attention of a few artists and game developers that otherwise we might not have found, so I can't say it was a total loss. Still, it was a rather demoralizing event here, especially after seeing the wild successes of Kickstarters for games like STAR CITIZEN and CITY OF TITANS. And yet in spite of that, and probably due in no small part to our collective refusal to accept failure, the Ætheric crew picked itself up and continued its efforts.

(Seriously - we have a sign here in the office that proudly proclaims, "I have faith in our ability to pull random miracles out of our..." I'll leave the last word off that sentence, but you can probably guess how it ends.)

Some of us have contributed to Ætheric financially via our tax returns or year-end bonuses. Melissa and her exec assistant spend a good amount of their time researching and pursuing various investor options — small business loans, grants, and the like. Which is unfortunately harder than it sounds, because a lot of small business investors and loans and whatnot are geared around brick-and-mortar storefronts or businesses. Ætheric is entirely online, so providing the kinds of numbers and proofs of concept that they want is an uphill battle. We also all do a goodly amount of networking — as the saying goes, it's not what you know but who you know. Whether it's through our regular jobs, social media, or just old-fashioned face-to-face meetings at the local gaming hangouts, we diligently pursue the elusive possibilities that cross our paths.

What is the money FOR, you might be asking. Well, that I can tell you.

Part of it is for, as I mentioned earlier, office operations — namely our rent, office furniture, ISP, utilities, and office insurance. In my January 22nd, 2014 blog post, I'd talked about why we now have an office instead of just continuing to work around Melissa's dining room table. And as we get further and further into our work on NEXUS and our other projects, we really do need the defined work space.

Part of it is for the various software licenses we need to do our work. While we use open source software where we can (free is a price we can happily accept), sometimes it's not sufficient to our needs. Our project tracking happens through Jira, our wiki is in Confluence, and enough of us are seriously chafing at the bit from using OpenOffice that we are really wanting to get ourselves a proper copy of Office 365. And while a lot of us are familiar with using Gimp, all of us prefer PhotoShop. Are there more... shall we say, elastic means of getting the software we need on the cheap? Sure. But that's now how Ætheric does things.

For NEXUS, the single biggest funding need is its art. We have two artists on staff (one traditional, one 3d), but NEXUS needs an awful lot of art. Icons, UI elements, backgrounds, and most importantly, the card art itself — all of this costs money. Even when finding artists on deviantArt and Tumblr who are willing to work for a little less in exchange for having a published game credential on their resumes, they work for less, not for free. And one of the hardest things for me personally to accept during the development process for NEXUS was the restrictions of my art budget, even if we did successfully secure funding. After all, NEXUS is not Ætheric's only planned offering, and there are so many other things that we still need if we're going to get them off the ground — which leads to our other big expenditure... staff.

Ætheric is a very small studio, comprised entirely of volunteers. There's a lot we want to do, but with only 24 hours in the day and nearly non-existent funds, we can't exactly entice programmers, artists, writers, and managers away from their regular 9-to-5 jobs to come work with us. But if we're ever really going to make a name for ourselves as a solid, good quality studio, we need more employees.

Still, I know I haven't completely given up hope yet because I haven't yet reached the point of desperation where I'd consider auctioning off my brownie recipe (if you've ever been to a CITY OF HEROES Meet-n-Greet, you know of what I speak) to raise funds for Ætheric.

So where do we go from here?

Forward. It's the only way to go — we're not giving up because we know that our projects are good. We know that we can succeed. We know there's a foundation for our castle in the air, and we're going to get it built, one way or another.

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