Recently, Gamasutra brought out a report that certainly had my attention on the concept of equity crowdfunding. While we've seen several games come about--or at least get in a position to get made--because of crowdfunding services like Kickstarter, the concept of equity crowdfunding, or buying a share of a game like an impromptu corporation, has been getting a little less attention until recently. That brought Gamasutra back to consider the story of a game that got its funding by crowdfunding, and how a slice of the pie got gamers' attention.
The game in question, Train Fever, stuck to the equity crowdfunding approach over the alternative crowdfunding approach in which users get non-monetary premiums--extra features, early versions of the game, and the like--to make the investment. While the non-equity crowdfunding approach has worked, and worked well, in the past, games like Train Fever are offering a whole new premium in the form of a percentage of the take.
While such a move isn't legal everywhere--it's actually against the law in the United States among other places--there are signs that such hurdles won't be in place much longer. Recent laws--particularly the 2012 JOBS act--requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to define rules for equity crowdfunding by 2014, which means they need to be in place fairly soon. But even once those rules are in place, places like Kickstarter aren't necessarily interested in allowing equity options, which may well make this something of a moot point until someone forms the equity version of Kickstarter.
This is a clearly dual-sided debate. On the one hand, it's easy to see that some users would come in on an equity option where there was no equity option previously. More investors means more successful Kickstarters and more games for gamers to try. It's hard to pass that idea up, and the thought of being able to potentially realize a return on the investment beyond a free copy is somewhat exciting.
Yet this potential has a clear dark side. Consider what some designers would do in a bid to "please the investors," or what those investors might demand in order to ensure a return. Would games have more aggressive free to play elements? Would the content become more...mature...in a bid to draw interest? Would pricing reach out of control levels as investors demanded return?
There are possibilities in both directions when it comes to equity crowdfunding, and though personally I'd like the possibility of being a paid investor in gaming, there are certainly enough potential issues that even I pause to consider them.