When my friend Allyson Whipple and I first discussed developing a game based on reproductive healthcare access in Texas, we imagined something small completed in our off hours with no real plan for distribution. But, as the idea developed, we realized that we couldn’t do the project justice without resources and skills we didn’t have. Because the game was on a contentious topic, excluding it from many funding options, we turned to crowdfunding through Indiegogo.
We had a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over $10,000 to finish Choice: Texas and attracting media attention from high-profile outlets like Fast Company, Jezebel, Polygon, and Al Jazeera America. We got some hate mail and some incredibly nasty comments, but that seems to be the cost of being a woman who is at all visible online. Crowdfunding allowed us to complete a project that we could not have done otherwise. It also provided a platform for building and maintaining an audience for the game.
But, crowdfunding is also a significant amount of work, most of it invisible—I spent, for example, dozens of hours managing the production and shipping of the various perks for contributors, and we both spent days contacting people, talking to press outlets, and doing everything we could to promote the campaign. We got the money to fund our project, but it was hard won, especially considering that our production budget didn’t allocate payment for either of us (we paid everyone else who worked on the game).
Crowdfunding made sense for Choice: Texas because it was a project that we likely could not have funded otherwise. But, that lack of funding availability doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good idea or a good team, rather it reflects the dearth of funding opportunities for creative and experimental work. We made a successful game on a shoestring—the “real cost” of the game once all labor is accounted for is easily four times what we spent on it—but we also put ourselves in a position of completing months of unpaid labor. Crowdfunding can seem to offer a solution for the lack of compensation for creative work, and sometimes it does afford creative people the resources, including paid time, to complete projects that would otherwise not be possible. But, the possibilities are limited by popular perceptions of the value of creative labor. Had we asked for the real cost of producing Choice: Texas, the campaign would have failed, and so like many people faced with the question of whether to wait and hope for better funding options in the future or to forge ahead with a passion project you know will go largely uncompensated, we forged ahead.
This is not to criticize crowdfunding so much as to point out the degree to which the realities of crowdfunding are shaped by greater cultural and economic problems. Crowdfunding creates opportunities, but it does so by manufacturing popularity contests and asking us to leverage our networks for concrete financial gain. I remain grateful to everyone who contributed to Choice: Texas and pleased with the game we were able to produce, but I am also aware that much of what enabled that production was our willingness to invest hundreds of hours of our own time and our ability to rely on the strength of our networks, carefully cultivated over years of professional and community involvement.