Legacy Media Companies and Crowdfunded Projects: Electronic Arts Makes a Smart Move

The move by Electronic Arts to allow non-EA developers to sell games they funded through crowdsourcing and built on their own on the Origin platform for three months without charging them fees to do so strikes me as a really smart, collaborative decision.

One of the things I’ve been doing out in Los Angeles is visiting sets and talking to people about web television. As I think is clear to anyone who’s watched The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl or Husbands, or played an indie game, the challenge isn’t necessarily getting quality products into production—though extra resources and access to equipment never, ever hurt—it’s finding a way for those products to reach the full audience that would enjoy them if only those consumers knew the products existed, and to make those products sustainable. You can develop the best game in the world, but if no one other than the people who crowdfunded it know where to find it, your chances of using that method to leverage yourself into the next level of business so you don’t have to go back to Kickstarter next time are not great.

Legacy media companies, whether it’s video game distributors or the television networks, have an enormous asset in their distribution networks. Even without a big marketing campaign, if your game is populated in a categories list or popping up in a recommendations list based on your other purchases, or if your show automatically starts playing after another program is finished streaming, that’s a huge advantage over simply hosting that game or show on a website and hoping the audience will find its way there. Right now, these games and these shows are small enough that they aren’t necessarily going to compete with big studio productions—either they’re cheaper so it’s not a financial tradeoff, or the games serve different needs—so the studios lose absolutely nothing by opening up their distribution networks to give the indies a boost.

And these early experiments give them a chance to figure out what a business model for collaboration might look like. EA could end up deciding to let indie games stay on for 90 days for free and longer for a fee. They could shorten the free window to a month, and then let games stay for 5 percent of each sale or whatever fee would make this a viable proposition for indie developers who would be getting sales they never would have had access to otherwise, and for the company whose only costs are expanded maintenance of an existing customer service infrastructure. And legacy media companies could track sales and views and advertising revenue to spot new talent. Legacy media and indie media don’t have to be inextricably opposed, and EA’s opening up its sales platform is a perfect illustration of what an experiment in collaboration might look like.