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Serious games can be commercial - Red Redemption

Once you get past the death threats, costs of raising money and the UK's unfavourable development environment, says CEO

Fate of the World developer Red Redemption believes that serious games - those that tackle real-world issues and aim to educate as well as entertain - can be done on a commercial scale, making them a viable business for publishers that are becoming increasingly risk averse.

However, as with all game development it's a struggle to realise the final product. Red Redemption spent as much as £200,000 raising £1 million from investors, faced death threats over the subject matter and had to work the system in order to score more finance through the R&D tax credits offered by the UK government, according to CEO Klaude Thomas.

You'd have a really hard time getting funding this way from a fantasy game or sci-fi game.

Klaude Thomas, Red Redemption

"I just felt that there was there was a market here, and it was actually feasible to develop serious games commercially," said Thomas, of his decision to leave big budget games development and enter the serious games market.

"We're still a way from quite proving that, but I think it's a high concept that I'd like to prove. We'd also like to get into a position where we can ourselves sponsor other projects in this area - that would be incredible."

As big publishers aren't yet convinced enough to invest in serious games, the easiest route to finance is through venture capitalists, according to Thomas, who warned of the high costs involved in raising money.

"Altogether, we raised about £1 million, but we didn't spend all of that on the game. I would guess that we spent at least £100,000 or £200,000 just on raising the money and administrating that," he said in an interview published today.

"This is a really important thing if anyone else is thinking of raising money this way. It takes a lot of work and time and money to do the administration. We spent quite a lot of legal and setting up our licenses and distributor. We spent something - not enough, probably! - on promotion. All told, we probably spent £500,000 or £600,000 on developing the game itself, probably about £400,000 on other things."

Red Redemption took advantage of R&D tax credits offered by the government in an environment otherwise deemed "terrible" for game development.

"That's quite an important component - that's usually enough money to run the studio for a few months. It's very important to do, and to be very assiduous about, and that will be more so in future.

"The UK is basically a terrible place to do games development work in terms of any advantages from tax and so on, but our experience has been that HMRC has been basically very cool to deal with on the R&D at least."

Thomas also believes that an interest in Fate of the World's climate change subject matter helped score the VC investment.

"No-one ever came by and put money in without looking at the business plan and what they might receive and return, but equally I don't think anyone came to us looking solely at making a straight game investment.

"It's definitely because of the hook, because it was of interest to the wider society. It wouldn't even necessarily need to be climate change, but I bet you'd have a really hard time getting funding this way from a fantasy game or sci-fi game."

Red Redemption has encountered some resistance from those that consider serious subjects inappropriate for videogames, but they are in the minority, according to Thomas.

"We had one person saying that we should either be locked up or executed. And we've had some people quite against the whole idea, but that's really the minority. I would say less than 5 per cent of respondents. Most people have been really positive about it."

As Red Redemption now looks to take Fate of the World to other formats - Mac, Android and iPad - Thomas highlighted the opportunity for game developers to make serious games where currently there is enthusiasm from academics who don't necessarily have the right background.

"I looked at a lot of serious games at the time, and essentially most of them were taking a subject and pushing it onto a game. That's not really the right way to do it. The gameplay has to emerge out of the subject, ideally, or map very tightly to it.

"I think that's because a lot of the serious games community are not people who are out the outset game-makers, but they might have been teachers, or someone with a particular interest in a subject. So what they're doing is often not really doing the job of fabricating a game, but taking a dressing of a topic or political point and then lying that onto an existing game - that might not produce a very good mapping.

The full interview with Klaude Thomas can be read here.

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Latest comments (9)

Fred Skoler Business Strategy, Design, Engagement, Sweepstakes, Contests, Executive Producer 11 years ago
As a veteran game maker trying find ways to turn gameplay into real world good I am glad to see this article and hope to see more like it. My company, Global Mind Games http:[link url=http://www.globalmindgames.com,]http://www.globalmindgames.com[/link], is focused on social games that provoke debate and inspire real world change.

As we all know, social networks like Facebook are designed to offer the user stuff she likes. We see topical discussion around meaningful subjects that may ruffle your feathers (no disrespect to Angry Birds) as being healthy. We also believe that games are an exceptional medium for imparting knowledge. With this in mind we are creating what we refer to as an idea market. Interaction is driven by community interest and a gamification model. Soon, we will launch the new feature that promotes the real-world do-good behavior.

You may have already dismissed this as not a game. You may have decided that it could never be fun. We truly are working to make this both fun and a game that can be enjoyed on many levels. It's early, it's rough, we could use your feedback and appreciate you checking out Global Innovation Game (GiG) on Facebook http://apps.facebook.com/globalinnovatio...

Help us prove that social games can be meaningful, engaging and inspiring. We can change the world through games. A little success can go a long way.

Your ideas matter!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Fred Skoler on 11th April 2011 6:08pm

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Interesting games and most of the thoughts resonate well with the experiences we had developing the Global Conflicts-series in Denmark at Serious Games Interactive. However, it sounds like they had smooth sailing. There weren't any major R&D tax credits and we didn't get any VC. Nevertheless, we some creativity you can raise money for serious games from different places with some creative thinking.

Unfortunately, I am not so positive of the commercial viability of serious games, but I do hope I am wrong. If I am we will be the first to give it even more speed forward.

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Robert Turner Studying Games Programming, SAE Institute11 years ago
Checked out the web site, the game looks really interesting, especially for anyone who may be into politics or economics.
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Show all comments (9)
Tony Johns11 years ago
Compared to the western market that faces death threats from making serious games commercial, the Japanese market has been making serious games for years that tackle heavy subject matter as well as being entertaining and thought provotive.

Sadly, most people will never understand this.

But I think the push for serious games and make them commercial is on the right path as long as developers don't lose too much money.

I have enjoyed lots of serious games of the Japanese Visual Novels in how they tell a story and they allow you to make a decision at different moments that can change the story on it's head depending on how you have chosen the decisions you have made.
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Max Priddy11 years ago
This sounds pretty neat, even if a bit heavy on the subject matter to just simply pick up and play from what I've read, but I definitely like what they're trying to do with this, and hope maybe some of its seriousness does get adapted into other games. One thing I'd like to see would be perhaps an open world survival rpg/adventure game, some mix between what stalker: shadow of chernobyl was planned to be but with that bleak atmosphere and constant edge of surviving feel that metro 2033 had, where you have to survive after a catastrophe and see society around you degrade over time or rebuild depending on what happens (yes I know fallout exists, but that doesn't quite have the atmosphere im thinking about). Best of luck to Red Redemption and other serious game devs anyhow! (even if their name keeps making me think of RDR...)
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Andy Carlstedt11 years ago
Very interesting reading!

I've been waiting to see this perspective on game development from the industry here and I will dig through all info posted in the comments.

It's right up my alley regarding my personal interests, studies and project.
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Stephen Hands Director, 3dnative11 years ago
Great article and best of luck to RR.
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Stephen Hands Director, 3dnative11 years ago
Great article and best of luck to RR.
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Stephen Hands Director, 3dnative11 years ago
Sorry for multiple posts. I wanted to share this link regarding serious games in the Feb Tiga newsletter. http://tiga.org/Documents/TIGA Newsletter_Feb 2011.pdf
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