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Post feature RSS The dirty business of funding

As I finish off a bid form for a government R&D competition, I wanted to share my views on this aspect of game development.

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Hey all!

By necessity this post will be quite text heavy. You have my apologies in advance.

So this last week I've not been working on the game at all. Instead I've been writing out a form that details why the UK Government should give me some funding for industrial research for a project that will ultimately benefit my game (and a whole bunch of yours too hopefully).

I was thinking of just posting a silly video of me messing around in the current build, but then thought that maybe some of you are also looking for external funding for things related to your games or your companies and that maybe I should share some of my thinking on the matter.

I'll be the first to admit that I really REALLY dislike admin. I mean I dislike the really unnecessary grind that most people put you through if they have some official stash of money they are tasked with giving away. But what you probably should think about is this:

1) Nobody whose job it is to give money away cares who it goes to.

A bold statement I know, but I've found it to be essentially true. Not that they will just give it to anyone, but they don't "care" about the people they fund in a humanitarian way. What they care about, is that they have evidence that they gave it away and they have evidence that suggests that gave it away to the appropriate type of people.

This is a fundamental thing to keep in mind when you are doing this sort of work. Its the same for publishing staff looking for games to publish, its also the same for public funding bodies who have central funds to distribute. Essentially the name of the game here is "cover your ass" from their point of view. Its actually quite a rational thing to do, if you have someone else giving you money and asking you to account for it. You don't take stupid risks, what you do is you invent a "process" such that if anything goes wrong, you can shift the blame onto the "process" and say that you will change it.

You might find it helpful to think of them as having the exact same process being done to them from above, having the same drastically dull form-filling exercise to undertake every time they do their job.

2) Those who know how the process works get the funding.

We've all probably stared at other developers or people we know and wondered how THEY convince people to give them that extra deal right? Well, the truth is, that the main difference is that the people who get the deal are the ones who understand the process. Its the same way you might think of dealing with press actually. Getting to know the press is the same as getting to know their process. If you involve yourself in getting to know the process you might fail a few times learning the various hoops to jump through, but you will eventually figure it out. I've seen this happen plenty of times now, hell I've partnered a few times with people who knew a specific process to help grease the wheels.

Form filling
This is how the world looks to me right now

3) The people who run the process want an easy life.

There are so many professional "business advice" places its scary. But you have to ask yourself how they manage to maintain themselves? The answer is, they do it by optimizing the process to the point where they don't have to really put anything of themselves into it. I don't mean this in a really negative way, its just a human life optimization thing. If you have 100 of X to allocate to 100 other places, you naturally try and optimize your effort such that you do as little as possible with as few failures as possible, because you know that once that 100 is gone, there are 100 or 1000 or 10000 more.

I'll give you an example from my current stint in the hell of upside down form filling.

This current "competition" for funds had an open day. They asked for something in return. The ones who answered the call for that something in the right manner then got invited to the next stage. The next stage was a "briefing" which had a list of bullet points that *must* (their emphasis) be covered in the next form-filling stage.

So here's the thing. You would be surprised how many people at this stage would then start gibbering on all sorts of rhetoric about how amazing they are or about how brilliant their idea is in these forms. I guess its a plague of optimism or something. What the people who engineered this process actually wants is a form with all of the parts in their bullet points of *must* questions answered. Hell, I just cut and paste the questions direct from the briefing document. They even have guidance for what kind of questions might be asked in response to the answer I'm giving.

You have to give it to these guys, they really couldn't be any clearer in their form-filling process optimization, they even give you the marking scheme they they will be use for evaluating the answers you have given in the form. That's right folks, each answer gets a number out of 10 marks, but guess how many marks you'll get for waffle and rhetoric and marketing talk? That is correct, ZERO marks.

Just to make the process super easy and fun, they've given us a word document to fill in where you can't apply fancy formatting and where the size of the entry area is fixed. Now you have to take your hat off to that kind of efficiency. They are literally imploring us to not be idiots and just address the questions they asked and were kind enough to give us a list of keywords to avoid (like "prototype" in this specific case).

4) Sometimes the odds are stacked against you

This is perhaps the painful truth part of this feature. Sometimes it just isn't going to work, even if you have the most amazing idea or are the most unbelievably talented person. Remember about that "they don't care" bit? Well, they usually have some criteria by which they work. Usually for obfuscation reasons they don't make clear what those criteria are, but it might be that you just don't fulfill those exact criteria and its the criteria that counts in professional processes, not the quality of the input.

Again I'm speaking with some experience here. I've been in the bean-counter position a few times and have been hamstrung to selecting options based on my own criteria, rather than being able to get the option I actually recognized as being outside the criteria but actually far more interesting.

Best thing to do here, is recognize this and don't take it personally. See if there's something you can learn that will help you understand the process a bit more clearly, then move on. There will always be another opportunity down the road.

The Takeaway

If there's really any takeaway from this nonsense, its that you should not get too invested in any of these kind of "business" activities. Ultimately they might help you out a bit, but they rarely come without strings attached. They can definitely help to smooth things out business wise if they have reasonable funding, but I've never been involved with anything that didn't have at least some element of "match" funding. Match funding being the codephrase for sharing the risk, in the case of my current bid its 60-40 but often match funding needs 50/50. Treat the process professionally but don't get too down if things don't work out, there are just too many hidden criteria for it to be worth worrying about.

As for me, I'm going to finish this damn form off then go play some games. Balance in all things.

Til next time!

GrindCrushLLC - - 81 comments

Good observations, and good advice!

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Jonny_T - - 118 comments

Hey Zoombapup, great write-up, may I ask what funding body you are applying to if it's UK based? If you are UK based, the Creative England "games lab" fund is currently open for Grant funding - I presume that you are going for the SMART TSB fund? If so, good luck and I hope you are successful as the game is looking great.

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zoombapup Author
zoombapup - - 69 comments

Current one is a TSB "Greater Manchester Creative and Digital Launchpad" thing. Basically industrial R&D grant that does 60% funding for projects.

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Jonny_T - - 118 comments

This is a great write-up, I could add our own when we are finished along with pitch material and (if you were happy to) link the articles as a guide to others, with a rundown of reflective feedback when the responses are given?

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zoombapup Author
zoombapup - - 69 comments

Would be happy to. I'll include our material if the bid isn't successful.

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