Crowdsourcing Independent Game Development:
A Design Process
James P. Gnau
08 December 2013
This paper focuses on the impact of product development of independent game design through
the utilization of a process known as crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing recruits individuals or large
groups from outside an industry or firm for the intention of innovation, product development,
and design. An example of the process is applied to independent game studio Portalarium, whom
has focused on the integration of crowdsourcing at the core of its business model in the
development of ‘Shroud of the Avatar.’ A key underlying factor to generating interest in design
processes of product development has significant correlation to motivation. Therefore, a
framework for motivational theory examines contributing factors to why individuals participate
within crowdsourcing initiatives. An economic perspective highlights elements attributable to the
factors of production and production functions involved within the independent game industry.
Observations in relation to the opportunity cost, marginal cost, and marginal benefit are taken
into comparison when considering economic implications. Furthermore, the rewards through the
implementation of crowdsourcing are a win/win situation for a majority of consumers and game
developers. Consumers are receiving self-fulfillment from their contribution during the design
process, while game developers obtain vital feedback during the design process before a products
release. A potential risk of asset creation for game design through crowdsourcing involves the
rights to intellectual property and can be a detriment to the final product design if the necessary
steps in obtaining licensee are not met.
The focus of this research paper will observe the impact that Crowdsourcing has had on
independent game development. Specifically this paper will look at the design and
implementation of sourcing the crowd for development of a current online computer game
entitled, ‘Shroud of the Avatar.’ The paper also gives consideration to motivational theory and
constructs to why participants involved in crowd source projects choose to participate. The
impact of crowdsourcing will be observed through the application of introductory
microeconomic principles and theories learned through course objectives during the semester.
Crowdsourcing is an interesting aspect in product development as seen in independent game
development. Crowdsourcing allows for constructive input and feedback from the people most
willing to commit their valuable time and expertise into the completion of a project and assist the
production team in completing milestones. Companies must incorporate business models that
allow them to adequately integrate consumers into their design and production. A majority of
business models define the consumer through the proposition of the value assessed and simply as
a source of revenue (Djelassi & Decoopman, 2013). Portalarium Studios, producer for Shroud of
the Avatar, has taken a different approach through a process to integrate consumers into their
product design and development.
Game design and production through input from consumers is not uncommon. However,
very few game developers use crowdsourcing throughout the entire creation of their games, and
those who do have not done so on a scale such as that of Portalarium Studios.
II. An Historical Perspective of Crowdsourcing
A growing trend among early development stage start-up companies and businesses has
been the utilization of sourcing the crowd. Crowdsourcing is the act of attaining knowledge,
thoughts, or assets required for a project by requesting assistance from an extensive group of
people, usually through an online community, rather than employees or suppliers (Encyclopedia
Britannica Company, 2013). The ideology behind sourcing the crowd for input and content
generation is a recent development within business models. The term ‘crowdsourcing’ was first
coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe in an article written for Wired Magazine entitled, ‘The Rise of
Crowdsourcing.’ (Howe, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, 2006).
III. Shroud of the Avatar Crowdsourcing the World
Dependent on the selected business model in place, a variety of businesses and corporate
entities have the ability to incorporate crowdsourcing as a function in development of products
and services. As an example, Portalarium, Inc. an independent video game developer based in
Austin, Texas has successfully demonstrated the use of sourcing the crowd for raising monetary
capital and the creation of in game assets. The company reached out to the community for funds
to hire staff and a development team for production of the title, ‘Shroud of the Avatar.’
The crowdfunding campaign successfully netted 1.9 million dollars within 30 days. The
development team created a crowd driven production model for contributions to the working
title. Six programs highlight the development teams’ commitment to direct player contributions.
Contributors to the project are able to make a contribution through the Unity platform and Unity
Asset Store. Unity is a new age game development tool that allows the purchase of end user
generated content and other game development assets without the need to create items from
scratch (Long, 2013). The Unity platform cuts out the redundancies within traditional gaming
studio design models.
Innovations in technology development and the growing presence of online communities
has allowed for the creation of dynamic and fluid end user content made available for
accessibility within the Unity Asset Store. The Shroud of the Avatar team makes purchases of
assets through the Unity Store for in game use as well as generating their own in game content.
Individual contributors for the direct intent of creating content for Shroud of the Avatar place
their 3D models within a subsection of the Unity Store intended for review by Shroud of the
Avatar Developers. The company selects whether the asset is appropriate for the games design
and notifies the creator of the art. The artist is compensated through a content reward system
which increases the end user’s pledge level within the game itself. Another benefit received by
the original artist is the re-use of their submitted content for game development. That is, the end
user has the ability to freely redistribute the asset within their personal portfolios or other game
development with the requirement to mention the asset was used within Shroud of the Avatar.
IV. Motives to Participation in Crowdsourcing
Business entities will generally gauge the size and requirements for crowdsourcing within
the development process. The process design assists recruiting contributors who are interested
and have the required skills to participate (Djelassi & Decoopman, 2013). Motivation is a
contributing factor for consideration from the crowd on collaboration of an open source project
such as assisting in the design processes of an online game. The crowd chooses to participate in
the development process based on specific motivations (Battistella & Nonino, 2012). There is a
significant correlation between motivational theory and productivity design. The attributions for
motivation vary from person to person and can differ by the amount and type of motivation
required. Divisions of motivation are based on understanding attitudes, reasoning, and objectives
that encourage individuals to perform and behave in a certain manner (Battistella & Nonino,
2012). Motivation of the crowd is an intricate division within the formulation of productivity
models for development processes.
A framework in developing a productivity model for motivation can be subdivided into
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors. Intrinsic motives consider individual and social
motivations. Extrinsic motives consider economic, individual and social motivations (Battistella
& Nonino, 2012). Applying this framework to the decision of the crowd to assist Portalarium
with development of their game design interprets an intrinsic perspective to motivation. While
motivation can be viewed as a contributing factor to the crowds decision to participate within
open source projects, there are economic implications from the perspective of the business entity
that must be considered
V. Discussion of Economic Processes within Crowdsourcing
Traditional production models of game studio design hire and retain the talented artist and
programmers required to produce a product from start to finish. Development of game design
prior to recent technologically innovations within the last decade have been time consuming and
costly to developers. Factors of production for game design studios account for fixed and
variable input cost. Traditionally fixed cost associated with developing a game title requires
human capital, software, hardware, and infrastructure. The recent innovative technologies
developed have created a shift in the paradigm for game design production.
Production of game titles within studios have become streamlined with the introduction
of web-based platforms that utilize the capabilities to outsource or crowdsource portions of
working titles and remain consistently interconnected throughout the process. Game developers
utilizing a crowdsourcing and crowd funding model in tangent are able to capture greater
revenue and market share in a shorter amount of time from initial design to final product release.
Increased production functions through the utilization of innovative technologies
allow game developers the opportunity to generate significant amounts of revenue. Game
development and design is a labor intensive endeavor. The artist and programmers may tire in
performing their task which would cause the marginal cost to increase, but at the same time the
marginal cost could decrease with improved experience processes (Horton & Chilton, 2010).The
marginal cost of implementing new technologies into the production function to capture marginal
revenue can be offset through a combination of crowd funding and crowdsourcing business
models. Another economic factor as to whether the crowd chooses to include themselves within
a crowdsourcing endeavor relies heavily upon the associated opportunity cost. . In applying
opportunity cost to production a person will work only when the realized benefits from labor is
in excess of the perceived realized benefits from their next-best decision, whether as
employment, recreational or a career change (Horton & Chilton, 2010). If the marginal cost
increases due to a lapse within internal production functions; it would be plausible to weigh the
opportunity cost of sourcing the crowd as an alternative means to lower the marginal cost.
VI. Benefits and Detriments within Crowdsourcing
The inclusion of crowdsourcing within a business model holds benefits as well as risk
and detriments. Consumers that are part of the process of the game design and development
through crowdsourcing in the case of Shroud of the Avatar are rewarded with benefits extending
from self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. The experience gained from the time spent on
developing asset contributions may also benefit the individual in obtaining professional
credentials that can be deployed to other studios for consideration of future opportunities.
Independent game developers through the use of crowdsourcing have a chance to
establish a connection with the consumer to create a design and product with feedback
throughout the entire development process. The recognition of development design flaws and
system integrations in the early stages of development through contributor feedback gives
certainty that the game development remains on schedule for the design studio. The persistent
state of exchange between developer and consumer within the design process gives a competitive
advantage to the game developer in delivery an award winning design that could lead to industry
recognition and product placement.
Developing and designing a game through technologically innovative design
processes like crowdsourcing holds some risk and detriments. Crowdsourcing is primarily
considered a cost cutting innovation for research and development within an industry. When
applied to an independent game development model the research and development cost structure
is comparable to creation and submission of in game asset contributions. Assets submitted to the
development team for consideration fall into the category as being either art or music. Art and
music developed through individual talent is a form of intellectual property. In order to mitigate
legal risk developers at Portalarium have chosen to return those rights to the contributors, thus
mitigating such risk. Other business entities considering crowdsourcing product design or
development will need to consider any associated risk in regards to dealing with intellectual
property right disputes or claims.
Crowdsourcing has shifted the paradigm and focus of traditional business models within the
independent game development industry. The decision by executives to harness the source of the
crowd has reduced the need for internally developed research and development production
functions. From concept, to design, to the finished production of Shroud of the Avatar, the studio
team has sourced the crowd throughout the development process.
A framework of motivational theory suggests intrinsic motives of contributors considered
individual and social motivations in making the decision to participate within the game design
process. The economic factors of production within a typical game design studio require the
input of human capital, software, hardware as well as infrastructure. Additionally, the production
function can be considerably altered with the inclusion of technological innovation such as
Intellectual property rights are considered the most evident form of known risk associated
with designing assets for game design use. Consumers and business entities are rewarded
through improved processes of development, self-fulfillment, and professional career
Crowdsourcing remains a relatively new phenomenon which has allowed traditional business
models to evolve and transform internal processes that could not have been otherwise achieved
prior to technological innovations. The impact that sourcing the crowd has had on specific
industries such as the independent game development industry presented in this paper, could
enrich the emerging research and study given to crowdsourcing. Although this paper focuses on
a specific industry in relation to crowdsourcing, the subject matter gives rise to many questions.
This paper gives consideration to the factors of motivation through a framework that
motivate participates within crowdsourcing to be actively engaged in the process of design and
feedback. It would be worthwhile to compare a group of individuals and measure their response
(motives) dependent on being randomly assigned a crowdsource project to participate in.
Additionally this paper considered economic considerations of the Marginal Cost and
Benefits involved in the production function of independent game design. Research into a more
precise measurement as to the extent in which the production process has improved with the
introduction of technological innovations could prove important.
Finally this paper discussed the implications of revenue in relation to the production function
of the game design industry. A comparable analysis into the long run versus short run production
on the basis of utilizing crowd funding could yield an informative analysis for expanding
production through a low average variable cost to businesses.
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