Money and Thrive

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There have been many debates over its potential involvement. This page is here to collate as many of each side's arguments as possible, reach a temporary conclusion and present the transcripts of some of these discussions.

If anyone brings up the topic of money and Thrive, this page should be the perfect response, since it covers everything the team can think of.


Options

There are several possibilities for how the money could be collected and what it would be used for. Some negate a few of the arguments for and against further down the page.

Obtaining Money

Where would the money come from?

Charging for the game:

The most obvious method for getting money is charging for the game. As the game is open source and is provided for free, a high price can't be charged to download the game as people would prefer getting the free version (even though getting the game on Steam is more convenient). However, current plan is to get Thrive on Steam and other platforms as alternative ways to get the game for a small price and support development. One additional consideration here is that as the game gets bigger we will no longer be able to have the compiled version of the game up on Github, so we need alternative download forms if we want to keep providing free downloads. What we don't want to do is have exclusive features only available by paying for the game. There's one exception: Steam provides various platform services (workshop, achievements, multiplayer with friends if we add multiplayer) that we'll probably add extra features for in the game for players on Steam.

Donations:

Another obvious alternative is to have a donation system. Due to legal requirements (Finnish law prohibits collecting donations without a permit) we can only accept donations when we have a donation campaign going on. When we do have that setup, somewhere on our website we'd have an option to give money to the association (similar to Species: ALRE) and the income would be pooled and spent as necessary (see below). Plenty of Thrive fans in the past have expressed their support for giving donations and this option doesn't have the baggage of a paid game or Kickstarter. The main question is how much money it would generate. Donations could also be gathered through PayPal as it seems not many people prefer bank transfers [1].

Kickstarter:

Kickstarter is a website where fans can give money to projects working towards deadlines and features. We've seen it suggested so many times we may be biased against it purely out of boredom. The Kickstarter model works well for conventional indie games (e.g. FTL and Star Citizen) but Thrive is far from conventional. Our project is long-running and can't guarantee to meet deadlines. We also have limited options for rewards. The Kickstarter community is known for turning on projects which fail to deliver quickly after a funding goal is reached. What would we even have as a funding goal? One additional problem is that Kickstarter is not currently available in the country Revolutionary Games Studio association is located in [2]. Kickstarter isn't ruled out completely, but there are a lot of difficult questions we'd have to answer if we went down that route.

Indiegogo is a similar service to Kickstarter, but they actually would allow us to have a campaign as they aren't as restrictive as Kickstarter in terms of what countries the campaign runner must reside in.

Patreon:

Patreon is similar to Kickstarter, with two crucial differences: fans pledge to pay a project every set duration (e.g. month) or project update, and there are no set goals. There's a greater focus on rewards, which we can't provide any major rewards. Video game projects on Patreon don't tend to receive as much as elsewhere either. As of January 2020, we have set up an official Patreon for Thrive that is ran by Revolutionary Games Studio ry, which is an association formed in Finland for supporting Thrive development.

Bountysource:

Bountysource works differently to most other funding platforms. It solves a few of the issues listed in the arguments against, but throws up some others. Users (in our case, Thrive fans and developers) place a bounty on completion of a feature in a project, and anyone from the open-source Bountysource community can complete that feature in exchange for the bounty. While it eliminates any worries about who controls the money, it poses other problems.

What constitutes completion of a feature or a fixed bug? Will anyone be motivated to fix bugs if everyone adds money to the pools for features instead? How do we decide what features are options? What if someone completes most of the work for a feature but someone else swoops in and adds the finishing touches, taking the bounty for themselves? All these questions and more will have to be addressed for Bountysource to work for us.

YouTube advertising:

We have a YouTube channel, so why not run adverts on videos to generate income? This is perhaps the least invasive method from a fan's perspective, but income would depend purely on viewing figures. And though the official numbers are rarely released, it's highly unlikely this method would generate more than a few hundred dollars in total.

Selling merchandise:

Selling merchandise (shirts and mugs, most likely) could be an independent income source or solve the problem of rewards for Kickstarter/Patreon. It's exciting to imagine people out in the real world wearing shirts displaying Thrive concept art. There are two problems though: firstly, all our art is licensed under CC-BY-SA, so anyone can legally print their own designs instead. This doesn't mean we can't sell merchandise, but it does compound the second problem: this isn't going to make much money. Even so, it's a cool idea. We could, however, commission or do a profit sharing agreement with an artist to make custom art just for use on merchandise. Additionally we need to select a trustworthy partner to handle physical merch production and shipping, especially as many Youtubers have complained about various merch companies being really bad.

In-game economy:

No. In the later stages, maybe, but there's no way this is at all feasible for the Microbe Stage. For one thing, it would require multiplayer (well, recently many singleplayer games have shown that players are willing to spend money even in singleplayer games that are designed to extract money from the players), something we're ignoring for the moment anyway. We don't really ever want to compromise on game design in order to nudge people towards spending money for in-game purchases in Thrive.

Spending Money

How would we use the money we received?

Hiring programmers:

Programming is definitely the bottleneck for development. No matter how detailed our concepts, they'll never mean anything if we can't get them into game form. Many have suggested hiring professional programmers to work on the game full-time. With a financial incentive, motivation for working on features and bugs wouldn't matter. As with everything though, there are several problems to consider. How much can we pay them, and what happens if we don't get enough income? Freelance programmers are readily available on the internet, but the best don't come cheap. Additionally freelance programmers wouldn't be familiar with the project requiring longer to get productive.

If we hire new programmers, what happens to our old ones? Is their work devalued? We could pay existing programmers instead (see below) but either way the choice seems unfair. It's likely new people will see development as nothing more than a job, removing any passion from the project and potentially resulting in lower quality, but the inverse might instead be true -- programmers working full time might create a better product instead.

Subsidizing existing programmers:

Our programmers want to work on the game, but it currently isn't viable since they have real life and real jobs to focus on. Some could be subsidized by the project to work full-time or part-time, retaining the passion but adding financial backing too. Though this is one of the likelier options, it has its issues. How do we decide who the money goes to? At what point does a new programmer gain the right to be considered? These points don't need to be solved right now as the current amount of money the project is working with isn't much, so even a single developer, who could be selected as the most important / productive programmer over the past years is not a problem. Full-time subsidies would also be expensive, so we'd have to have a reliably high rate of income.

Advertising:

Another option is using the money to promote and advertise both the game and its development. It would be different to most game promotions since we're looking for help making it instead of wanting to sell it. We haven't looked into the specifics, but options include running Facebook or YouTube ads. While theoretically there aren't any barriers to this option, we feel it's quite an inefficient use of the money when we already have the capacity for a lot of promotion purely thanks to word of mouth. The game as it stands today was created without any proper advertising, so the concept is clearly engaging enough for people to become interested without financial intervention. As an additional point our recruiting ads on Reddit, that we can post for free, have managed to pull in new developers.

Bountysource:

See above. Bountysource generates income but it also decides how it's spent. We could use the money from other sources as part of a Bountysource bounties.

General pay for team members:

An extension of subsidizing existing programmers to the whole team. This is the most susceptible to the issues of handling money and deciding who should have it. How are contributions quantified? Who decides who gets the money? Besides, we feel we're (relative) adequately staffed in most other development areas; only programming presents a bottleneck. This may change in the future if we get many more active programmers.

Running costs:

Aside from particular software (which team members would have already from other projects), the only expense for the Thrive team at the moment is paying for various servers and domains, as well as association related fees (accounting, PO box, taxes). Money from donations could be used to compensate this, and even expand server capability (we could host the game files on our own server instead of GitHub, for instance).

Arguments

There are plenty of arguments for and against the inclusion of money in the process. Some are specific to a certain method (these are described above) but all have drawbacks. Not all of these are certainties, but they're possibilities, and for negative arguments this creates risk in accepting money at all.

For

  • Money might make the project go faster. This is probably true as this would only not be true if people working in exchange for money cheat the project by not working and just taking the money.
  • It could solve our biggest problem, manpower bottlenecks.
  • A greater rate of progress would help build excitement around the game, possibly attracting more people and more income.
  • It would boost confidence in the project, which has so far been held back by outside opinions deeming it impossible.
  • The broader community would feel more involved since they have an avenue to support the game directly.
  • Any talk about absolute moral purity and altruism from the free nature of the project isn't as important as getting the game finished (in some people's eyes at least).
  • The responsibility that money gives someone may make them stick around longer and work harder.
  • Selective hiring of individuals could negate any problems with a lack of passion in the project.
  • Stabilizes the team for the future.

Against

  • The public are generally wary of donations to projects considered vaporware. While Thrive has moved past that stage, there's still the worry it could be perceived as such.
  • The type of work we might want to pay for (programming) is generally quite expensive and the amount of money we'd receive is unknown.
  • Giving money divides the team into two tiers, those who are paid and those who aren't, possibly causing friction.
  • Are only programmers paid or is everyone paid? Is the level of skill included in the payment? (Is a person with a PhD to be paid more than a high school student even if the work they undertake is the same?)
  • It's difficult to decide what sort of work deserves compensation. Who gets to make the decision? How do we resolve disputes? Is there even enough money in the first place to have enough to pay multiple people an amount that is significant for them?
  • People may be unwilling to give for free what they could be paid for. If there is money it's in someone's financial interest not to do any work unless they get it. Whereas with a purely volunteer project they might do that same work out of love for the project. Ironically, less work may get done.
  • Money might cause friction in the project. The atmosphere is nice right now because the one thing common to all team members is the passion for the game itself. If money is involved people may start joining who don't care about the game at all and just want to get paid. This can be alleviated by selecting people to be paid based on how long / how much they have already contributed to the project. Though, that is really not fair to professional developers who can't spend a ton of time working for free before getting a new job.
  • People who have contributed money will expect a return. The relationship between the developer team and the fanbase could be damaged if there is a perception the money was ill spent. The project has insanely ambitious goals and the amount of money to achieve them is between vast and infinite. Any crowdfunding campaign, for example, would have to be very clear about exactly what features were being funded.
  • How does being paid fit in with people's lives? Are people expected to work on the game full time (which would be expensive) or are they expected to work around another job/university (which isn't very different from the system now)?
  • Accepting money removes someone's right to autonomy.
  • Commercial pressures are (allegedly) what led to a sub-standard Spore in the first place. Thrive could fall down the same hole.
  • Might morally devalue the work that others have done in the past, as well as turning programmers into commodities rather than appreciating their opinion and judgement on game mechanics.
  • Having money involved may put up more barriers to entry.

Overall Conclusion

As of January 2020, the team has decided to create a patreon page managed by the Revolutionary Games Studio association. Originally, we did not receive any money and the only expenses (server costs) were paid from team members' own pockets. But now the server costs are covered via the Patreon, additionally association running costs are covered. Extra income is planned to be used to hire part time or full time developers to work on the game (or if we need other organizational work performed). Further use of income is currently uncertain. Paying for ads has been suggested, but that seems too low return on investment. We can also now accept donations.

Major Discussions

Since the above lists don't convey nuance properly, this page includes the exact words of everyone who's made these arguments from several instances in Thrive's past. Many debates took place too long ago and have been lost in the history of the internet, so those opinions are unfortunately gone.

Be aware the links to our archive forums are riddled with adware.

Location dd/mm/yy

Archive forum 20/03/13

Archive forum 28/10/13

Subreddit 16/07/14

Subreddit 06/10/14

Subreddit 24/12/14

Subreddit 28/12/14

Archive forum 11/05/15

Community forum 26/08/15

Subreddit 13/12/15

Subreddit 22/05/16

Development forum 27/11/19