Gaming crowd backs NZ studio with US$2.5m

By Ben Chapman-Smith

A kiwi game development studio has been left stunned after a crowdfunding round aimed at raising "a few hundred thousand" ended up raking in US$2.5 million (NZD$2.9).

Auckland-based Grinding Gear Games has just launched the third chapter of its popular online role-playing game Path of Exile.

But the game's future was under serious threat early last year, with the studio running low on money and in need of funds to complete development.

Founder Chris Wilson and his team of 20 developers decided to hold a crowd-funding round on their website, asking gamers to pledge varying amounts of money so Act 3 could be finished and made public.

When the crowdfunding round closed last week, Grinding Gear had attracted the support of 140,000 gamers from all over the world, who pledged a total of US$2.5 million (NZD$2.9 million).

"We were only expecting to raise a few hundred thousand dollars," Wilson said.

"This funding means we're able to scale up the size of our team and do more promotional work."

It has also allowed Grinding Gear to finish Act 3 and launch it in open beta, meaning it is now publicly available online on desktop or laptop.

Of the total funding, about 45 per cent came from the US, 45 per cent from Europe, and the remainder from other countries, including New Zealand.

Wilson said funders were offered various gifts depending on the amount they pledged, with most giving the minimum $10 allowing them to play the game in closed beta (pre-release form).

The most impressive gift, for those who gave $1000, was an "ostentatious diamond kiwi" which attaches to the person's profile while they are playing Path of Exile.

Wilson described Path of Exile as "a show-off game" in which players like to stand out and impress those they compete against.

The diamond kiwi shows a person has gifted a large amount of money and gives them special status in the game's community, made up of about 500,000 players.

"This gives a chance for people to show off that they're rich in real life, Wilson said.

"It makes them stand out and it also helps the company."

Now that Path of Exile is in open beta it is free to play but not free to win, meaning anyone can play but people have to pay if they want added features.

"Historically, games cost money to buy. But we think the way to make money is to make the game free and then ask people to pay money for things they want," Wilson said.

It is important to Grinding Gear that any paid-for features only serve to enhance the game, rather than giving players any advantage, he added.

Wilson said the studio was purely focused on developing its one game, creating more chapters and improving the story.

"We want to be much bigger in the future."

Grinding Gear Games was founded in 2006 and has about 20 developers, plus another half dozen support staff.

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