Indie Fund, the group put together by several prominent independent developers to give other indies an alternative to traditional publisher funding, has announced that it is backing Dan Pinchbeck's Dear Esther.
The group was set up by Braid developer Jonathan Blow, Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler of World Of Goo studio 2D Boy, thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago, Nathan Vella of Capy, Aaron Isaksen of AppAbove and Matthew Wegner of Flashbang. Dear Esther is the fourth release that the group will help finance, after Monaco, Shadow Physics and Q.U.B.E.
Built in Valve's Source engine as an academic project at the University of Portsmouth and first released in 2008, Dear Esther sees players travel across an island, guided by voiced monologues from the titular Esther's spirit. Pinchbeck has described the game as being about "grief, loss, guilt, faith, illness…but also love and hope and redemption."
Pinchbeck's agreement with Valve to release an updated version of the game through Steam – with Robert Briscoe, who worked on Mirror's Edge as an environmental artist, giving it a graphical overhaul – was met with criticism from a disgruntled modding community. But the project faced cancellation soon afterwards, Pinchbeck describing the dichotomy between the university's contractual demands and the terms of the agreement with Valve as "an insurmountable contradiction."
Speaking to Gamasutra, Ron Carmel explained why Indie Fund had chosen to get behind the game. "Our tastes have a little bit more subtlety than they did 10 or 20 years ago," he said, describing Dear Esther as "one of the first big glimpses I had into more subtle experiences than the machismo or other kind of archetypes in videogames." He admits that he was far from sold on the idea initially, saying Blow was the one really pushing for the game to be picked up.
"As soon as people started playing it, the tone of the conversation just completely shifted, and people were very much in favor of supporting this project," he said. "There's subtlety and finesse, and it's a moving experience. I think the hunger for that will grow as gamers age and their tastes mature."
Carmel also confirmed that the group had now committed two-thirds of its initial $700,000 budget – and is on the lookout for more games to fund. "The end of that money doesn't mean the end of the Indie Fund," he explained. "As soon as some games start selling, we'll see if we're going to try to roll the money back into the fund and keep going, or if we're going to try to grow it. It remains to be seen."