Double Fine

Double Fine’s adventure game snapped in twain, fans taste the fun of being a publisher

Double Fine’s adventure game snapped in twain, fans taste the fun of being a publisher

When you Kickstart a game, in a very real way you’re taking the role of the publisher in that game. Backers are beginning to find out exactly what that means as projects go over budget, get cancelled, or their scope increases. The latest example of a game suffering from a surfeit of ambition is Double Fine’s upcoming adventure game Broken Age.

The original Kickstarter asked for $400,000, and wound up with $3.3 million. This, it turns out, won’t be enough money to finish the game.

So big, it needs more money

“Even though we received much more money from our Kickstarter than we, or anybody anticipated, that didn’t stop me from getting excited and designing a game so big that it would need even more money,” Schafer wrote in an update to backers.

After taking a good hard look at the schedule, the company estimated the release of the first half of the game to be July… of 2014. That meant a full release in 2015.

“I think I just have an idea in my head about how big an adventure game should be, so it’s hard for me to design one that’s much smaller than Grim Fandango or Full Throttle,” Schafer wrote. “There’s just a certain amount of scope needed to create a complex puzzle space and to develop a real story. At least with my brain, there is.”

In other words, he just doesn’t know how to create a game of limited scope, and cutting enough to make a release anytime soon didn’t sit well with the team. The result is something of an odd compromise: There won’t be another Kickstarter, and those who backed the project will still get access before everyone else, but the first chunk of the game will be sold via Steam to help raise additional funds. The scope will be cut down somewhat, and the first half will be released in January of 2014.

“We were always planning to release the beta on Steam, but in addition to that we now have Steam Early Access, which is a new opportunity that actually lets you charge money for pre-release content,” Schafer explained. “That means we could actually sell this early access version of the game to the public at large, and use that money to fund the remaining game development. The second part of the game would come in a free update a few months down the road, closer to April-May.”

This is an interesting compromise. Backers still get to play the game first, and don’t have to pay anything extra for their copy, no publisher had to get involved, and the team at Double Fine found a way to dig up some additional funding.

This is the reality of game development: Schedules are always in flux, studios often underestimate the money needed to finish a project, and projects are often cancelled. Luckily, this situation has given Double Fine a certain amount of flexibility in dealing with the embiggened scope of the game without returning to the fans, hat in hand, asking for more money.

The question is what the backers will think about all this. Double Fine recently ended a second Kickstarter, for the game Massive Chalice, and their continued success with this funding method is going to be predicated on backers feeling like they’re being treated with respect and are getting the content they paid for in a reasonable amount of time.

The realities of development don’t matter here as much as perception; if backers begin to think these solutions aren’t fair, or that Double Fine just needed to cut the game and release sooner, funding for future games may not come as easily.

Kickstarter funded development is still the Wild West, and all of these wrinkles are data points as developers and fans learn how crowdfunding will work in practice.

“With this shipping solution I think we’re balancing the size of the game and the realities of funding it pretty well. We are still working out the details and exact dates, but we’d love to hear your thoughts,” Schafer wrote. “This project has always been something we go through together and the ultimate solution needs to be something we all feel good about.”