A flurry of excitement swept the indie game world yesterday as Tim Schafer and his studio Double Fine announced a Kickstarter project intended to raise funds for the development of a new point-and-click adventure game, dubbed “Double Fine Adventure” for now. The project’s goal of $400,000 was reached in a mere 9 hours and has been more than doubled since then (just shy of $900k at the time of writing this post), breaking the Kickstarter record for most funds raised in the first 24 hours.
Schafer is best known for his design work on adventure games like Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and 3D-platformer Psychonauts, games that were not particularly successful financially but which boast a passionate fan-following for their unique design and trademark humor. Yesterday’s instant outpouring of support for Double Fine’s new project is a testament to Schafer’s dedicated fanbase, many of whom I imagine are just pleased to have the opportunity to help make this game happen. (In fact, I bet Double Fine could start a second Kickstarter project tomorrow dedicated to making a Psychonauts sequel and raise another $400,000 in no time.)
Day of the Tentacle is one of the first adventure games I have a memory of, playing it in my cousin’s basement and frequently quoting Laverne’s then-unbearably-hilarious line, “Am I upstairs? I got lost.” Grim Fandango is my husband’s favorite point-and-click game, and I had the pleasure of receiving Psychonauts as a birthday present a few years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. There’s little doubt that whatever Double Fine creates with this funding, we’re probably going to be fans (especially since it’s going to be an adventure game).
Of course, I’m going to find a way to tie this news back to Jonathan Blow and The Witness. It will be really interesting to see the outcome of two different indie developers creating similar niche games (open-world puzzle exploration and point-and-click adventure) using unconventional funding and publishing methods. From what I understand, The Witness is basically being funded by Blow’s success with Braid (a self-funded game) while “Double Fine Adventure” will probably exclusively be drawing from the Kickstarter funds. Blow has said in interviews that the only way he knows to stay true to himself as a designer is to focus on creating the type of game he thinks he would like to play, and avoiding trying to maximize his audience. I don’t know anything about Schafer’s design process, but I do wonder how it might be affected now that he’s working with 100% fan-donated funds. On the one hand, the pressure of trying to appease such eager and passionate fans might prove to be a stumbling block for the game’s design. On the other, it seems like Schafer has found the most critical and fan success with games where his creative vision was given free roam, so he might continue finding success by staying true to that vision. Either way, both developers will surely see more creative freedom than they would have trying to develop for a “risky” genre under the thumb of risk-averse publishers and investors. I’ll also be interested to see how both Double Fine and Jonathan Blow execute a similar idea: an updated, “modern” version of an older, “unpopular” game genre.
When I first heard about the Kickstarter project, I have to admit that I felt disappointed. I haven’t kept up much with Double Fine’s more recent work, but in my mind I’ve always kind of held them up as a success story for life design and indie-type development. They made unique, exciting games that they seemed to love as much as their fans, and they seemed to do things their own way. Seeing the Kickstarter was, at first, kind of like seeing someone you admired and thought was successful begging for change on the street corner. I think the reality is just that they do like to make “risky” games, and it’s hard to find financial success there, especially if much of the success process (like marketing) may be out of your hands with a publisher. Without financial success, you lose leverage and power over the creative process. It’s easy to look at someone like Jonathan Blow and wonder why all game developers and designers can’t just work the way he does. But Blow invested a huge chunk of change in Braid and was very fortunate to see a big return on that investment which is allowing him to do the work he is doing now on The Witness.
It still seems sad to think that Schafer and Double Fine have been making great games for so many years and still don’t have the means to be completely financially independent via the sale of the products they’ve made* (people who make great things should be rewarded in a way that lets them continue making great things!), but it’s clear now that their decision to utilize Kickstarter to fund their next game was a brilliant one. What Double Fine may lack in financial independence, they make up for ten-fold in fan devotion. That’s a powerful resource, and now they’ve wielded it to break away from risk-averse publishers and create more of the games that those fans love so much. There’s no perfect way to go about the game funding/development/publishing processes (and I’m certainly not knowledgeable on the inner workings of the game industry by any stretch of the imagination), but it looks like Double Fine has found a method that works for them and allows them to keep creating, at least for this project.
*(Update: Here is a great article at Kotaku explaining why this just isn’t the way things work in the games industry)
“Double Fine Adventure” is currently scheduled for release in fall 2012, and the team has announced that all additional funds will be used to make the game (and accompanying documentary) better, and to release the game on more platforms and in more languages.