On the 13th of March 2012, Tim Schafer, Double Fine and 2 Player Productions made history.
After interviewing on-site for a documentary on Notch ‘Minecraft’ Persson they were putting together, 2 Player Productions came to revere the conducive atmosphere that Double Fine studios would provide for shooting a more in-depth text on indie development; a dialogue ensued.
Having nothing else on their slate, Double Fine found their finances quite unable to self-fund a game which would be specifically created for the sake of documenting, 2 Player were in a similar situation in regards to shooting budget.
Publisher involvement was ruled out at an early stage. Both parties quickly and most sensibly coming to the conclusion that the sort of restrictions third party involvement require could only be counter intuitive; splashing and rippling an honest reflection of one of the gaming communities most beloved independents.
A game that’s development would be considered too much of a final risk for a publisher, paid for by what would essentially be a pre-sale.
It’s Feb 8th 2012. A crowd funding project is announced. A video pitch drops featuring a unsurprisingly amiable comic turn from Schafer and an unsurprisingly toned, indie-twee flecked production from 2 Player. A point and click adventure of the LucasArts old school went the pitch, the likes of which are only still enjoyed by gamers on bottled versions of Windows 95 or ScummVM; the likes of which the dev’s at Double Fine were certain, would leave modern publishers ‘laughing’ in their figurative beardy face.
It was about this point when things started to feel like something was happening. A game that’s development would be considered too much of a final risk for a publisher, paid for by what would essentially be a pre-sale.
Enter Kickstarter, a 2009 start up that utilizes a crowd funding, escrow style service to help creative upstarts prove their ideas financially viable. For those of you not familiar with the concept, it works on a similar system to one charities have implemented for years. Its urgency and proliferation through hype are key, lending itself well to the wider worlds plights, more specifically disaster relief.
24 Hours and the pot was running at over $1 million dollars.
Musicians were the first mainstream creative force that harnessed the power of circumventing the man, man; and before you even pipe up, it wasn’t the articulated ditchwater of Radiohead (I’m not sorry) who pioneered it. They did indeed run a similar system with 2007′s pay-what-you-want ‘In Rainbows’ but it was in fact neo-prog, Butlins (UK holiday camp, google it) regulars Marillion who first underscored a full US tour in 1997, purely through internet-fan generated scratch.
Full sites followed and refined the concept like Artistshare and Sellaband but it wasn’t until 2009 and Kickstarter that things started to click. Offering a tiered reward system for investors (The amount of investment is levelled out, the reward generally increasing in rarity as it increases) a clean, simple business-like feeling to its interaction and a crucial get out clause, which prevents any investment being paid to a project that doesn’t meet its specified goal.
Fast forward to Feb 8th 2012. Schafer announces the aim of $400,000. $300,000 to subsidise the actual game (which at this point was still being considered as a ‘side note’ to the documentary) and a further $100,000 for the film.
The Kickstarter project goes live.
The game is fully funded in 9 hours.
24 Hours and the pot was running at over $1 million dollars.
By closing on March 12th over $3,000,000 had been invested with another $100,000 pledged by ‘premium’ backers. The game often cited as the pinnacle of the genre, Schafer’s own Grim Fandango had a budget of $3,000,000.
The freely admitted, hobbled ‘side note’ was no more. Double Fine Adventure was to become more than a reality, the overwhelming feedback nudging it into a fully fledged title. It would be released DRM free, on MAC, IOS, include full English voice work, text localisation to French, German, Italian, Spanish. The master stroke of investor involvement being how the documentary aspect of the package was adapted to function. Serialised, running alongside production, a warts and all account of the games development, exclusive to backers.
The documentary that became a game that became a dream became a reality. A Rocky Balboa of gaming if there ever was, and we all love Rocky, right?
And so we tumble giddy and wistful toward the bottom of the hill. We’ve done it. In the next 6 or so months, we’ll be partaking in back and forth in the backers-only development forums, voting on tweaks and features, characters and music.
Will the publishers that have suppressed these flights of fancy for as long as they have, really let this slide?
Eventually getting around to playing Double Fine Adventure with our PDF Artbooks, listening to the documentary’s sound track, or for the less thrifty among us, thumbing through our photos of our night at the lanes with Schafer and the dev team (Dinner AND Bowling was the reward for pledging at the $20,000 tier) We’ve found a way to get the fan service we want but rarely receive.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears, Its with great anxiety and dismay that my mind wanders back to reality. Was this really the revolution we were told it was? Will the publishers that have suppressed these flights of fancy for as long as they have, really let this slide?
The first thing we need to consider are the variables of this particular project.
Everything, sort of fell perfectly into place. An independent company with such a devoted fanbase, a fanbase that would literally walk on hot coals for a slice of something that made them fans in the first place. The total immersion of a documentary running alongside. The open platforms its going to release to. Schafer himself admitted that submitting a patch to a closed platform such as PSN or XBLA costs $40,000. A sum that makes these running necessities almost completely rule out console titles, or of course, operate at a loss.
Kickstarters boundless possibility make publishers doggedly aggressive over IP copyright and ownership, even more so than they already are? We imagine all of those IP’s that were just months ago dead and gone are moaning and scratching to be reanimated. The sequel to the precursor to Fallout, Wasteland 2 seems to be using the very same platform to all most the very same effect. Dig a little deeper though and it comes to light that the rights to the franchise were purchased from Konami back in 2003. Would Konami have been so willing to part ways with the license in Double Fine Adventure’s shadow?
How long is it going to be before loop holes are exploited and we have our first big Kickstarter scam?
One of the big draws with this particular project was the love and purity shared between the fans and the development team. We all wanted to be involved. I want to feel the love. Its hard to imagine this being the case for much longer. We’ve been lucky. He might want to make Rocket Knight Adventures RPG but he might be like Newman. He could well be developing hover technology but he could be Josef Fritzl. Like it or not, the developers we respect might not directly equate into developers we like. How much money would you be willing to drop on a prick who expects you to love and support his title in the wake of all this? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess its not going to be much.
Also, with Kickstarter themselves not responsible for the ‘contract’ between investor and creator, how long is it going to be before loop holes are exploited and we have our first big Kickstarter scam? Would it even be a scam? Doesn’t the thought of a game you backed for more than its RRP going to market and doing very well with the general public feel a bit iffy to you? Would you still be happy with your PDF art book if your third tier $100 ended up financing Call Of Duty replacement?
After all’s said, these aren’t the barbs of a cynic looking to crash down on something popular I can provoke and get my teeth into. This is truly something that could revolutionise a medium. A simple, almost genius idea that fits perfectly in and around the crevices of the industry and could, with time become a truly viable alternative to the modern publisher.
Like Jaws and Star Wars, Blur and Oasis; Is it time for the Indie videogame to go overground?