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Why Double Fine deserves more support for Broken Age

Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine Productions, has announced that his Kickstarter-funded adventure game--Broken Age--needs to be split in half in order to avoid significant cuts. The game, which raised $3.3 million via crowd-funding, is apparently too large in scope to run on time and on budget. By splitting the game in half, and releasing the first part via Steam Early Access, Schafer and Double Fine hope to sell enough copies of the incomplete game to finance the rest of the story. The second half would then release as a free download for all backers and buyers. It's far from an ideal solution--but did Schafer and Double Fine really have a choice?

Broken Age originally appeared on Kickstater with a suggested budget of $400,000, but smashed that by raising $3.3 million. Backers are surprised at how wildly over budget the project now appears to be. However, backers would be just as surprised if Double Fine released a severely compromised game in January. In a statement on Kickstarter, Schafer explains that "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." Surely it's a good thing for Double Fine to be increasing it's scope to 'over-deliver' on their original concepts, right?

Well, that depends on how realistic the developer's original concept was. Schafer continues to say that, without a change of structure or additional finance, the game would need to have up to 75% of its features cut in order to stay on time and on budget. Without a change, Broken Age may not release until mid-2015, if it appeared at all. That seems like an awfully large disconnect between the original $400,000 Kickstarter pitch, and what may turn out to be the final product. Backers should now, quite rightly, expect a game that's far larger in scope than originally planned.

Luckily, Steam Early Access allows developers to sell their games before they're fully complete, which brings in the extra funding needed to complete the full game. In a way, Double Fine has been forced into this unsatisfactory situation by having ambitions that stretched beyond their budget.

Schafer explains in his note: "Would we, instead, try to find more money? You guys have been been very generous in the tip jar (thanks!) but this is a larger sum of money we were talking about. Asking a publisher for the money was out of the question because it would violate the spirit of the Kickstarter, and also, publishers. Going back to Kickstarter for it seemed wrong. Clearly, any overages were going to have to be paid by Double Fine, with our own money from the sales of our other games. That actually makes a lot of sense and we feel good about it. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough."

This turn of events highlights the age-old battle between finance and creativity. Double Fine is clearly keen to release the best game possible for their fans and backers, but in order to do this they need money to fulfill the majority of their ambitions. While this conflict has previously existed behind the scenes with traditional publisher-financed games, it's now being brought into sharp focus by the fact that the players are bankrolling the developers. It's our money, we expect the best. With traditional games, there's no up-front cost, and therefore no personal investment in the game. "Oh, did you really cut the Wazzo Cannon out of Gun Shooter 4? Hey, it's your money..."

Should Double Fine be playing so fast and loose with the cash of its backers? Well, perhaps 'fast and loose' is a little unfair. We expect innovation and scope in our games, and that costs money. Even the backers, who may now--quite rightly--think that their contributions have been cheapened, will likely admit that they'd rather have a more ambitious game. Would you rather spend £50 on a $400,000 game? Or a $3.3 million+ game? Double Fine has done everything right, and has communicated early and clearly with its backers. It's tough to knock the developer for trying something more ambitious, even if they've been forced to tread on a few toes to reach their goals.

The first part of Broken Age will release on Steam Early Access in January, with the second part becoming available as a free download later in 2014. The good will should stay with Double Fine for now, but any slip-ups between the release of the first and second parts of the game would be totally unacceptable, and a real set-back for both crowd-sourcing and independent creative freedom...

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17 comments

  • minimaxi - July 3, 2013 10:21 p.m.

    After reading comments on this from several websites, I tend to side on people that think this is bad management on Tim's part. But then I remember my favorite game designer, Fumito Ueda, whose games are brilliant but notorious for poor project management. Does this mean we all should forgive Tim for overshooting a budget already 8 times larger than original? No. Basic math and common sense; it's just ridiculous. But I can definitely understand people that have already backed have personal attachment to Tim and would not care at anything but the final product. My point is, fans should be glad that non-backers (and maybe backers themselves) are being critical. This is a wake up call for Tim and you don't want this trend to continue. Did you see what happened to Last Guardian? No? I didn't either, there was nothing to see for years! Not only Double Fine's future is on the line here(not financially, but more about consumer trust) but also kickstarter's credibility as well.
  • kyle94 - July 3, 2013 3:39 p.m.

    It's not a very good situation, and they should have managed the funds better. That being said, it is a good and fair solution to their problem without meaning that they would've wasted the money they've spent through cuts, while also making sure that the additional money they will get will be from new people and not people who have already donated to the project. In addition, Double-Fine and Schafer have more than enough good-will built up over the years for me to be more than willing to wait until after the situation plays out before jumping on the "Screw Schafer!!!" bandwagon. Hell, if this crashes and burns, I'll still say "Everyone makes mistakes" and give him another shot. He's earned it.
  • GOD - July 3, 2013 2:32 p.m.

    I see people not agreeing with how Double Fine is handling this saying they are mismanaging the money and don't deserve more, but they aren't asking for more money from the original backers. All they are doing is offering up the first half of the game for sale to fund the second half of the game. The people who originally kickstarted the game will still get it for free and aren't going to be paying another cent. It's like saying "Hey remember how you paid me twenty bucks to see me motorcycle jump a school bus and after that a swimming pool? Well I decided to go a little bigger so I'm gonna let some people pay to see me jump one of them, and then use the extra money to pay for awesome pyrotechnics for both jumps. Best part is, because they'll be paying you don't have to pay me any more but you're getting more out of it!" Pretty good deal if you ask me.
  • BladedFalcon - July 3, 2013 6:39 p.m.

    The problem with your metaphor, is that you failed to explain what happens if the guy doesn't get the extra money. Because, I'm sorry, but you don't KNOW if he'll get the extra money. Also, your metaphor is also flawed because you're making it sound as if one jump will be the exact same as the other, and each jump is stand alone from the other. As in, both the game he's releasing early, and what he's releasing later are each their own stand on their own and you won't lose anything if the other doesn't come out. EXCEPT that isn't the case, he's releasing a part, a part that requires ANOTHER part to be a whole. And if for some reason that other part doesn't get funded or gets delayed or canceled, all you get is a polished first part for your money. So, a more appropriate version of your metaphor would be "So... that money you gave me for the motorcycle jump over the swimming pool? Yeah... other people gave MUCH more money, but i can't possible make a proportionate jump to that large a swimming pool, it just scares me too much. So, instead, I'm gonna make TWO jumps. The first one is gonna be in a smaller pool than promised, so I can gather courage and jump into a larger pool and that is gonna be so AWESOME with props and pyrotechnics.... Assuming I don't break my get on the first jump. If that happens... yeah, you're only getting the small jump that isn't what you paid me for in the first place."
  • PatHan-bHai - July 3, 2013 12:11 p.m.

    This is fucked up.....even for Tim :/
  • shawksta - July 3, 2013 11:30 a.m.

    hmm, the game's concept is intriguing but Double Fine has been gone on for years with kickstarters with no progress, they are literally the king of Kickstarters
  • BladedFalcon - July 3, 2013 8:33 a.m.

    Actually.... No, they DON'T deserve more money. They got almost 800% more money than their original goal. And yes, i can understand that because of that, they wanted to make a bigger, better game than their original idea from the 400 K goal. But that doesn't excuse mismanging your resources and overshooting for a project you DON'T have the money for. That's NOT commendable, it's irresponsible and it shouldn't be encouraged. Heck, this is the crux of the isse with AAA gaming to begin with. Super inflated budgets and developers ad publishers that don't know how to spend their rsources responsibly. And I'm sure most of the people that funded the kickstarter were gamers that were sick of AAA games to begin with. So for Double Fine to pull this stunt is not only shameful, it's outright disgusting. Specially because for a big many, this project is what brought Kickstarter into mainstream conciousness. So taht this flagship project is having this kind of issue is kind of a huge blow to the credibility of kickstarted projects. Specially since Double Fine is supposed to be an experienced, profesional studio. Also, I'm sorry Andy, but you make statements "If this will end up creating a better game..." Well, how would you know? how does any of us know? the game hasn't even come out, heck, we haven't even SEEN gameplay, from either the original 400K idea, to the overinflated behemot it appears to be becoming now. How would we know if all this inflated budget is really creating a new game? It's irritating to see journalists to make these kinds of assertions of something that they haven't even seen a single gameplay video of. In the end, even if this move ends up panning out for Double Fine, it's a wildly irresponsible one, and if this is the way kickstarters are heading, then I might as well just give up hope for the concept, because it defeats the entire idea in the first place. If you're asking me a certain ammount of money, you better deliver on what you promised with that ammount in a reasonable ammount of time, or else you have no credibility.
  • Rub3z - July 3, 2013 10:30 a.m.

    I've always valued your propensity for argument, Falcon... your style is bold and headstrong and shows a steadfast commitment to your opinions. However, I'm fairly sure Tim Schafer and Double Fine have already earned plenty of credibility, after all, that's how they were given the money in the first place, and if you think a few million bucks is anything even resembling an inflated budget in this industry, well... And as for pointing out to Andy that we haven't even seen gameplay yet, all of us here can relate... that's totally understandable, but see, I'm not sure people would have invested much money in him in the first place if they didn't have faith he could deliver, and even so, this is why Andy expressed cautious optimism in the very quote you cited by using the word "if" and not "when." Also, I could very well argue that by mismanaging his vision for the possibilities he could stretch his game to with all of the extra money garnered from the campaign, this at least indicates that the man's heart is in the right place and his passion to deliver on a product that all of his fans and pledges will love and cherish is very much in full swing. I mean, come on... the man is a game designer. He's basically living the dream with this project right now, a chance to make something awesome that will be his own as much as it will be the fans'. If you were in his position, wouldn't you dream big and reach high as well?
  • BladedFalcon - July 3, 2013 3:21 p.m.

    Yes, Double Fine has plenty of gamer cred, which is why people gave almost 8 times the amount they said they needed to make a game. But how exactly do you consider it a trustful move to say "So hey... turns out we need more money... now, we're not gonna ask for more... we're just gonna give you a part of the game and hope we can make enough money from it to fund the rest, wish us luck!" The thing is, you're making it sound like you cannot make awesome games without spending lots of money. Or at least that spending more money automatically means better games. That's the exact kind of thinking that has made the AAA industry so bloated and unsustainable in the first place. Not to mention... the team that made Faster Than Light, only got 200K to make their game, and see, they did, and guess what? everyone thinks it's awesome! Pretty sure if Schafer had managed his resources better, he could have created a pretty awesome concept without having to need more money. And again, at the end of the day, it's simple: they said they could make an awesome game for 400K, but now it turns out they can't make it even though they have 8X times that? That's breaking the contract between the developer and the funder. it's that simple.
  • Rub3z - July 3, 2013 3:49 p.m.

    You assume that there's a contract between the developer and funder to begin with. He simply asked fans in his pitch to throw money at him to make a game, and throw money at him they did. He didn't make any specifications at all as to the size and scope of this game, stipulating merely that he'd need at least 400K to get the thing off the ground. Also, the problem isn't that they can't make it. The problem is that now they're in too deep to go back on making the game they set out to make on the budget they were provided. It's not as if they're throwing their hands in the air and demanding gamers more money. They've simply made the compromises necessary to deliver the best game they possibly could in a completely reasonable and timely manner within the scope of all the backer's expectations. Bottom line, they've merely had to change the way they distribute the game. That's really it, and everyone will still get the game he's told everyone he would make on time and without further hiccups. I honestly think that's much better than restructuring most if not his entire project, and that would not only protract the time gamers must wait for the game he said he would release in this certain reasonable time frame, it would also constrain budget substantially as time goes on. So, a breakdown of the more-or-less binary choice he was set on making: More game in less time or Less game in quite possibly a lot more time Seems like a pretty easy choice when you put it that way, huh?
  • BladedFalcon - July 3, 2013 6:28 p.m.

    When you put it in such a simple way, and assuming there was never any other choice in the matter before it got like that, sure. Except that the reality isn't like that. You can play dumb if you want, but you know it's not that simple. Also, technically, a kickstarter is EXACTLY what you said it isn't: A contract between the funder and the developer. The idea is ALWAYS the same: developer says "we need at LEAST this much money to make the game, we reach the goal, the game is made, we don't? the game doesn't get made. Any extra will be put into either stretch goals, or just working into extra content and material for the game proportional to what extra we get." Ask anyone else, that's how a kickstarter works. From the beginning, double-fine said: "we need at least 400K to make this game" gamers responded, and gave them that and much more. So, of course I understand taht double fine would want to make a BIGGER game with that money. What is not acceptable, is that they didn't calculate right, and now they are working on something far bigger than the extra money they got should have. And therein lies the problem: The ambition of this current project isn't proportionate to the money they got. And i'm sorry, but that IS a problem, I mean, you seem to have forgotten to just stop and think: "wait, what happens if they DON'T gather nearly as much money as they need to make the rest of the game, with the early access?" The game either gets delayed further, or could become crappier, or canceled. Either way, there would be unwanted consequences, and again, that's not what someone funding signed for. They wanted a game back from their investment, and I assume they wanted a COMPLETE game for it. As it stands, Schafer HOPES he can give the complete game, but it's not a sure thing. And THAT is what is unacceptable.
  • Rub3z - July 4, 2013 1:35 a.m.

    Tim himself put it that way, just so simply with his statements quoted in the article: "Asking a publisher for the money was out of the question because it would violate the spirit of the Kickstarter, and also, publishers. Going back to Kickstarter for it seemed wrong. Clearly, any overages were going to have to be paid by Double Fine, with our own money from the sales of our other games. That actually makes a lot of sense and we feel good about it. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough." He's made himself very clear that he wants to deliver on what he's intended with the money he's been given and stick to the spirit of the Kickstarter. Put that way, it was very clear what little options he had left. He made the better one, and one that includes the backers on the extra content he intended without having to make them or ask that they pay another cent (Kyle94 put this very succinctly above). I'll concede that a Kickstarted game is a contract, but I think you missed, and even exacerbated my point that (especially in this case) the contract is nebulous at best... more akin to some implicit understanding than a real contract. This much is clear, no? If he had walked up to any publisher or investor on Earth, even if they were an avid fan of him, with his pitch (Hey, give me money and I'll make a game in this style, I don't know what it is at this point or even have a working title but I just know it'll be awesome!) they would be very, very, very hard-pressed to make an investment until he could spell out clear, specific goals for the extent and progress of it. To reiterate my point, can you really hold them to blame for miscalculating their budget? Game development is hard, and you should trust that in this case it's been put in the hands of professionals. I don't think that I can stress enough that he's handled this situation in a very clear and professional way, with a steadfast commitment to his vision for what he wants to make and what he believes he should and ought to make for all of his supporters. And to cater to your continued cynicism, I think we should both acknowledge that it could be far, far worse. However, it isn't, and Tim has chosen a fair and respectful manner of consolidating this issue, and it's very clear that it's far from insoluble. I suppose my main contention with you, Falcon, is your cynical bent on the situation, when I think that by all means what's needed is a (continued) outlook of cautious optimism. It's valuable to remain skeptical, and you've provided an enlightening take on the scope of the problem, but games (especially like this one) don't get made with skepticism. Your point that Schafer hopes he can make the complete game? That hasn't changed for him or any of his supporters since day one. It really couldn't be said to have been a sure thing in the first place, so why is it any different now? But you see, the incredible value inherent to this kind of project... is that everyone involved has invested hope and faith into its outcome, and it's this optimism and its continued maintenance that brings things like this to fruition or ensures they exist in the first place. Yes, there are a number of expectations involved in the project but the main thing is that Schafer is dead set on delivering in spite of any and all setbacks, and to berate him and his development team for creating this setback in the first place is kind of silly when you consider that setbacks of this kind and for this kind of project would be inevitable, and if anything Schafer has only run into what we refer to in business as a positive problem (admittedly stacked on top of another positive problem)... too much ambition with more money than expected. He's tackling this problem with the kind of thoughtful consideration for his supporters, finances and expectations with the kind of foresight and cool-headedness reserved for the most enviable business leaders, and all of it is a clear sign that he's going to deliver. He knows what he wants and I have very little doubt that he's going to get it.
  • BladedFalcon - July 4, 2013 9:19 a.m.

    This is starting to become acircular back and forth, in which I don't realy see you coming up with any actually different or new arguments, which finds me only able to reiterate my previous points, so unless this discussion can veer into something new, I don't see why should we continue. But screw it, one last try:The problem with your whole stance and argument, is that you're only addresing the issue about how Tim is handling the situation AFTER his project overshot his budget. While either ignoring, or making it sound as if him failing to create a vision or game proportionate to his budget was inevitable in the first place. I don't deny that Tim's handling of the situation AFTER the fact was done in the ebst possibleway considering the facts. but the problem is that he ut himself in this situation in the first place. And you and others not wanting to hold him accountable fr that is what bothers me. Not to mention, this sets a very dangerous precedent for other Kickstarter porjects. If tim's diea pans out, other people might be like "hey! so I don't have to worry about spending my budget responsably, after all, if I end up needing more money, I can just do what doube fine did and split the project in chunks!" Also, regarding my cynisim. I'm sorry, but look at the current state of gaming, and tell me what have most companies and studios done lately to earn my sincere trust.
  • The_Tingler - July 3, 2013 8:33 a.m.

    Basically what this boils down to is they started out with a modest adventure game idea then when they got far more than what they expected they upscaled from "the next Costume Quest" to "the next Grim Fandango", and their ambitions got the better of their budget. What this also means is when Broken Age turns up it will be awesome. Did you guys want a great game from a talented, ambitious studio who wants to make the best adventure possible, or an okay game? Psychonauts, for example, they had to restart halfway through production because they weren't happy with it. What it DOESN'T mean is that backers will be asked for more money - that is NOT the case, backers will get the game probably this year. I would personally rather have the great game I want to get instead a simple downloadable title. However, does that still mean I think Double Fine screwed up their accounting predictions? Yes. Because they did. 75% worth of cutting needed? Wow. Although let's not forget this happens a lot in the creative world... for example, Harry Potter was originally just one book!
  • wiitard07 - July 3, 2013 8:04 a.m.

    So since he got too greedy and spent too much of the money (that was over five times his original budget) that consumers have him so he gets more for awful money management. Tim Schafer deserves no more money. He gets NOTHING. Good day sir!
  • Lurkero - July 3, 2013 6:47 a.m.

    The point is: Double Fine asked for funding on a modest $400,00 project Double Fine received $3,300,000 Double Fine decided to scale up the project Double Fine ran out of money on the project Double Fine failed to appropriately scale the project with the budget provided. The key phrase here is: "Double Fine FAILED" They deserve no more money. This is unacceptable for such an experienced company.
  • mothbanquet - July 3, 2013 5:25 a.m.

    What an odd time we live in. I think the system has a lot of potential but as investors, each and every one of us must feel confident in that system if we're going to put our own (hard-earned) cash into the pot. I have every confidence in Mr Schafer's abilities but he had - and still has - a responsibility to stick to the plan originally put in front of his backers. From 400k to over 3 million is no small leap and will it end there? I can see the Kickstarter initiative going one of two ways and its future will rely on developers reigning in their creative whims and sticking to their business plan. Better to have a game (which will be excellent regardless of its scope, I'm sure, knowing Schafer) delivered according to realistic promises delivered on-time and on-budget in the short term, which can then lead to larger projects once people's confidence in the system has grown. Honestly, I believe Mr Schafer needs to remember whose money he's spending and try to use his creative genius to control himself and his project a little. He might not get another shot at this if he doesn't.

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