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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