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So Tim "King of amazing, witty games that no-one bought" Schafer has
dropped a megaton bomb on the games industry this week, accruing 1.3
million dollars (to date) of fan funding to make the point-and-click
adventure game that the big grey publishers said no-one wanted. Truly,
this is a great time for games. Tim has changed them forever right?
Well no, he hasn't. In fact there are a few problems with this victory and the blanket excitement it has garnered. Though to be fair, this is brilliant, and there are reasons to celebrate that you might not have considered. Click on, and I'll explain all.
This isn’t going to change the shape of the industry. I’m sorry, but it’s not. I wish it was, but the fact is that this right here is a special case. This is Tim Schafer asking his community for help in making the game they’ve wanted him to make for years. This is one of the most well-loved men in the games industry. One of the hardcore gamer’s favourite underdogs. The guy synonymous with great games that don’t sell (and so which inherently boost the egos of those of us who do support them). This is the warm, funny, witty guy who Bobby Kotick tried to sue. He’s the ultimate “one of us” on the inside of the games industry. Of course we’re going to help him.
This is a spiritual one in the eye for every uncreative suit who’s ever denied us a sequel to an artistically worthy game on the grounds that art isn’t commercially viable. It’s a rallying call for every core gamer who really cares about games as an evolving artistic platform rather than just as a product or an entertainment medium. It's happening within a week of news that Minecraft creator Notch is in talks with Schafer about helping him fund the long dreamed-of Psychonauts 2. For all of these reasons it’s a wonderful thing and a reason to celebrate. But for all of these reasons it’s also a unique case, and unlikely to change things long–term.
When someone else comes along with a pitch for a game, someone who isn’t Tim Schafer and who isn’t the rightly-loved symbol of rebellion and free creativity that Tim is, someone whose game doesn’t represent something important, and who doesn’t have a proven track record of quality… Well then their Kickstarter just isn’t going to have the same outcome.
Instead, it’ll be some guy who no-one knows asking for a bunch of money for a game that might turn out to be good. Nothing wrong with that. In fact new creativity is always the most worthy thing to invest in. But it won’t capture the imagination in the way that Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter has. It won’t prompt 34, 456 people (at the time of writing) to contribute 1.3 million dollars in a day. It won’t grab the required one-off drops of ten or twenty grand that Schafer’s Kickstarter has garnered from some individuals. People just aren’t willing to drop that amount of cash unless there’s something bigger at stake. Some kind of magic or symbolism to the project. Or at least a nigh-guaranteed seal of quality.
And besides, as great as a big load of free cash from a lot of enthused people is, that also means a lot of people with a vested interest in your project who will feel like they deserve some input. Double Fine are obviously making that interaction a part of the project, but for a lot of devs it will be a turn-off. Particularly given that in the more experimental indie game projects which could theoretically make best use of this sort of funding, time to iterate and experiment with design concepts, and the freedom to allow things to evolve and change, are going to be vital.