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Why Tim Schafer and Double Fine Adventure's Kickstarter success isn't as wonderful as you think (and why it is, in ways you hadn't thought of)

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 a viable long-term option and it won’t get rid of game publishers

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.

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15 comments

  • Dougomite - February 13, 2012 12:17 p.m.

    Wasn't Homefront also THQ's highest grossing game to date? Not sure that's the best example. As long as people keep buying up those multi-million dollar shooters and making companies multi-billions in profit the industry won't be shifting much. But really I'm all for anything that gets more people making more varied games.
  • Balaska - February 12, 2012 1:24 a.m.

    "Would funding multiple smaller, more audience-specific, enthusiast-directed games be a safer financial model than putting all of my eggs in one generic, faceless, triple-A megaton basket, sending it out against Call of Duty and hoping for the best?” YES! I want oddball games like From Dust and Stacking. My girlfriend can't stop playing Plants Vs Zombies. Make these games and we will buy them!
  • manateesta - February 10, 2012 3:19 p.m.

    When it comes to adventure games I have never been one to play them much. I did, however, support Tim and Double fine with my own hard earned cash because of the idea. While I have no problems with the article, I remain hopeful and would like to see this as a catalyst for bigger changes in the industry.
  • Jasman - February 10, 2012 2:14 p.m.

    "Would funding multiple smaller, more audience-specific, enthusiast-directed games be a safer financial model than putting all of my eggs in one generic, faceless, triple-A megaton basket, sending it out against Call of Duty and hoping for the best?” This statement simultaneously highlights and (potentially) solves current gen's biggest problem. The 'go big or go home' model isn't working and has killed more than a few studios. We need flexible retail pricing, better audience understanding and more agile development models. Know your limits, know your audience and build an experience suited to their core desires. That's exactly what From Software did with Demon Souls, and look at the success they've had since. Rigid publishing models are slowly becoming outmoded as the game industry fragments based on how different consumers play. Laser-targeting those niche fragments is arguably the most progressive way forward.
  • BladedFalcon - February 10, 2012 11:30 a.m.

    It might not a huge or immediate-game changer. But still... If Koji Igarashi made a Kickstarter for a new 2D Castlevania game, he'd get buckets of my money thrown at him. Same goes for Michel Ancel to make a new 2D Rayman game. I honestly do like the idea behind kickstarter projects, and if this one does yield a spectacular game, it would be great if companies adopted this for their more niche, but beloved genres or franchises. And hopefully, Dave Houghton is right in that this might make big name publishers to pay more attention to what people actually want.
  • pkozyra64 - February 10, 2012 11:23 a.m.

    I don't expect the industry will change and I'm surprised this article was even written about it since I didn't think this was what some people were thinking. All I see is a bunch of fans of the point and click genre yearning for a new game and funding it since it is the only way this would ever happen.
  • Mooshon - February 10, 2012 10:42 a.m.

    Yep this isn't really an industry changer in my mind, but as a good news story this is right up there. The huge surge in money and goodwill is more an indication of peoples' admiration for Double Fine - or more specifically of Tim Schafer - than any intention to stick one in the eye of overbearing publishers. The guy is fantastic. I can't think of many other developers that would spark this level of global support. I grew up on point and click adventures; loving the hell out of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle etc. The thought of a new addition by Tim/Ron and driven from pure fan passion is just mouth watering.
  • Darkhawk - February 10, 2012 10:20 a.m.

    Agreed. Tim Schafer is, well, Tim Schafer. Out-of-nowhere indies can still be massive hits (look at Minecraft's success), but this kind of campaign is likely to gain more ground with better-known developers. If Jonathan Blow Kickstarted, we'd pay; if Michel Ancel Kickstarted, we'd pay. To me, what this really means is that the niche projects we've been begging for might actually be tenable under new funding environments. I've always said the profit margin for gaming was too high, but if Ancel asked me for what amounts to a $15 (or $20, or $30) pre-order to help develop his game, I'd have a hard time saying no.
  • sirdilznik - February 10, 2012 10:02 a.m.

    I never had any illusion that this would change the industry, I'm just giddy like a schoolgirl backstage at a Justin Bieber concert because Tim Shafer, the man behind Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, just to name a few, is going to make another point n click adventure. As a guy who grew up on point n click adventures, even before they were point n click (thing Sierra arrow keys and type stuff in adventures), this makes me immensely happy. It may be just a one time thing, but boy, what a wonderful thing it is! Now all I need is for Black Isle... err, Obsidian to revive Baldur's Gate III or better yet, make a sequel to the greatest RPG ever made, Planescape: Torment. Yeah I know, I'm just dreaming now, but they're my dreams and you can't take them away dammit! *cries*
  • FoxdenRacing - February 10, 2012 9:01 a.m.

    Dave, I owe it to you to read this about a dozen times before I respond to the content...but on a quick skim I don't see anything I disagree with and it looks very intelligently written, including both things we want to hear and things we don't. I imagine, however, that at least part of the article involves you saying pretty much everything I've been advocating for for the last 5-7 years, sometimes poorly, sometimes too vehemently, and sometimes too vaguely.
  • DannyMB - February 10, 2012 8:48 a.m.

    Dave, you've pretty much summed up my thoughts on the whole Schafer/Kickstarter thing. I often think its tempting to think of ourselves, the gamers who actively participate in the wider gaming community, play a large variety of games, and support games from everyone from indie devs to massive publishers, represent the majority of the gaming community. This just isn't true. The majority of people who own a console, own it to play COD, BF3, FIFA, Madden and a bunch of other games in a similar vein. And thats why we have the current model of gaming, lots and lots of sequels and rehashes of IP's. They make money because the majority of people who buy these games are "uneducated" on just whats available out there on these platforms. Big publishers aren't going to be worried by this Schafer/Kickstarter thing, because the average COD/FIFA gamer will never hear about it and definitely wont care about it, and that sadly is where most of the big money in games comes from. But like Dave says, hopefully it'll make them think a little longer about giving games that don't involve shooting and different shaped balls a second chance.
  • bass88 - February 10, 2012 9:53 a.m.

    I think the point is that publishers might now be more willing to fund niche games. Obviously they will be low budget but profit, albeit small, is guaranteed. This is similar to Hollywood mega-producer Joel Silver. He produces big blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes but also invests in lower budget fare like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Book Of Eli and Splice that cater to niche audiences. If the big film flops he has the smaller films to fall back on. Compare that to Jerry Bruckheimer - he funded so many big budget flops that he had to reboot the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise to make a quick buck.
  • Vulneratus - February 10, 2012 5:11 p.m.

    Valid point well put sir... the majority of people who play games aren't actually "gamers" in the true sense of the word (and concurrently wouldn't contribute to a site like Gamesradar i might add) I don't mean to offend anyone who buys the blockbuster releases here, as like any industry there is indeed valid reasons to their success and i know many gamers who list particular big releases as their most anticipated (myself included although I must admit I have never truly understood what the fuss is about COD tbh I couldn't care less anymore) I do count among my friends several casual gamers however who would not look beyond these, and while I may expound on the finer points of the medium and garner some interest I don't often see it manifest into anything and I know they wont discover the full depth of the medium (their loss) Perhaps it's just something that will evolve and play out over a long period of time because at the end of the day we (the true "gamers" who want to discover and experience new genres and ways of interactive storytelling) are going to be the ones in it for the long haul, we're going to be the ones who will be willing to shell out (not just now, but in the distant future) for a new release that pushes the medium yet further and now matter how much revenue a blockbuster title may generate in the short term they will simply never garner that much loyalty in the long term. By their very nature they must follow the trends, not set them... TLDR
  • DirkSteele1 - February 10, 2012 8:31 a.m.

    We as the games playing (and buying) community have to take responsibility for this in the first place. For too long now, a very large majority would rather buy the next iteration of FIFA/COD etc where there are minor tweaks/new team line ups but the game is essentially just an evolution rather than buy something truly innovative and original. Glad to see that the same community however, has rallied so quickly to raise a nice clip of cash to get the wind in the sales of Tim Schafer's next project.
  • christian-shaffer - February 10, 2012 11:34 a.m.

    I personally would divide the gaming audience into two categories. There are the legitimate gamers that play a large variety of games other than the typical FPS or sport game and then there are the ones that buy a console simply to use it as a family system or to play specific games with little to no interest in trying something new and innovative. I don't believe you can really blame gamers. Yes, I do buy COD, but in the past 20 years of my life, I have spent just as much, if not more, money on indie/downloadable games as I have on big budget games like COD. I know far more people that will only play FPS as opposed to a game with story, than I do any other type of gamer. Simply put, I believe true gamers are the minority. Also, I'm incredibly happy to see that Tim Schafer is getting the support and recognition he deserves and I hope the current plans for Psychonauts 2 pan out so I can finally play a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time. While I'm at it, I am in no way bashing anyone that prefers to only play a certain type of game, but I classify a gamer as someone who has a higher appreciation of the art form than most others.

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