Thought: Double Fine’s Kickstarter Asks Big Questions

By John Walker on February 9th, 2012 at 12:36 pm.

It's going to be half a million by the time I post this.

Tim Schafer says he wants to make an old-school graphic adventure. He also says it’s impossible to get publisher funding for such a project. So he turns to the audience, and asks if they want to pay to fund such a thing directly. Via Kickstarter he sets the target at $400,000, probably feeling a little bit guilty about how high a number he’s put down, but also aware that it’s a very small budget for a game these days. That’s at 2am GMT. But 10.15am, barely eight hours later, the goal is reached, and the number still climbing. People found $400,000 they wanted to spend on a game – and in this case, just the idea of a game – purely because of who is making it. And that asks some big questions of the current position of the majority of publishers.

Clearly an adventure by Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert is a somewhat exceptional example. That’s two out of the three people who created Monkey Island (with Dave Grossman currently at TellTale). But it’s important to note this is an exceptional example that couldn’t receive funding from a publisher. Adventures, especially those that aren’t aiming to redefine the genre (ie. by not actually being an adventure), aren’t considered a worthy investment these days… to a degree. Clearly Germany is churning them out, there are wonderful indie examples all the time, and the aforementioned TellTale produces about 689 of them a year. But still a standalone, big-budget, full scale adventure from the US is a rarity. The reality is, publishers aren’t interested in taking a risk on something like this.

And normally, that’s because businessmen know what they’re doing. Shocking statement. They know the way to maximise profits is to work with established IPs, or those similar enough to established IPs that no one’s going to notice. THQ who pushed toward lots of original games in recent times have just seen their money run away, screaming. That doesn’t bode well for others who are tempted to do such a thing, and we’ll see how EA’s risks with Kingdoms Of Amular and the like pay off.

But it does also demonstrate a naivety for the possibility of making smaller amounts of money on smaller projects, those that don’t cost $30m in advertising budgets. And it also raises a really important point about people’s willingness to part with money, in an industry so convinced everyone wants to “steal”.

Of course, the astonishing success of Schafer’s Kickstarter is only one example of the gaming audience’s desire to empty their wallets. The bundle phenomenon, where customers can choose to pay just a penny, or as much as they want, have shown quite how much people are willing to volunteer when they want something. Hell, the entire Linux community and its self-funding model is an unavoidably colossal, despite most people ignoring it. The reality is, people like to pay for stuff – in fact, they’ll go out of their way to pay for stuff, pay more than asked, and even for products that don’t yet exist, just in good faith.

And then there’s DRM. This discrepancy is so interesting. Publishers so rigid with fear about a perceived threat from piracy that they’re panicking and doing the stupidest thing imaginable – punishing legitimate customers, while leaving piracy unaffected – while elsewhere hundreds of thousands of players are throwing money at games they could legitimately get for free, or just to make them happen.

I don’t believe for a second that Kickstarter-style projects are a threat to publishers – no such thing. Just as independent cinema may no longer need to go through a major distributor to reach an audience, big budget films are so entrenched in the system that money means it will stay that way for a lot longer. It’s unlikely that Infinity Ward will be raising $100m to create a new Modern Warfare through donations from their audience. But it does, I believe, raise questions publishers need to be asking themselves. Questions like: Are we really in touch with our audience’s desires?

It also raises an even more interesting question for developers who aren’t at the extremes of multi-million dollar projects. The question of whether a middleman is a confidence trick the entire industry has fallen for for too long. Indies have long known that there’s no need to seek a publishing deal to reach a large audience, and with digital distribution models becoming the norm, the only barrier between a developer and its audience is bandwidth. But if Double Fine can go this route, so can any number of developers you’d care to mention.

Clearly distribution still remains an issue. If you’re not on Steam, you’re not going to reach the largest audience, and with a rumoured cut of around 30%, there’s still very much a middleman. Of course, the developer getting 70% of the game price is astronomically higher than anything that would be seen were a publisher involved too, and as alternatives like Desura and the like get larger, getting to a large enough audience will be simpler. So why should such things remain the province of the indie?

As I write, the $400,000 target for Schafer’s game is reaching $500,000. People aren’t interested in the goal being passed – they’re still giving – and this is 12 hours into a month-long fund raise. (Also check out The Order Of The Stick’s extraordinary Kickstarter, which is 1000% over its $58k target, with 12 days to go.) Democratic patronage is a reality, despite an industry norm that is so paranoid it goes out of its way to punish those who pay.

That money is out there, and people are willing to part with it. If publishers want to understand the modern gamer, they need to start considering this, and heavily rethink how they go about receiving that money. And developers even more so should be sitting up and noticing that if their product appears worthwhile, people will want to fund it, without the developer having to sacrifice their money, creativity and even the possibility of the entire product to a publisher.

Another $10,000 was added to Double Fine’s fund in the time it took me to write those two paragraphs. That’s the scale we’re dealing with here.

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140 Comments »

  1. Jerakal says:

    I myself was just boggling about how a mere 10 hours later, the goal is already met.

    I Flipping love you internet.

    Seriously, good job.

    My only dilemma is whether or not to spend 100 of my remaining 1000$ dollars on a poster and a spot in the game’s credits.

    It is somewhat distressing that I am actually considering it.

    • 2late2die says:

      I already went ahead with the signed poster pledge. There aren’t a lot of people who’s autograph I’d actually value, Tim Schafer is one of them so I figured what the heck.

    • Jerakal says:

      Oh god, I hadn’t noticed the $250 reward was a SIGNED poster.

      SIR, YOU WILL DAMN ME.

    • Bluerps says:

      That signed poster is really mean. I considered it, too. But then reason kicked in, and I decided on an amount that is still crazy, but slightly less so.

      But still, that poster would be nice… damn.

    • qrter says:

      This caught my eye, on Double Fine’s own site:

      Pledge $30,000 or more:
      Picture of Ron Gilbert smiling.

      Pledge $35,000 or more:
      Undoctored picture of Ron Gilbert smiling.

    • Bhazor says:

      [Total just passed $600,000]

      It costs $600,000 to make Ron Gilbert smile for 12 seconds.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      ding, there goes $800,000 (yes, I have been watching it for the last 10 minutes for it to tick over)

  2. Captain Hijinx says:

    I’m so delighted with this. We don’t know how the game will turn out, but the fact that so many people are willing and eager to part with cash in the hopes that we’ll get another awesome adventure game to play again is so beautiful. It’s insane how quickly they raised the cash, i’m sure jaws will be hitting the floor all over the Doublefine offices this morning when they get into work.

    Edit: $630k now, it went up 2k in one minute when i refreshed, this thing may make a million in a single day!

  3. jumblesale says:

    Wet myself a tiny bit thinking of what the Gollops could do with this…

    • Dana says:

      Hive mind mofo, @below

    • Tuco says:

      Woah.

    • Khemm says:

      A more faithful X-COM sequel than this consolized thing Firaxis are cooking? GIMME.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I wonder if he really would want to just faithfully redo X-Com

      He’s had various do-overs over the years, with various changes and tweaks on the theme (e.g. rebelstar command). You can put some changes down to platform limitations, etc.

      Honestly would prefer to see him do what he “wants” even if it’s not X-Com

  4. Dana says:

    If this will succeed, I would see more devs ditching publishers and searching funding through such projects.

    500k is a solid number, which can accomplish a lot.

    Yes, Im talking to you Julian Gollop, screw Ubisoft and make new proper X-COM already !

  5. fuggles says:

    I want to say how it’s sad that this money doesn’t go to charity, or heck NASA, and let’s be honest it is, but if the longest journey 3 turns up on that list then I’m going to pay. Humans eh?

    • Dana says:

      Charity and NASA wont feed developers and their families.

    • beekay says:

      Er, entertainment is a need just like any other – that’s why it’s such a terrifyingly huge industry. Saying “oh what a shame this won’t go to the starving african orphans, you bastards” is silly for a few reasons.

      In any case, half a million dollars is piss to NASA. Blame the American government for its bizarre focus on out-competing the entire world in military terms, rather than properly funding education, science and health programmes.

    • Rinox says:

      Why fund a government agency anyway? Isn’t that what taxes are for? :-)

    • Suits says:

      Charity doesn’t magically create a Double Fine quality adventure game, now does it? Furthermore Shafer has done more for charity than you ever will. Also, it’s a shame all your money isn’t going to charity.

    • Kaira- says:

      Heh, at least here in Finland (back in the 60s I believe) there was quite a movement when the police announced they’d need money for new cars, but the current budget couldn’t handle those purchases, and people did answer in quite masses, 58 new cars were bought.

      And honestly, if NASA would announce that they’d be taking donations to improve their funding for space exploration, I’d guess quite a many people would pledge in. At least I would, if no one else would.

    • polyester says:

      Nothing’s stopping people from donating to both a charity and a creative project

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      It’s rather imperialist of you to try to tell some foreigners what to spend their money on, isn’t it, beekay? Would you like it if a bunch of Americans swanned into your country to order your government to buy more guns?

    • Blackcompany says:

      As an educated American I have to ask: NASA? Really? And what have they done for America and the world at large? How many millions of dollars did those asshats spend to take photos of the dark side of the moon?.
      .
      Guess what it looked like? That’s right, the other side.
      .
      America would be better off without wasteful agencies like NASA, EPA, and Education. To say nothing of the organized crime syndicate commonly known as the IRS. We waste more money in a six month time frame than most nations have the option to even use in a year, and we are for some reason inordinately proud of that fact.
      .
      F’d up country, I can tell you that.

    • Ultra-Humanite says:

      “Humans, eh?”

      Yep, they never cease to take the time to be insufferable, moralizing douchebags.

    • alundra says:

      @beekay

      Er, entertainment is a need just like any other – that’s why it’s such a terrifyingly huge industry.

      But but but, what we keep hearing from the industry shillers is that entertainment is a luxury and that if you can’t afford it’s better stay away from it, are you sure about this need theory thing making the idustry huge?? I feel so confused and unsure of myself right now, I mean, this goes against everything they preach about drm and piracy and life.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      NASA never contributed anything? Abolish the EPA and DOA?

      RPS, you might wanna have a look at your captcha system, the Ron Paul bots appear to have infiltrated.

    • Arglebargle says:

      @blackcompany
      “Really? And what have they done for America and the world at large?”

      Dang, you are posting like an ijit. Took me all of 10 minutes to find info on a bunch of things that NASA developed technologies for. If they were getting residuals for this instead of handing them out to everyone for free, the organization would probably be rolling in dough.

      http://curiosity.discovery.com/topic/physics-concepts-and-definitions/ten-nasa-inventions10.htm

      http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2008/toc_2008.html

      etc.

    • Arglebargle says:

      @blackcompany
      “Really? And what have they done for America and the world at large?”

      Dang, you are posting like an ijit. Took me all of 10 minutes to find info on a bunch of things that NASA developed technologies for. If they were getting residuals for this instead of handing them out to everyone for free, the organization would probably be rolling in the dough.

      Damn the spam filter, full speed ahead! It didn’t like the links, but like I said, it’s not rocket surgery to figure out there were some benefits from NASA’s research.

    • Nogo says:

      Blackcompany: America certainly seems like a fucked up place when people like you represent it.

    • Brun says:

      “America would be better off without Education.”

      Okay. I guess I’ll have to tell my future children about the great leader, Blackcompany, who came up with these brilliant policies. Since they clearly won’t be able to read about him.

    • Sic says:

      Uh, who let the right wing propagandist in?

      Educated American? NASA never contributed to anything?

      Madness.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      “Guess what it looked like? That’s right, the other side.”

      Wrong! The far side* of the moon has far more craters: this suggests that a lot of asteroids bound for Earth impact there instead! Also it was the Russians who first photographed it (back in 1959), so it didn’t cost *NASA* anything.

      A little research would have told you that and much more, but I guess you were gambling on a simple question having a simple answer…

      *I assumed you meant ‘far side’ rather than ‘dark side’, because there is no such thing as a dark side to the moon. Whenever there is a new moon from Earth’s point of view, the far side is fully illuminated.

  6. Schadenfreude says:

    They’ve cleared the half million.

  7. Kemuel says:

    Between this and Notch’s proposal, Tim must be having a pretty interesting week.

    • Milky1985 says:

      Maybe any overrun will automatically go into a fund for Psychonauts :p

      I get the feeling there might be a bit of spare change

    • Suits says:

      It won’t. From the FAQ: “Q: What happens if you go over the goal?

      A: The extra money will be put back into the game and documentary. This could result in anything from increased VO and music budgets to additional release platforms for the game.”

      It doesn’t make sense using it on an entirely different product, that’s not what people are offering their money for.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Milky They said any overrun would go back into the game.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Tim Schafer tweeted that the money raised above 400k would go to localization.

      http://twitter.com/TimOfLegend?_escaped_fragment_=%2FTimOfLegend&_twitter

      At least that is what he tweeted in English and Spanish.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      I wonder what priority the German localisation has… considering the name-check (he has already done the “money for localisation” message in german)

    • MichaelPalin says:

      additional release platforms for the game

      GNU/Linux!? Please!

    • Milky1985 says:

      Yes i understand that any extra cash its going into the game to add extra content etc, but at the time i write this the ammount raised is approaching $600,000 (currently at $584,269)

      Condering there are 33 days to go , and even taking into account the massive drop off in dontations that will happen in a few days time. Its looking like there will be a LOT of extra cash, now this may mean more documentry content (so more money on filming) and localisation and extra platforms, but it will reach a point where they cannot really spend the money on anything to make it better, maybe the spare money then will go into other projects.

      Wouldn’t surprise me to see an annocuement of some sort about the extra cash in the next few days, as the numbers are going up (just refreshed the page, they have earnt another 3k in the time its taken me to write this)

    • polyester says:

      @Milky1985

      Yes, I can see the reasoning behind what you say, but it will definitely have to be something Double Fine announces on the Kickstarter. As has been said, people are comfortable in financing what they believe is to be an adventure game. To funnel money away from that, even after the goal, would not sit well with some.

      I can imagine that after a certain amount has been reached, they make some announcement like, all donations from here on out goes to standard operating costs, or whatnot

    • Suits says:

      Well you can’t suddenly change the stakes midway I’d say, but they’re no doubt getting more budget than they know what to do with it :p

  8. Suits says:

    Shafer is a legend after all.

    • Johnny Lizard says:

      Indeed. I own several of his fine fountain pens.

    • c-Row says:

      And these fine leather jackets.

    • polyester says:

      My mother used to put me to sleep with stories of how Schafer redeemed this world by handing Monkey Island and Grim Fandango as an offering to the angry gods.

      Whenever I have children of my own, I can tell them the second part of the legend where Schafer and his company received blessings from the world over to redeemed the world once more

    • Suits says:

      And centuries from now, when everyone will drive around on jet skis this will still be remembered.

  9. The Tupper says:

    Now all we need is to get Lawrence Holland to do a de-badged respray of X-Wing/TIE Fighter.

    • atticus says:

      I’m so down with this.

      TIE Fighter has got to be one of my all time favourites. I even played through half of it using mouse & keyboard and loved it. After I bought a Top Gun joystick, it was pure heaven.

      Joystick-calibration in MS-DOS though, was not.

  10. Milky1985 says:

    Target may have been met but i’m still gonna chuck 100$ into the pot (my credit card will hate me this month, just built a new pc).

    Why? This is looks like a fun idea and it deserves to be supported, adventure games are great fun just for mucking about and clicking around even if you never actually get anywhere, nice relaxing sit down game. Yes they are not everyones cup of tea but it is reaching a point where (certain) publishers only support big games because simply their prefered target audience will only play a big shooty game with death.

    (and i’m not going to lie having my name in the special thanks is a bit of a incentive, already got my face in a roosterteeth vid so name in a game is next thing :P)

    • Milky1985 says:

      Hum when did i get this avatar picture! Dammit now i have to track down how to change them and use my regular one :p

    • JarinArenos says:

      probably a gravatar. I think that’s where mine generally pulls from.

  11. Bumble says:

    At times I get really depressed about how cynical we are as a society and especially when concerning the Internet.

    Then I read things like this and it puts a big smile on my face. People of the Internet, I think I love you.

    • Lamb Chop says:

      It’s really interesting to see. If you treat people like economic entities, they’ll behave like them. But if you appeal to our creative and humanitarian/communitarian aspects then it’s quite obvious that we’re much more than little utility-maximizing machines.

      Especially in a creative industry like game design, there’s a lot to be said for the power of community over strictly business relations.

    • theSAiNT says:

      I’m sorry Lamb Chop, nothing personal but as an economist, this type of sentiment really annoys me. This ‘humanitarian/communitarian’ behaviour is COMPLETELY the result of ‘little utility-maximizing machines’. People get higher expected utility from funding this project and getting their name in the credits than they do from the next best use of their resources. That’s why they choose to do it.

      The reason why things like this don’t happen enough is precisely because people are NOT treated sufficiently as economic entities. In this case, there is a market failure as consumers are unable to express their preferences for this type of games because publishers have monopolistic power and are the ones which determine what to fund.

      If you want good outcomes, liberate markets and the ‘little utility-maximizing machines’ will make it happen. Do not appeal to wishy washy humanitarian sentiment.

      Rant over.

    • JarinArenos says:

      theSAiNT, I think projects like this, along with others like Humblebundle are starting to open up the market. The real problem is that the console market is still operating in a publisher-controlled clean room. the cracks in that market’s wall are much smaller (the 360 indie marketplace, etc.). The progress is slow, but it’s coming.

    • Arglebargle says:

      (In the voice of Haley Joel Osment), ‘I see market failure everywhere!’

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      “People get higher expected utility from funding this project and getting their name in the credits than they do from the next best use of their resources. That’s why they choose to do it.”

      @thesaint – No, that’s why *some* people choose to do it – The same people that hold the free-market laissez-faire capitalist world view you’re pushing as a universal truth.

      The clever thing about Kickstarter is that it can appeal to the polar opposite philosophies outlined by yourself and Lambchop.

    • theSAiNT says:

      @Edgar the Peaceful – I maintain that EVERYBODY is utility maximising. (Or very close to it)

      Note that utility maximisation does not exclude considering the welfare of those other than yourself. You might derive utility from taking care of your family, saving the whales or helping the elderly. Lambchop derives personal utility from contributing, if he did, to a community project. Why else do you think he’s doing this? Either people choose to do something because they want to, or they are coerced. Which by the way is the alternative method of resource allocation.

      The universal truth I’m pushing is that people are not only good at making themselves happy, which I stress again, often includes making other people happy as well, but that letting them do that actually yields good outcomes.

      The clever thing about Kickstarter is that it creates a market for people to express their preferences.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      It’s a good thing that economic theory can account for every possible outcome right? Unfalsifiability is the best falsifiability!

    • Llewyn says:

      @TheSaint: Liberated markets are precisely what led to the current publishing oligopoly.

      I agree with what you’re saying really, but “market failure” is pretty much the default state for markets, unfortunately.

  12. Jaymz says:

    It’s been an amazing morning, indeed! Getting to witness this amazing turn of events, in real time, has been absolutely stunning! The consequences of what has transpired with Double Fine’s Kickstarter may have quite an interesting effect on the industry, for sure. But I think the impact may go much further than that.

    Maybe it’s a glimpse of things to come.

    The democratization of the funding of a game project is great (specially if the project is an adventure game from no less than Tim Schaffer and Ron Gilbert!), but what other industries could benefit from that? And even going much further, that’s a sign of the new economic reality around us. To me, one of the problems with our current economic state is our global inability to accept the fact that many of the old models won’t work anymore in the context of the new society. And this Kickstarter kind of proves that.

    What’s next, then? Politics? Hmmm…

  13. Rinox says:

    I wouldn’t assume that ‘normally, businessmen know what they are doing’, but hey. :-) This is a great project, and possibly another part of an economic revolution where creative people become unchained (to a large extent) from their publisher overlords. Of course, that raises the question on how people who aren’t already well-known may break into this cash…there exists a similar problem in literature already. Either way, donated some cash. Good luck to Double Fine!

    • MichaelPalin says:

      I think the answer is pretty simple. If you are not known, you obviously cant do things like that, but, if you have talent and deserve it, you will eventually receive the praise you deserve and will be able to put a kickstarter like this one. That’s basically what many indies are doing, they start as they can, get the recognition and then be able to finance their future project more comfortably. I think it’s a system that can work.

  14. Jamesworkshop says:

    I really don’t see publishers have much interest in this, their primary concern is based on money/time

    A 1m budget game making 20m sounds incredible but to a publisher is not really worthwhile when the time could have been spent on a 50m 2 year development that makes over 1B in sales, 2 years of devlopment time could churn out many games of this type but they still won’t make the same sales figures that their shareholders want to see.

    for developers this is great but it’s a challenge to the publisher that primarily is an investment machine as oposed to a mass of public investors, I don’t see how they could adapt this model, that is intended as a replacment for the publisher as an investor.

    ask a struggling publisher like THQ wether they would rather have minecraft or skyrim as part of their company stock.

    • Rinox says:

      Maybe the big publishers may be incapable of adapting to this (smaller projects with ‘small’ profit margins), but it leaves the door open to smaller/newer publishers who are happy to manage several smaller projects over monolithic giant games with huge profits. If you have only a few projects with a ton of money riding on them, failure becomes fatal so you cut out any risks. If your investments are spread over several smaller projects, failure is less deadly…which may allow for more creative risk.

    • Jamesworkshop says:

      For big publishers EA, acti-blizz etc are not incapable of adapting, the point is that this is not going to interest them, whats the story here, a developer idea rejected by publisher seeks and gets funding elsewhere, the equation is a subversion of the publisher, who really don’t care about budget but care primarily in money/time, this story is not about a game thats just made a fantastic amount of sales.

      This is a wake up for developers that publishers are not the only option, to make the angle of this about the publishers misses the point.

      Lets not ignore the publisher owned developers, and the newbies that could not bank on existing reputation for public support, I really can’t see this making a wide impact.

      It’s like freemium, it will broaded the market but won’t cause established companies to turn themselves inside out to adopt it wholesale, they will either ignore it or create a new branch to exploit the new oppertunity.

      Another thing that needs to be recognised is that the majority of the industry the creative work is all done by the publisher, with the actual work force (developer) making the game having next to no influence in any part of it, other than technical quality from the raw coding tallent, or lack

      As for risks, when a game is released that doesn’t interest you, do you get angry and how does that change if it’s a game you funded, look at people thoughts on pre-ordering as an example

  15. Dinger says:

    Big publishers aren’t missing the point; they’re just not interested in this niche. If it takes roughly the same amount of time and overhead to fund a $400k project as it does to fund a $40M project, and one expects on the order of 2-3 times that sum in revenue, the big fish will go after the big projects every time.
    That’s doubly true when the success of the small project depends on key talent. What happens when, next week, Mr. Shafer has a conversion experience, and retreats to a Zen monastery in Northern California?

    It’s great that kickstarter is able to democratize the mass market. I’m looking forward to RPS 2013, with weekly “Bundle Bounty” and “Kickstarting, stopping and stuck” features.

  16. pkt-zer0 says:

    “And developers even more so should be sitting up and noticing that if their product appears worthwhile, people will want to fund it”

    The problem is getting to the point where you have a product that appears worthwhile. You can get away with putting out just an idea if you’re Tim FREAKING Schafer, but otherwise you’ll need something tangible, which costs piles of cash. Which is where you’d sign your soul away to a publisher, I’d imagine.

    • alice says:

      I would just as quickly chip in if Size Five/Zombie Cow put up a crowd funding project for a new Ben There Dan That.

  17. Jimbo says:

    How rare, a new-age whale-hugging business model thingy that I can get behind! This does open up a whole lot of interesting possibilities, especially for things people already have a fondness for. It’s unfortunate that so many classic rights are now tied up with big publishers who have no intention of doing anything ( / anything interesting) with them.

    Also, this is a way better idea than the whole Psychonauts sequel thing.

    • Jerakal says:

      What if the new Point and click adventure is a psychonauts sequel?

      0_0

    • Suits says:

      Then the moon would crash into the earth after 33 days. Clearly not happening.

    • Jimbo says:

      Ha, that’d probably be alright actually. Presumably they were talking about making a proper Psychonauts sequel though, like Psychonauts.

    • Jerakal says:

      Frankly, I’d be okay with it either way.

  18. hosndosn says:

    This is one of the best things to happen to gaming in years. The Humble Indie Bundle guys paved the way, but this is a whole new level of applying that principle to game-funding. Especially for a big(ger) studio. So happy! On top of that, this is exactly the kind of game I wanted to see Tim Schafer do for so long now. “Why doesn’t he do a ‘proper’ adventure,” I asked? Well, apparently because the internet wasn’t ready… until now.

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  20. Lobotomist says:

    All I can see is how disconnected game publishers are…

    I have feeling , lately they have no clue about buisness they are funding.

  21. Talnoy says:

    This seriously needs to be spam mailed to all of Ubisoft.

    Hourly updates from millions of people all over the world all screaming one thing: Infallible proof that PC gamers don’t want to pirate things.

    Post it RPS. Post some of Ubi’s corporate email addresses, I’ll even write a pre-written letter for people to send.

    Go get ‘em internet.

    • Kaira- says:

      How is this a proof that PC users don’t want to pirate, again? I’m afraid I missed that.

    • Suits says:

      Yeah Talnoy, Piracy is still happening. The point is DRM isn’t stopping piracy, it only hurts legitimate sales. Even though they ignore the fact it happens on consoles and their used game market is just as damaging.

    • c-Row says:

      I guess the idea is that developers won’t have to worry about not breaking even with their current game. If they require a set budget to finish a project, they can easily test the waters before shifting gears. It doesn’t stop piracy, but there is much less risk involved.

  22. InternetBatman says:

    I really do think this model will take over a sizable portion of the market. John was right on target when he said that Steam’s 70% was way larger than what you get from a publisher. It’s estimated that the physical copy of a game sends about 45% to the publisher. Who knows what pittance the developers get?

    Of course AAA studios could never enter it, but I think there’s room for it to get larger. I think pretty much any genre from the nineties that disappeared into the current morass of sandbox game, FPS/Action RPG, and FPS could conceivably make a comeback through these types of methods.

    I really think the next player to enter this market should be Obsidian. They have similarly legendary talent, a diehard core fan group, and if they did 2D turnbased or ATB RPGs a really underserved market. They even have a capable engine already made. Let JE Sawyer make his take on Darklands or Chris Avellone make his super text heavy game, these smaller projects could conceivably fund themselves and provide a small stream of revenue for years to come.

    And even though AAA games will never be made in this way, I think it’s important to recognize that as gamers grow older and more games are being made time becomes the limiting factor, not money. In the arena of time spent on a game, indie games are at a much smaller disadvantage and could conceivably gobble a AAA sale in that respect.

    • Jamesworkshop says:

      The steam cut is a comparison to the retail cut not the publisher, by steam he was talking about the difficulty of getting on to steam with this type of investment unlike EA types that already have prearanged contracts with valve, the point is this is a challenge for this type of thing going foward is a hurdle not a benifit (it’s a problem)

    • InternetBatman says:

      Since they are already talking about giving out Steam keys for the beta and finished project on the Kickstarter page, it’s probably not much of a hurdle to them. He probably had to make one call or email to Gabe Newell. But I agree that it could be a problem for less established people, teams, or projects. But what I was poorly trying to say, is that the astronomical difference in the percentage take of a game is what is really what makes this model attractive and makes it work too.

    • Cerius says:

      Scrap that. Let Tim Cain create a new IP again, written by Avellone and Gameplay designed by Sawyer (+Art Directed by Nivbed).

  23. Syra says:

    can someone jsut do a HD remake of grim fandango with the controls optimised already?

  24. Kaira- says:

    I think the implication is that if you are already quite known in the market and have a steady fanbase, crowdfunding for small-medium-sized projects may be a viable way to fund projects. HOWEVER, for smaller, unknown names trying to get 200 000$ may be quite a hard task, if not nigh impossible.

    Desura’s (and why not mention Minecraft here also) alphafunding model is a whole different kind of a beast, though – you pay and get instantly playable/somewhat playable build in your hands, and devs get the money. Especially if the pricepoint has a steady growing (the earlier point the game is, the cheaper), it may be that the barrier for trying out this new interesting concept for customer will be lower than going to throw some money at a kickstarter-project.

    Anyway, interesting times we’re living.

    • Kadayi says:

      ^This

      It’s cool and all, but it’s not something the vast majority of companies can float on. Tim’s one of the few dame developers with a positive presence (Warren Spector is another) who could pull this off. The problem is if the game doesn’t deliver, then you’ve burnt your fan base goodwill in it’s entirety.

  25. JackShandy says:

    Tim Schafer’s always been big with fans and small with publishers. Psychonauts was met with massive nigh-unanimous acclaim, and sent it’s publisher under. It’s easy to point at this and say “Look, publishers should be doing this stuff”, but I’m not sure they’d actually make any money if they did.

    Tim’s style was made for this.

    • Llewyn says:

      I’d say the effects of Psychonauts are the exact opposite of what you’re claiming. A publisher was prepared to fund it, but went under because people weren’t prepared to buy it in sufficient numbers. In itself, that might be enough to explain the reluctance of publishers to fund more recent projects.

  26. ikh says:

    Despite him being a legend among adventure gamers, Schafer really isn’t half that much of a 2010′s household name as to not make this fundraiser beyond unexpected. This is amazing and gives me hope that piracy might be crushed into a financial problem merely for the cliché soulless businessman, not people who care for games. Humanizing game developers and being transparent about your development process to your fans can’t really be a bad idea – for one, Mojang has done decently while going that route I’d say :)

  27. Maldomel says:

    I’m wondering where that money goes when you make a game. Sure, you gotta pay your entire team all the way, and that must cost a lot. Then there is development costs or whatever it’s called, but I’m still amazed by the sheer budget of games (same thing for movies).

    • BrendanJB says:

      Well let’s assume that each of their employees gets 45k a year; I’m using that as a very roundabout average. Even if they used ALL of the money to pay wages, they could only hire about 8 people to work on the entire project – that’s the game + documentary and that doesn’t include voice actors at all. This doesn’t account for expenses like bills, rent, equipment for filming, recording audio, etc. It also doesn’t factor in the 5% that kickstarter takes, nor the taxes involved in undertaking a project like this.

      400k -seems- like a lot of money, but it’s really, really not.

    • alice says:

      Developer salaries are closer to $100k in the bay area, where double fine is located, so for a six month project that is eight people working on it for the full $400k.

  28. silgidorn says:

    I have a question:
    Investment doesn’t mean donation. Will the backers get any money back if this game sells? Because as cool as giving money to this project is, if some money is coming back people may be able to fund even more projects. I wonder if something like a 10% cut for the backers could be imaginable, this will mean that:
    - Double FIne get’s 60% of the money made.
    - Steam gets a 30% cut as John said it was rumored to.
    - The backers get their money back up to when the game has made ten time what it did cost (ten times the money, because the share is 10%, so they get all of their money back), because it’s investment to help a project coming to life, not to make money out of it.

    I don’t know Kickstarter, does it work like that? Would Double Fint take this initiative on their own?

    • zeroskill says:

      Nobody knows how much Steam takes exactly. All that is known is that Steam doesn’t take the same amount off of everyone. They might be taking 30% from big publishers while they are taking less from Indies. It varies from case to case.

    • ankh says:

      It’s much more likely that steam is taking a bigger cut from indies than they are from major publishers.

    • silgidorn says:

      Yeah,
      Actually the size of the steam share is not the point of my comment, I just took the number that John Gave. And it’s not so important either in what I tried to say.
      I’d actually like to know wether kickstarter is considered investment or charity.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I did some browsing of their site, and I don’t believe that the people that pay get a financial reward. Just the listed rewards for the payment tiers and perhaps a copy of the finished product. So, Kickstarter takes 5%, Doublefine takes 95%.

    • SpinalJack says:

      Kick starter is not an investment, backers do not get any money back. It’s also not a charity as in you can’t claim tax on money spent in a kick starter. Also kick starter takes a share of the money raised in return for providing the credit card billing etc.

      You’d keep more of the money pledged if you didn’t go through kick starter (which is US only anyway) but you’d also have to manage everything on your own and you wont have the same customer assurance as having a 3rd party handle their credit card details unless you’re a big name dev company with loads of fans like these guys are.

    • Urthman says:

      I don’t think Kickstart is set up to allow the kind of investment model you described. There may even be some legal obstacles to that sort of thing. It’s really more like selling pre-orders of the game, the collector’s edition of the game, the uber-deluxe-mega-extras-edition of the game, etc. with a money-back guarantee if the game doesn’t get enough funding to be made.

  29. zaphod42 says:

    The beginning of the end for video game publishers, right here.

    And I say, good riddance. :D The closer gamers can get to developers, the better for everybody. People have been hypothesizing about crowd-sourcing games as an alternative to gigantic blockbuster budgets that could bankrupt your company if a single game goes south. It just works better, and gamers can be part of the decision process, and get rewards for loyalty.

    Also an amazing counter for Piracy, you get people involved and invested and they CARE about your game. Nobody who donates money is going to pirate the game, its pointless.

  30. Ertard says:

    Never liked Double Fine/Schafer and never liked adventure games (sue me), but this is exactly the way everything needs to go. Crowdfunded, self-published, digitally. Fuck yes.

  31. MisterBronze says:

    Great news for Double Fine. I’m hoping this game makes the light of day through the same means:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tinycolossus/ufho2-a-turn-based-strategy-game

  32. Jason Moyer says:

    “Are we really in touch with our audience’s desires?”

    Does it really matter as long as they’re turning a profit? With most titles now, the audience consists primarily of people who wouldn’t consider themselves gamers. With the sort of money involved in putting out a highly polished mass-consumable piece of entertainment, they’re going to do what all corporations do when designing product, and that is to make it as conservative as humanly possible. You can’t have your game/movie/snackfood be challenging because you’ll alienate the vast majority of your audience who is looking for a passive quick fix. Things need to be easily accessible for the “owning an iPod makes me a geek!” technology-for-technology’s-sake market. And classic adventure games (text or graphical) are about as far from easily-accessible as you can get.

  33. Zanchito says:

    Beautifully written article, sir, full of sense.

  34. BigglesB says:

    It’s not even slowing down!?! Would not be surprised at all if they hit $2m+ eventually…

  35. Nick Ahlhelm says:

    I think you also have to keep in mind that a lot of the ultra successful funding efforts come with a reasonably priced copy of the item you’re kickstarting. It’s very easy to fund a project when you know that you’re basically pre-ordering a copy in the process. All the successful Kickstarters I’ve funded have featured that as part of the deal and I think it’s a major push towards success.

  36. adonf says:

    I just paid $14 because I’m an idiot.

  37. Kleppy says:

    Woah, that’s absolutely unbelievable! I mean I didn’t like Psychonauts, but the guy who wrote Grim Fandango definitely needs to make another game.

  38. awickedone says:

    I know this is different in that if there was no funding there would be no game, but what happened to people buying things based off of merit I know there is a great track record but even Valve has turned out a bad game.

    “I’m only talking right now about a segment of the game, and I’m obviously biased towards liking this game because it’s towards my tastes as a gamer. There’s no denying that. If you’re a reader on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, you are sophisticated enough to not listen to what Ken Levine says, or not listen to what any [developer] says about any game: go to the reviews, go to the people you trust, because you know they’re going be completely unbiased. This is my baby, I spent five years on this thing – you think I’m not biased? Of course I’m biased.” Ken Levine interview posted on rps, January 24th.

    It just seems like people are more in love with the idea of the game rather than making sure it is something they will like. Fifth-teen dollars isn’t that much but some people are making donations in the hundreds. I just hope it turns out to be a great game and the day reviewers or friends assure me of that I will purchase it.

    • Apples says:

      But because this game has all the history it does, and because Kickstarter projects are still rare, people aren’t just paying for the game. They are paying as a symbol and as a representation of their enthusiasm. It’s partly because they just want the game and partly because they want to send a clear message to the creators, to publishing companies, to other potential game makers, that they are interested in this general sort of thing and want more of it.
      It’s also partly backlog money. Money that thanks Schafer + Gilbert for having been a part of gaming history and part of their childhood (or whatever age you were then!).
      So even if the game is bad the money will have been worth it to some extent.
      Hundreds is a bit much for most, but some people have more money and attach more importance to games than others!

    • RagingLion says:

      Very well put, Apples. I agree.

  39. NathanH says:

    Personally I find it bizarre that anyone would pay more than the minimum required to get a copy of the game. Fortunately, lots of people seem to behave bizarrely.

    • pegolius says:

      Mr. Schafer did hold up the banner for adventure games and innovative ideas in games for a long time and the big publishers shunned him for it, no, they just ignored him, which is even worse. For this alone I am willing to donate more than the game will cost. Sometimes you have to be idealistic; it makes you feel so fuzzy and warm inside when you do it.

  40. ulix says:

    Now someone please, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, contact Chris Sawyer and tell him about this.

  41. Milky1985 says:

    Jesus its at 650,000 now, the rate this is going a million is starting to look like an easy target!

    Even with a guess of 10% of failed pledges (people whos credit cards are denied when its charged etc) thats still a lot of cash for locilization and other platform development!

  42. Nick Savage says:

    It’s going to be a little bittersweet for DF at the office when they get in. I suspect the announcement will be something like this:

    “We’ve got the money – and then some. However you all have to spend the next month signing posters”

  43. pegolius says:

    This was one of the better articles to be found in this fine place and all publishers should receive a personal tweet with a link to this “food for thought”.

  44. edit says:

    This is truly great. Finally a chance for adventure game fans to really show their support rather than have publishers speak for us about the supposed death of the genre. If anything adventure games were just put into a coma by some of the really drab, dreary adventures which tried to be “edgy” with themes of murder and psychosis, or whatever, which seemed to crop up after all the auteur adventure designers disappeared.

  45. Gabbo says:

    So long a I can buy it once it’s finished and not have to drop $15 now to do so, let them get as much as they can.

  46. Terragot says:

    Yet to see the back end of this. Hopefully, moronic entitlement from people who funded wont swamp the release of the game. As can be seen (to some extent) with notch’s fan base, profit aside, a lot of people weren’t happy with the end product.

    As for the kickstarter, I just hope this doesn’t bubble and burst. Developers are on a great run right now, constantly devising creative methods to sell their game (from selling alpha’s to pay what you want bundles to crowd sourcing to donation based payments).

    the noble art of creativity is a hot current issue it seems.

    • Lambchops says:

      Yeah, I wouldn’t be suprised if the discussion forum gets a bit cranky but we shall find out once it starts! I’d imagine that some people will also have a slew of well intentioned but somewhat dire ideas that the team will have to filter through. I remember thinking with the likes of Arcen’s development of A Valley Without Wind and Introversion’s (now ceased) blog updates that there are pros and cons to open development and it’s up to the individual devs to decide which side of the line they want to be on and whether it benefits them or not.

      As of now they are close to 750k, wouldn’t be suprised to see this break the million mark, excellent stuff!

  47. Sarlix says:

    This just in:

    PC Gamers want to play PC games (shock) and will pay well for it.

    Isometric, turn based, Action points, AD&D, Point and Click – well love it all.

  48. mickygor says:

    I see no reason why a crowd would not operate in the same way as a publisher. We throw money at multiple projects in the hopes that some gems are created, and we accept some losses on poor performances. Projects that succeed are rewarded with more funding. Projects that fail, well, so do their developers. Crowd funding doesn’t have to be some namby pamby socialist utopia where everyone gets the money to realise their dreams.

  49. Skabooga says:

    Double Fine was all like “I don’t need your handouts!” to Notch.