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Interview: Tim Schafer On Kickstarter, And Good Will

The Kickstarter Starter

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Yesterday you’ll likely have noticed that Tim Schafer and Double Fine launched a new approach to a Humble Bundle, encouraging people to pay what they want for the chance to vote on what four prototypes the team would develop during their next Amnesia Fortnight. We then brought you his thoughts on why they were doing this, and what impact such things have on the studio. In the second part of our chat, we discuss how Schafer’s time is split between the Double Fine Adventure and running such a busy studio, the effect his project had on the Kickstarter phenomenon, why he thinks you make more money without DRM, and Schafer’s belief in what he calls the “good faith” of gamers.

RPS: So how is your time divided now between your Kickstarter adventure, and the rest of the company’s work?

Tim Schafer: My time is pretty much half-and-half, focused on Reds [codename for the Kickstarter project] and writing on that, with general company creative directorship. I still do things like – I’ll take home the Middle Manager Of Justice and The Cave, and play them all weekend, and I’ll write up a pages of notes for the guys. But for the most part I can do this because people can run their own teams. I trust them to get their games done. It’s not like another company where every game that comes out of here is going to have my name on it, so I’m going to put it in my style or something. It’s more like… Pixar. Not every picture that comes out of Pixar is a John Lassiter movie. But it started that way. There’s definitely a feeling of a Pixar movie, but there are these independent voices in there. People are starting to recognise that in Double Fine, and that’s the way I like it.

RPS: How does Ron Gilbert feel when this young upstart Tim Schafer starts giving him notes on his games?

Tim Schafer: [laughs] Well, I think he responds the same way I do, or anybody does. You say “thanks”, because you want your game to be as good as possible, and every time someone points out something like a bug, they’re giving you an opportunity to make your game a little bit better. I’m not giving him notes like, “Hey, change this! I demand that you change it!” It’s like, “Do you know there’s a character who’s head pops off when he walks through the door?”

RPS: It sounds like you’re having fun. Which strikes me as not always that common in games development – people seem to be stressed a lot of the time. Is this the case?

Tim Schafer: It’s a lot of work, but we are having fun. That was the goal. The ultimate product for me is in a sense this company. Making Double Fine, making a creativity machine, that just runs. And I’m helping to turn the crank on the creativity machine, but there’s a lot of other moving parts. And it outputs great games, but really it’s the living, breathing machine itself that’s the thing we care about and work on. And part of that’s because we want to have a great place to go to every day to work. To go to a place where ideas, creativity and originality are valued, where people have fun and have some balance between their work and their life. It’s led to some tough times, because we’ve chosen those priorities over, like, you know, making a lot of money. But there’s definitely a feeling that if we keep doing this, and get better and better and better at it, then we’ll have success on our terms.

RPS: Your Kickstarter project really does seem to have been a sort of defining moment for the concept. Have you had that feedback from other developers?

Tim Schafer: It was a big surprise for everybody, including us. We were just doing a little experiment, and it was just so big! It got everyone’s attention, obviously, but I think everyone was asking, “What does this mean?” I think it just means there’s another great option for people. We’ve had a really standard way of getting a game funded and made for a really long time, and it’s not that beneficial to the little guy, and it’s hard to get profitable when you’re working with those kinds of publishing contracts. Most publishing contracts are not a great deal. And then it’s, woah, there’s this other great way you can actually make money.

The feedback that’s actually made me the happiest is seeing that – well first I had people tweeting at me saying, “You’re sucking up all the air in the room. You’re taking all the money on Kickstarter.” I was, like, geurgh, I hope that’s not happening. But then when I saw the actual charts, it was more like a rising tide raises all boats. Because you’ve signed into Kickstarter, because you’re there, you’re like, “I’m going to back three more projects!” And most people did. They backed our project, and then looked what else was on there. The overall backing of projects on Kickstarter actually went up, and it showed what a connected community it is.

RPS: Are there any games you’ve been delighted to see on Kickstarter?

Tim Schafer: I was actually happy to see Al Lowe’s team! Seeing them, Al, and Brian, Jane Jensen – that was the batch of people that our Kickstarter was closest to. People whose situation was a lot closer to mine – the first wave of Kickstarters looked a lot like ours. Then there are other games that are original on there, which I think is even more exciting to see. But really, just seeing anybody, whether it’s somebody just starting out, or somebody who has been in the business for a long time, seeing that they have this way to take control of their own creative lives is very inspiring.

RPS: Do you think then something like the Humble Bundle idea is a thing others can do, or is it unique to Double Fine?

Tim Schafer: I think it’s definitely something other companies could work with. I would love to see this sort of “good faith” business practices grow. You know, where people are putting their money forward, supporting things like charities, and people are actually making money by giving things away. That was the big lesson for me – it was like, “Wow, you can actually make a DRM-free version of your game, and make more money than if you spend millions of dollars on copy protection.” You hear people all day complaining about big publishers and their crazy DRM schemes, or you can just invest no money in that at all, and be really successful just because of the good will of people.

It benefits us all. We’re all motivated to have things move more in this direction. Although I do miss codewheels.

RPS: I miss those unphotocopyable brown pieces of paper.

Tim Schafer: [laughs] Impossible! Foolproof! To this day Monkey Island’s never been pirated! That’s why we’re all rich!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Cheers to The Scumm Bar for the codewheel pics.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and general hero of humanity.

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