HARK, A TWIST. Once upon a time, Double Fine’s Kickstarter-fueled adventure Broken Age had all the money in the world. Not a single couch cushion abyss was left un-mined, nor a piggy bank kept from the slaughter. But here’s the thing: apparently that wasn’t quite enough. Broken Age is, in effect, on track to go broke. In a new Kickstarter update, Tim Schafer explained: “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.” Another Kickstarter, however, is out of the question, so Double Fine’s doing the next best thing: Steam Early Access.
The Early Access drive will kick off sometime around January of next year, but it’s far from the first option Double Fine considered. After crunching some numbers, Schafer and co found that Act 1 of the game wouldn’t be ready until July of next year, pushing the full game off into the distant reaches of 2015. That put them in a tough spot, as funds just didn’t allow for that kind of scope. Schafer claimed that, at this rate, they’d need to axe 75 percent of the game. Yikes. So here’s what he came up with instead:
“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.”
“Then we had a strange idea. What if we made some modest cuts in order to finish the first half of the game by January instead of July, and then released that finished, polished half of the game on Steam Early Access? Backers would still have the option of not looking at it, of course, but those who were sick of waiting wouldn’t have to wait any more. They could play the first half of the game in January!”
Which is not to say that backers will have to pay again for their chipped off block of Broken Age. They’ll actually gain access to an even earlier beta in addition to Steam Early Access and the full game. So no worries on that front.
It is a pretty strange place for a multi-million dollar Kickstarter to end up, though – especially after it began with a baseline goal of just $400,000. And yes, we now get to actually play something sooner, but paying for unfinished games can be just as murky as breaking the bank for a project that’s only a twinkle in its creator’s eye – as games like Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, which made a similar leap from Kickstarter to Early Access, have shown. Plus, who’s to say this new-found funding fountain won’t just run dry like the last one? I mean, when you manage to scope beyond what was already a more-than-800-percent increase over your initial goal, pretty much anything is on the table.
To its credit, Double Fine has given us very few reasons to doubt its word (you know, beyond this one). And, in all likelihood, Broken Age itself will be a delightful labor of love, bled from Tim Schafer’s veins straight into your computer tubes. But once again, we’ve encountered a dilemma that basically defeats the purpose of Kickstarter, and in this case the response involves seeking different crowdfunding – just later in the game and with a more substantial product. What are we supposed to make of that?
I mean, I know this movement’s all about removing shackles from creativity, but I’m not sure if it should be a license to over-scope and then haphazardly seek out more money when things reach a breaking point. There’s definitely something to be said for shooting for the stars, but that doesn’t mean accountability should end up six feet under in the process. I don’t think that’s what Double Fine is doing either (they’re in very uncharted territory here, after all), but these actions do set a somewhat unsavory precedent. Here’s hoping this is an isolated incident and not the birth of a trend.