Tim Schafer On The End Of Spacebase DF-9’s Development

Dwarf Abort-ress more like.

Last week Double Fine announced that Spacebase DF-9 development was coming to an end. The issue was that hundreds of features that had previously been listed as “maybe possibly” coming to the game were no longer to going to be delivered, replaced instead with the release of the game’s LUA codebase so the community could add content themselves.

People are understandably peeved. Tim Schafer has now commented on the game’s Steam discussion forum in response to some of the common questions about what happened.

Basically, it didn’t make enough money to justify the length of development they’d originally hoped for:

We started Spacebase with an open ended-production plan, hoping that it would find similar success (and therefore funding) to the alpha-funded games that inspired it. Some of its early sales numbers indicated this might be the case, but slowly things changed, and it became clear that this was looking like a year and a half of production instead of five or so. With each Alpha release there was the hope that things would change, but they didn’t. We put every dime we made from Spacebase back into Spacebase, and then we put in some more. Obviously, spending more money than we were making isn’t something we can afford to do forever. So, as much as we tried to put off the decision, we finally had to change gears and put Spacebase into finishing mode and plan for version 1.0.

It’s perfectly reasonable that Double Fine can’t and won’t work on Spacebase at a loss for an indefinite amount of time, yet it seems unreasonable to have gambled so highly with the money and goodwill of the game’s audience. In order to support a five-year development project with a small team in San Francisco, Spacebase would have had to consistently bring in money equivalent to the biggest Early Access successes; ie, “the alpha-funded games that inspired it.”

I understand that the recent announcement was a disappointment. It was for you, and it was for us. We wanted to keep working on Spacebase for years. But Spacebase spends more money than it brings in, and that’s just not something we can afford to do any more. Set up against the expectation of the game being in development as long as Prison Architect or Dwarf Fortress, it’s hard not to find fault in the game by comparison. But we continued to sell the game, and will continue to sell the game, because we feel that based solely on its own merits, Spacebase DF9 is still a fun, clever, hilarious, beautiful and complete game.

It seems as if that expectation of Prison Architect-style development was set by Double Fine themselves, both in their hopes for its funding success and in the development plan they initially posted online. If you list features on your development plan, then no amount of “maybe possibly” caveats will stop people buying the game on the hopes those features inspire. That’s why you wrote them on your public development plan.

It’s also worth remembering that for all Prison Architect’s financial success, Introversion didn’t need it to earn that much in order to continue development. That it earned more than their previous four games combined in ten months of alpha funding was a pleasant surprise.

Schafer’s answers end with:

We have stumbled awkwardly through some new territory with this game, and in terms of early access communication we fell short. But we are still proud of the game in the end, and are happy to have it on the roster of Double Fine titles. I hope you are able to reserve judgment on version 1.0 until it comes out, and then enjoy it for the unique and entertaining experience that it is.

I hope the finished result is a good game, but hope also that this acts as a reminder to people of how important communication is in early access, where whether a game is “finished” is measured in degrees.

Still, I can’t find it in me to be angry over this. I feel only sadness, cast down in the flood of remembrance. I weep like a child for the past. Sometimes things go wrong, so buyer beware. My rule is to only buy Early Access games where the game is already fun to play, instead of based on any future promised feature. I do wonder though if Valve at least should lay out better guidelines for these situations, beyond the disclaimer that sits atop Early Access store pages. Should early adopters have any kind of contract with the creator of games in the way that Kickstarter recently outlined in their terms of use?

238 Comments

  1. Sheepdog says:

    It’s Lua not LUA.

    Also I never buy early access games for the same reason I’m not interested in betas, if I play a game in its half finished state I’ll never get around to playing it when it’s completed.
    It also makes me think of pre-order madness and marketing trumping quality.
    I’ll probably try this game out when they release 1.0 as it seems to be something I’d like, but it’s a shame they won’t get to ‘finish’ it.

  2. Osi says:

    I bought DF9.
    I played it for a while- it seemed kinda fun, but then became rather repetitious.
    I waited for new content and patches, but only mildly.
    Sometimes it wasn’t on my hard drive at all as my gaming drive is an SSD, so I only keep on there what I want to play, the rest is relegated to my NAS.

    I’m not upset- as far as I’m concerned it was a concept they couldn’t market because they didn’t have the bones to build it correctly in the first place. It is a genre they’re not experienced in.
    I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less, and those people didn’t even have the humility to communicate as much as DF have done in this case.

    Lastly, it’s early access. The second I authenticated with my payment gateway to give them money- I knew I’m rolling the dice as to whether I’ll get a good quality product or not.
    I could get something fabulous at a cheap price. I could get something dreadful at a comparatively high price. I could get nothing at all. I could get something else that I never expected.

  3. valz says:

    Hmm. I remember a time when ALL companies made games that people hadn’t paid for yet, because that’s how all products had always been made.

    That’s how economy usually works – you make something, then hope people will buy it after you’re done. Requiring that they buy it before it exists in order to decide to make it exist is sort of crazy, which might be part of why people seem to like early access. Quite weird, if you ask me.

    Double fine and other big-name (though not necessarily very successful) companies did fine without pre-selling games before…

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Maybe it looks that way from the outside but no, not really. In the decades the games industry has existed countless studios that have made some of the most beloved games in history have gone under because they were not “doing fine” at all and even the few that survived rarely got to work on the games they really wanted to make instead of whatever publishers decided was popular right now. THAT is why crowdfunded games are a thing. When it works, it means developers get to work on their dream project and players get to play the games that publishers told them they couldn’t have.

      • Dynamique says:

        In some way it’s funny how crowdfunding is contrasted with the “crowdpleasing” goal of major publishers. :-) Entusiast-made games for enthusiast players have a chance of becoming really great. But as both sides have the highest expectations and ambitions, development might fail terribly as well – burnout (not just financially), feature overstretch, etc. pp.

        With kickstarting and/or early accessing the term “release” gets a new meaning: As what you buy is not a “final” release that might get some patching, but the release is the thing-to-come – the backer/buyer now also claims the role of the publisher (not just one of ’em to deal with, now!). If release ever does come (the classical meaning being: there might be patches, bugfixes, an add-on or DLC – but this PRODUCT is kinda finished, we’ll turn to the next one). A PLAYABLE game beeing improved and expanded over years can be a really cool thing; but it doesn’t have to be. Then you need to finance on-going development. This might be difficult with ongoing sales of the base game only.

  4. BrainFlush says:

    “Tim Schafer On The End Of Tim Schafer.”

    Fixed the title.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Serious but highly speculative question: How much of this backlash is genuine (and somewhat justified) disappointment from players and how much is gamergaters feigning indignation just to have an excuse to attack Schafer some more for publicly speaking out against harassment?

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Wait, what? You may want to lay off the cocaine. It is making you paranoid.

      This is about Schafer screwing yet more investors over, nothing more, nothing less.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        Nice. I said it was speculation. Given the behaviour of some it’s really not much of a stretch. This reads less like frustrated customer and more like grudge. Oh and crowdfunding is not investment, sorry.

        One thing that suggests above is not the case is that people were already getting their panties in a twist for some reason over Broken Age going over budget and in two parts, on behalf of backers no less who were by and large mostly fine with it. (compare the reaction in backer comments to the reaction in press and outside comments)

        • P-Dizzle says:

          I understand that because he spoke out in favour of Anita Sarkeesian it means that you and the rest of your gang have to back him no matter what, but fortunately the rest of the world can see him as a shady business man who deserves the stick he gets.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Honestly, I’d forgotten he’d done that.

      In any event, I still agree with him there and he’s right in doing so.

      He’s just also a piss poor project manager and more than a little dodgy when it comes to this subject.

  6. hpr78 says:

    Dear Mr. Schafer,

    i recommend you “Small Business Financial Management Kit For Dummies”
    link to amazon.com

    and “At-A-Glance 5-Year Monthly Planner 2015, 9 x 11 Inches Page Size, Black Leathe”
    http://www.amazon.com/At—Glance-Monthly-Planner-7029605/dp/B00KIW4A2Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411458442&sr=8-1&keywords=5+year+planner

    In this you can write every day “How could i be so stupid and think i can sell such a game over 5 years and make much money with it?”.

    Good luck with your further projects and i hope (for your employees) that somebody buy them.

  7. Dynamique says:

    Sad story. Picked up Spacebase on a sale after the release of Alpha 6, feeling that the game had reached the stage of being somewhat playable (nice looks, improved features) while there were more things to come (“Hey, it’s Alpha 6 after all!”).

    Looks like there’s a fatal logic in the Earl-IEST Access Model of Financing: Buyers are attracted with a bet on the future, yet jumping on the train too early seems risky for many potential players – especially if they HAVE seen promising Early Access titles fail. Joining too late then might stop the train from catching drift…

  8. presence says:

    Had to cancel game development because the funds received during the development period didn’t cover costs…man what a douche. Is he new or something?

  9. vorador says:

    Bought the game about a year ago when it was on offer. Played it and it was a buggy mess with not much to do, but it had potential.

    The problem IMHO is that Double Fine only worked on it based on the profit it brought, when it should have been backwards. If you keep working on it, it will reach the point of people paying for it. But you can’t expect people to buy a game that not only is unfinished, but also rarely receiving updates.

    Sad to see Schafer doing this.

  10. Toupee says:

    Everyone keeps talking about the logistics of this game’s development.

    Man, I dunno. This game just seems BORING, especially for Double Fine’s standards. I know this is pre-Early Access, but I followed it pretty closely during the first public Amnesia Fortnight and played the prototype enough to know that this game didn’t really have a very interesting direction. For me, at least. And I like trying a wide variety of games.

    Sure, there are nice little nuances here and there, and yeah, it looks like they came a long way in fleshing it out. But I still honestly have no desire to play this game. And I probably never will unless it becomes part of a humble bundle or something down the road.

    Double Fine, Tim, I love your stuff, but I’m glad to hear you’re moving on from this project. And fucking awesome of you to open-source it. Now that’s badass!

    In my opinion, they’ve made the best decision they could in the face of lower-than-hoped-for sales.

  11. happycakes says:

    “The issue was that hundreds of features that had previously been listed as “maybe possibly” coming to the game were no longer to going to be delivered, replaced instead with the release of the game’s LUA codebase so the community could add content themselves.”

    This statement is what really annoys me about RPS, it’s total misunderstanding of issues that gamers have. It’s almost like we’re aliens to you guys.

    It has nothing to do with not being able to implement every promise, ok, maybe that’s some part of it, but it’s more of a point of attack to us, to point out how far on the road they had left to go and are jumping ship now, the fact that they promised the world and didn’t deliver isn’t the be all and end all of our issues, after all we’ve all bought a fable game at least once, or something else by Peter Molyneux.. It’s about canning development midway through alpha, it’s about the lack of communication between them and us about the situation, and it’s also about the fact that they have been pulling some shoddy practices like throwing the game on sale when they know it’s going to get canned.

    “Double Fine, Tim, I love your stuff, but I’m glad to hear you’re moving on from this project. And fucking awesome of you to open-source it. Now that’s badass!”

    This is also bullshit to me, if they were really being awesome they’d give the stupid game away for free, instead we do the work and they get the profit. I bought the damn game and I wish they’d give it out for free because it’s unethical to keep selling a game that other people are developing. And the small amount of people who would be butthurt because they paid for a game that became free would get over it and double fine would garner far more fans and goodwill. But alas, fuck you.

  12. RegisteredUser says:

    I think a highly important thing to ask here is “How far can this go from 1.0 if the sales come in?”
    Why wasn’t this a question or issue brought up?
    If development was basically roughly financed as-is, and there is still the whole actual “final release” sales-tail to come, that would mean there’s new money and maybe even eventual profit.
    Granted, that normally should be used for making actual new games, but in this particular case it feels a bit like there’s a promise to be kept.
    Also I hope they lay out interfaces and document formats well so that the community can run with this.

    • D1RTYL0G1C says:

      The problem was, not enough money was generated to justify a beta release prior to 1.0. Once it’s 1.0 the only dev support will be bug fixes, not releases. Unless someone wants to kickstart a campaign to support this project directly for the money required or a dev that has the time to do so, but can’t because of the funds required to survive.

  13. D1RTYL0G1C says:

    To those of you that excessively bitch or feel the need to bash someone for a game you purchased, the fact remains that the features listed said “maybe”. It is not their fault, that you didn’t purchase this game, nor is it their fault that you didn’t recommend this game to a good number of people. Do you think your whiny complaints on Stream and negative feedback helped your cause whatsoever? Perhaps, if you’d realized the work that goes into ta game like this, you would have received a beta copy with more features added, and further down the road next year the full release. Plenty of games are in pre-release status for quite some time, and that’s really just the way it goes. Fixing bugs can be even more problematic when you’re dealing with a team, rather than developing a shittier game by one developer that you’d be happy to praise for the most insignificant improvements. Get off your high horses and learn to code yourself. I’ll be happy to put in all of the fixes myself modded just for you wastes of space if you want to pony up $130,000 for a year of my time. Go blow a goat.

  14. djskagnetti says:

    He wept like a child for the past
    Your arguments are invalid.

  15. Mescale says:

    I paid for this game.

    The reason why was because I thought Double fine games were cool, I thought they wouldn’t just come out and see if they could make money based on promises and potential.

    The game was really really bad, flawed from the start, to actually do many of the things they wanted to it really needed a complete re-write.

    Instead of thinking about creating an engine they could make the game in, they decided to make some thing that looked ‘cool’ and then put an engine under it.

    The ui was all flashy effects, but no thought, it was a nightmare of tunnelling into one mysteruious menu, then out again then in again, each time having to experience the awful aesthetic of fancy flashing menus, it got old fast.

    It was like a really badly done sim tower, only in space.

    and I stopped following it, maybe it got better, I doubt it.

    The failure here is that double fine, aren’t nice guys after all, they’re just like everyone else, this wasn’t a legit attempt to make a game, this was a legit attempt to make money from a early access idea. It was an attempt to become the next notch, the next minecraft the next space bound the next…

    But those games had something, before you ponied up, this game had nothing after you had.

    Like mr man says, I’m not angry, I’m just dissapointed and sad. Like an adult who has to discipline his child without beating him, because they made it illegal, Double fine, I’m not angry, just dissapointed, and sad.

    • D1RTYL0G1C says:

      Some of you guys are just full of it. You have no clue how much work goes into a game and perhaps had you given it better reviews based on the actual gameplay and not the missing features, DoubleFine would have been able to make enough sales to continue production. You have no clue how much time and effort goes into a video game period much less something like this. I don’t blame DoubleFine at all. They were investing their own money into this game because of low sales. I blame the idiots that continued to bitch and write bad reviews rather than support the damn game so we could get the features we wanted. Now that the source is opening we have the opportunity to do this ourselves and I would be more than willing to do so myself if I had some support on a kickstarter project or something of that nature. Maybe I’ll do it for free if I can find the time, but you the users really piss me off. You ruined this.

      • Mescale says:

        I have plenty of idea of what goes into a computer game.

        But just because someone puts effort into something doesn’t mean its worth doing.

        In the real world of games, where people actually have to make money, before they start making a game, they try and make sure it works, because if they don’t they lose money.

        How they do this is they make sure they have a market, they have an idea with an audience to buy, they make a feature list they can make using the money they know they have, and the resources they have, and as they develop the game they make sure it is shaping up correctly, to a schedule.

        Then they make the game. And if they are good at what they do they sell it and make a proft.

        This game was made backwards.

        Instead of looking if it was feasible to do before making it, they decided to make it, and find out later if it was feasible.

        Turned out not, they lost money.

        The problem is not that people didn’t worship them and give them lots of money, the problem is that someone at double fine made a bad decision, to, on the reputation of double fine games, to float an idea, that was not about making good games, but about making phat loot. And it just didn’t pan out.

        And you, the staunch supporter!

        Good work,

        Yes, if only people had given it good reviews, but they didn’t, because it wasn’t good. And so it didn’t succeed, because it was not designed to succeed. There was no check against it to see if it would work, because it used a backwards idea of game creation, with the idea of we hope this goes well and people buy it a lot.

        And you, great one, would continue to make the game, if people paid you lots of money, as you say, if people will give you money for promises already broken.

        Good luck with that. If it was a matter of giving people more money to complete, I think you’ll find double fine would do that just double fine.

        The reason why you are so angry is nothing to do with the customers, the people who paid Double Fine money. The problem is with Double fine. Doublefine, chose to follow a completely experimental way of funding and making a game which had no real way to check its development. It was an experiment, in game and money making. It failed.

        The reason you are angry is because you wanted it to work, you wanted the game to be great, you wanted double fine to make a double fine game, and you put your heart and soul into it. You put more into it than double fine put into it, more than it deserved.

        But it wasn’t a double fine game, it didn’t work, its ok, sometimes things don’t work out.

        No you need to let go, this game is not what it could have been, but you know, it never would have been.

        Sometimes when companies do projects they don’t work.

        And someone has to say, this isn’t working, and pull the plug.

        It takes a brave man to do so.

        If only they had done so earlier.

        And here is the problem. Early access does not encourage such correct thinking. It does not encourage, making a game that will work, that is made to work, and that will not cause a loss.

        There is a hope that people will keep buying. That it will turn out, if they get a bit more cash, it will turn out OK.

        This isn’t sensible thinking that makes money, it is magical thinking that loses it.

        Case in Point Double Fine games and Space Base DF9, Magical thinking that lost Double Fine money. Also lost Double Fine reputation.

        Also upset a lot of Fans.

        I’m sorry Double Fine upset you with the way they made the game, I don’t think they really planned it to happen this way, its just they didn’t really plan, and it turned out this way.

        So in the end, you can’t be angry, just sad.

        But it is the reason why you are angry, and I am sad.