Crowdfunding Shenanigans – The Double Fine Case

In the gaming industry, perhaps more than any other, Crowdfunding has become commonplace. Every week, if not every day, we hear of a new project on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any other platform for anything from a point & click adventure game to a full-blown MMO.

Yet I’m curious when I see developers returning to crowdfunding platforms after incredibly successful games and campaigns. Particular among those, and the reason I thought of this piece, is Tim Schafer and Double Fine. My concern is this: when does crowdfunding stop being a necessity and becomes a sleazy easy-money scheme?

This would’ve come easily even without the crowdfunding! (Image Credit: Windows Central)

Double Fine isn’t the only company out there double dipping into crowdfunding sources, but it is the most infamous at this point with three consecutive and highly successful crowdfunding campaigns and millions of units sold. You’re probably wondering why I said three. That’s because there have been three in total: Broken Age, Psychonauts 2 and between those there was Massive Chalice, a strategy game released in 2015 somewhat quietly compared to Broken Age.

Even at the time of their massively successfully Broken Age campaign, Double Fine was already an established and successfully studio. Psychonauts (through digital sales), Brutal Legend, Costume Quest and the Ron Gilbert designed The Cave, along with titles to publishers like Microsoft and Warner Bros. had already made them a substantial amount of money. Worth noting is that the porting cost for at least one of those games came from third party investors.

Massive chalice was their second crowdfunded game. (Image Credit: Winter is Coming)

But still, at the time, there could’ve been a need for crowd funding, to reach out to the community, drawn in by the Schafer name, to give Double Fine the money they needed for Broken Age. But since then they’ve gone on to release Broken Age, Massive Chalice, Costume Quest 2 and Grim Fandango Remastered. At this point in time, they are one of the most successful adventure developers out there, so any crowd funding is not for developments costs, it’s not because they absolutely need it. It’s because they can have it. Because they know that fans of Psychonauts, of Day of The Tentacle and Full Throttle will throw cash at them to see these games made a reality. And don’t think that the announcement of these remasters wasn’t a clever ploy to bring attention and money to their crowd funding campaign. They were delivered at the right time to create the idea that Psychonauts 2 needed to happen for these two to also come out.

You might argue that at least Double Fine delivers on their promises and I’ll offer Spacebase DF-9 as a counter-example. Spacebase spent over a year in Early Access status on Steam until 2014 when Double Fine announced they’d be moving to a full release with the game as it was until then, releasing the Lua code for the community to work on it if they wanted to—which they have. This decision, based on poor Early Access sales, was met with considerable backlash, as people felt cheated on paying for an early access for a game that wouldn’t be finished and which hasn’t. A concern at the time was how their failure, one from a very well-known brand, to deliver a product on the Early Access platform would affect people’s views on the platform itself. I am not a big fan of Early Access, and I’ve mentioned it in the past, but it’s scary to think that this decision to abandon a project based on low sales of an alpha-version could have had a massively negative impact on hundreds of other projects.

An Early Access game completely abandoned. You want it? You finish it! (Image Credit: Linux Game Database)

Here’s my take on things. Double Fine doesn’t ever need to do another crowd funding campaign, least of all with the tiny effort they put into them.While other indies kill themselves to deliver an alpha product to their campaigns so people have something to see, as crowds flee projects with something to show, Double Fine gets away with a trailer, some behind the scenes videos of older projects, a few pieces of concept art and Tim Schafer vlogs. That’s because they’re not selling the game but the star attraction, Tim Schafer himself.

Double Fine has the team and the resources, which they even mention in their campaign videos as “External Partners.” At their level they can have pretty much anything they want. The ethical thing would be for them not to do more campaigns. But they will continue to do so because it works, because they know their fans and those of the games they remaster will gladly give the money to see those titles on their Steam libraries.

But don’t be fooled into thinking they need the crowd funding campaign. They’re not a small team working their butts off while working day jobs, but a highly successfully and profitable business that sees an easy way to score some extra money.

What do you think? Is it ok for Double Fine to keep on creating and blasting through crowdfunding campaigns? Or is it about time they left these platforms for the people who really need it?

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

5 thoughts on “Crowdfunding Shenanigans – The Double Fine Case”

  1. I personally have massive problems with big companies doing this… Now, a website/company like Oatmeal, intriguingly, I am okay with using the platform and I’ll explain the difference here.

    With Double Fine being a well received, well recognised company already, it is hard for me to imagine they would be in financial difficulty. If they were, I’d want to know why they were in trouble. I don’t back a campaign “because it sounds good”, I certainly don’t back a campaign as a “pre-purchase”.

    Couple this with the fact that Double Fine were approached by Notch to help make this game, you’re looking at some AMAZING talent who could have worked together. They said no. They got a random partner… ((AND maybe or maybe not Notch, but they won’t say.)) Now they ask us to pay them to develop it? What..?

    Now, let’s move over to another big company who used it and did it well: The Oatmeal. They created Exploding Kittens, you may have heard of it. This is a card game, a physical game they had to get printed and the likes. They explained why they used Kickstarter – Distribution and manufacturing costs. That’s understandable. They had never dipped their toes into the well of making a game before, so they knew it was a risk, but they gave it a go.

    They used their creativity to make something that’s not what they normally do… and it proved to be hilarious. Psychonauts 2, whilst a game many people want to see, is not something they’d struggle to bring to market without fans. I’m disappointed in Double Fine. Leave Kickstarter for the smaller companies, or the people starting new ventures. Don’t do it to fund what you’re already well established for. That’s just looking for money before you do something: I call that scrounging.

    1. Yeah, Psychonauts 2, even without the crowdfunding campaign would sell millions. There is very little risk involved, especially when you’re padding the coffers with remasters to games people adore.

      This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of our mutual friends from another site some time ago. They stated remakes posed very little risk for the company, as the fans would come and get it. That is what Double Fine is doing. It’s making tons of money off remakes and still asking fans to give out more.

      Personally, one thing I thoroughly dislike in all of this is that they don’t even put in the effort to create a good campaign. There is no alpha demo there to show what could be, there is no roug gameplay video. There are 4 concept art pics, one for every character, and about 4 videos of Tim Schafer talking with his team about their development of the original Psychonauts with some mention of the new ones and shots of Maya or 3DS Max models in the background.

      Other crowdfunders break their backs to have something to show, because they know that just telling investors what they’re going to do is worthless. You need to show. But that doesn’t seem to apply to Double Fine because in the end they’re not selling their game, they’re selling their image, their star power.

  2. Kickstarter is being abused by certain companies who are using it as a pre-order scheme were they get to make games with no financial risk. That Spacebase example sounds really bad. Sadly gamers have short memories and continue to give cash to developers that have screwed them in the past.

    1. Perhaps more than anyone else, we fall fo the lure of “the Celebrity.” Gamers idolise their favourite developer or designers, and will do their best to excuse their behaviour and still support them!

      Also, you have a fantastic point: we do have very short memory!

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