In Defense of Double Fine’s Broken Age
July 4, 2013
Tim Schafer announced that Double Fine’s Kickstarter game now known as Broken Age won’t ship on time, it had to be split in half, and that they’re on a trajectory so that the $3.3 million in donations won’t cut it (and a good rule of thumb to remember is that $330k went to KS and another $660k goes to the cost of manufacturing and shipping donor gifts leaving $2.3 million to make the game). Am I worried yet? No. Is this a fiasco? Nope. Not yet anyways.
Being late is the norm in game development. While it’s still a let down to give an audience an estimated delivery date, I’ve never worked on anything great that delivered late where people remembered if it was late. They only remember if it was bad. If the Kickstarter donors feel bad about getting a great game late, think of how much worse it would be to get a bad game on time and on budget. Schafer is making the right sacrifices as an artistic game designer, and we should be encouraging him to double down, not second guess himself. His business practices aren’t dishonest, he’s going late and over budget in the most ethical way possible… designing a game that is admittedly too huge.
Failure in games are almost standard procedure. Making a game is like pouring cement around jelly to find it’s form. It’s hard to imagine anything concrete at the start, and with $3.3 million to dream big, I could easily have made the same mistake. “What CAN’T we make for that amount of money?!” Suddenly, every decision becomes a “yes” instead of a “no.” But when an artist is getting permission to say “yes” by funding, it’s a liberating feeling.
Reality is unfortunately expensive, cumbersome and difficult to navigate compared to dreaming big. But every game ever made begins with a lot of optimism and dreaming and ends in cruel beta-testing, bug fixing and red alert problem solving. Finishing a game is a white-knucked experience, often full of fighting and tears as an exhausted team have spent all they have left. We sacrifice our family relationships, sometimes friendships and it’s all because games are just flat out hard to make, even for seasoned veterans like the Double Fine gang.
People outside of games are understandably upset, but don’t likely have an accurate view of what’s happening on the inside of Double Fine. I don’t know of many people working in games who are criticizing Schafer, it’s nearly all coming from the outside. Those working in games largely have compassion and understanding for what they’re going through. I say, “You can do it! It’s worth your fight! Make a fist and do it!” But it’s not the critics or gaming press that concerns me, it’s the donors that have me concerned.
Kickstarter Backers are a unique institution. I’ve had a lot of fans support my work, but the Kickstarter donors are just a different kind of fan. They’re philanthropic and more charitable than the average fan. They are full of faith and hope and put their good money into trusting others. As an artist working in mass media, that trust is sacred to us. We give a pitch that has no monetary value, and they put in dollar one of real money. If a bunch of Broken Age backers lose hope or worse, feel burned by the process, then it will damage the spirit of the Kickstarter backer. And we all need to maintain their enthusiasm, not only for Schafer’s game but for countless other games being aimed at Kickstarter right now. Just like I encourage Schafer to keep fighting for his game, I encourage the donors to keep fighting for what Kickstarter stands for in games. Kickstarter can’t fail. We can’t let it fail or the bad guys, the anti artists, will win.
So far, the Double Fine backers are hanging tough… and it’s a credit to their generosity and vision. I know from my own successful campaign for the Sketchbook Archives that treating backers as full fledged team members, instead of mere consumers, always produces better results. They don’t betray you for being transparent about the good and the bad news regarding the project.
As for our own game Armikrog, we’re doubly cautious about our funding and our game design. But like all game development, the problem we’re going to face toward the end is unknown to us. I only know that something always does come up that shakes our confidence and seems insurmountable. But we’re in good company with every other art project that ever needed real life funding to get made. Kickstarter is still liquid magic in a bottle, and Broken Age’s very normal problems don’t change that fact.
Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” and I wouldn’t bet my money against Schafer… he had the good eye to support Armikrog, after all! Let’s play the game when it comes out and judge his decisions based on that. If the game is terrible then we can talk about who let who down. But if it’s got scope, vision and wonder then how can we criticize that?!