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?! 

15 Responses to “In Defense of Double Fine’s Broken Age”

  1. wolfkin Says:

    I’ve never worked on anything great that delivered late where people remembered if it was late. They only remember if it was bad.

    quite simply this. I never understand why people get twisted over delays. Some games I WANTED to get delayed like Smash Bros Brawl. I kept hoping that game would get delayed and Nintendo would patch online so that we use a single unified friend code rather than game specific ones.. Other games like The Last Guardian I’m more worried about. But a delay itself isn’t the end of the world.

  2. Jack Dandy Says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    As a backer of DF, I was a bit upset about it, but not enough to completely shake my belief in KS (mainly since we already got a bunch of excellent, finished games because of it).
    But I see people around the internet who seem to have a distinct bias against KickStarter in general, and take any opportunity they can to fling crap at it and the people who use it. I don’t know if it’s a bunch of corporate PR shills, or simply people who think they “figured it all out” and want to educate the “suckers”. But this latest situation has been a goldmine for them and it’s a damned shame.

    I can only hope:
    1. Schafer and his team have the vision and skill to prove everyone wrong, and come up with an excellent game despite the financial set backs.

    2. Many other Kickstarter game projects start popping up \ showing progress, to show that this system is legit.

  3. asd Says:

    After watching that episode I said “who cares? in a year, no one will remember and no one will care as long as the game will turn out good.”

  4. obvioustwoll Says:

    You’re in good company, Doug. That’s essentially Shigeru Miyamoto’s design philosophy – a good game might be delayed for a couple months, or even years; it’s scope might change, elements of its design might not be what they were initially envisioned to be… but a bad game is bad forever.

  5. corykerr466 Says:

    As a DF kickstarter backer, I’m not surprised or disappointed that this game will be late. As a backer of 39 projects so far, I can say that I’m usually disappointed when the creators choose the deadline over finishing the project well. OUYA is a great example of this. They technically shipped on time and shouldn’t have. It WILL be a great console, but they shipped it on time with a bunch of bugs and hardware problems to the detriment of the project. Had they fixed these sbd shipped it late, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.
    The other thing that DF has done is total transparency with their project, warts and all. They’ve even produced a episodic documentary showing the struggles and successes they’re having. In these episodes, they clearly discussed the financial issues and deadline problems months before this announcement. I have no doubt that it’ll be a great game and I’ll enjoy it when they finish it well.

    • SD Says:

      I agree on both counts. I’m pretty happy with my OUYA console, and feel that it’s practically *made* for old-school point-n-click adventure games… they’re low resource users (even with 2D lighting/reflection effects), and the interface lines up wonderfully with traditional controls. D-pad walks the character around, right thumbstick does the pointing, buttons do the clicking (at least four actions that way). Dead simple. The shoulder buttons can cycle throught the inventory. I’ll be happy to see & play lots of adventure games on it.

      That said… I’m a backer who received my console very early (for various reasons), and let me just say that the earlier you received it, the more you suffered. The first three or four firmwares I had on it were tragically flawed in so many ways. The first was worse than any review you’ve read (all the reviewers seemed to have at least one revision later than the first one I used). But now, since I had switched to PC gaming many years ago, and do not own any current gen consoles (or the gen before now), it’s the one box hooked to the TV, and it’s a big hit with the family. The quirky, fun indie games it has are pretty fun and interesting, and have broad appeal. It is an unregulated indie market, so I do have to screen all the games first, but this is not a chore (good parenting in general, I dare say). It provides a good excuse to rip through half a dozen weird and awesome indie games per sitting… for the good of the family of course :-)

      I think I was pretty set up to accept a Broken Age delay, but the sad part was that the budget had gone from $4.5M in the documentary episode released around the holidays, to a whopping $6M. It looks like Justin’s heroic efforts to bring millions of dollars into the company has extended the budget to the end of the year, but then they’ll need another million dollars to complete the second act of the game. I really hope that Steam Early Access can raise a million dollars for them… but it does worry me that the full vision might not see the light of day.

      • tennapel Says:

        The “full vision” is never the full vision. This is where the transparency of Double Fine acts as a double edged sword. They’re showing you things they’re developing that might have to be cut for scheduling problems or budgetary problems, which is part of the process of every game that has ever been made. It’s true for Broken Age at a 400k budget, and it’s true for Broken Age at a $6 million dollar budget.

        You and I both know that they can cut and gut all kinds of stuff out of the game that might not be up to par or too expensive to finish and we could still get a huge sprawling gaming experience. What do we get for our $25 donation? A whole dang lot more than we got buying a retail copy of a game in 1996 for $65. What we need is for all of the current Kickstarter backers to promote the online sales of the game (I know I’ll be buying a copy or two) so that everyone’s game gets better. 90k donors is one heck of a marketing force.

  6. m60dk Says:

    As a backer of Broken Age, I really want the best for the game. If that includes delaying it or splitting it into two, I encourage it. I didn’t preorder a game for a set date. I helped finance a project under the lead of Double Fine, and that’s what I’m getting.
    Same with Armikrog, if during development the game turns out to cost more and take more time than initially expected, I’d rather that you try and get that time and money, than sacrifice the vision.

  7. No Backer Says:

    By the way:
    What about funding for your own project?
    You promised Paypal funding, when your kickstarter is safed.
    But now, there are two weeks after the kickstarter and Paypal still isn’t avaiable…

    Aren’t you aware, that you lose lots of possible Paypal backers (and money!) because of this?
    The project keeps losing backer interest each day! People, who looked for a few days for paying won’t do this again.

  8. pip25 Says:

    I am a backer of the project in question, and I feel (at least some of) the criticism directed towards Double Fine is misunderstood here.
    Delays are irrelevant. Once the Kickstarter total has been determined, it immediately became obvious that the original estimates (which were for a small, Flash-like game) can be thrown out the window. I, for one, do not care when the release will be. It’s done when it’s done.
    The problem here lies in the finances. Yes, budget and schedule problems have been mentioned in earlier documentaries as well, but have been dismissed by the devs as something that can be handled by some moderate trimming of the scope and by using some of the studio’s own income from other games.
    This apparently, did not prove to be enough. Even this, I believe, is completely understandable. I don’t think we would have had this sort of uproar if Tim would have said that they need to cut a bit more stuff.
    What we were told instead, however, was that to stay within the constraints of the budget (and regrettably it has never been made clear whether this is the Kickstarter budget or the enlarged one with DF’s own money) 75 PERCENT of the game would have to be cut.
    This is, frankly, a bit hard to swallow, especially considering the fact that they realize this only when the project is already so far ahead. Or are you saying that miscalculating your budget by four times is common among video games? If it truly is, then, I’m sorry to say, shame on you. Any IT project I work on would ask for four times as much money, we would be eaten alive – and no, game-making is not the only creative process in the industry. Projects get delayed and go overbudget all the time, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should simply shrug, or even worse, take an aggressive stance and say “So what, that’s completely normal for games!” It’s not normal! Perhaps typical, perhaps a common curse for all such projects, but not normal. It’s not something to be proud of, it’s something we should learn from.
    We should learn from it especially because I agree, the crowdfunding of games needs to succeed. It would be a huge opportunity wasted if it didn’t. But for that to happen, game devs need to learn to be more careful with the money they’re given, even when the publisher isn’t breathing down their neck. You can’t ask for more money from Kickstarter backers (well, I guess you can, but it seriously undermines your credibility). They might back projects publishers won’t touch, but the money they give you – that’s more or less all you will have to work with.
    So, do I support Double Fine in their quest to find a solution? HELL YES. Cut it to ribbons, split it into gazillion parts, do whatever you can to somehow ship this project, I’m with you all the way. I’m actually fully prepared to buy the game again when it comes out, my original pledge be damned. But does Double Fine also deserve some heat for letting the situation get this far? HELL YES. Their actions have put the game, and by extension the funding model into danger and the projects that come after should learn from their mistakes. Only then will Kickstarted games have a chance to be truly successful.

    • tennapel Says:

      I’m with you on buying another copy of the game, but I still can’t say that as a backer this is any kind of problem.

      Wait until the game is done. All worrying and opinions on how they got to that end are premature until we see how that game plays. Period. Games are not about the ethics of the person making them any more than it’s about what color of a car they drive, it’s about the game. If I donated $25 for a simple $400k flash game and I get a $6.3 million dollar game that got cut by 75% I’m still getting a $1.5 million dollar game, three times more than what I was promised and what I paid for with a donation.

      The reason why we have to wait until the game comes out is because if you still feel let down for paying $25 to Double Fine, then you have a case. But it’s really none of my business make judgments beyond just my donation. He could have taken every dollar about 400k and bought a hot rod with it and he would still be honoring my contract if he delivered a good game. THe fact that he blew up a game beyond even his own imagination could afford and didn’t buy a hot rod goes to show how much he’s into making a game. He’s making mistakes in all of the right directions. I’ll wait and see what we get in the end if there was something far below what I was expecting for my money. I have confidence that won’t be the case. It’s gonna be an awesome game that I got for a pretty thin donation.

      • pip25 Says:

        Oh, but I have no doubt that it will be a great game – IF it ever gets released in full. It’s not so obvious anymore because from what I can gather they will try to fund the second part of the game from the sales of the first, and as much as I think the game will be great, I cannot speak for everyone (especially non-backers) and their own personal tastes.
        The problem is not about how good the game will be, but whether Double Fine’s mistakes (with the best intentions, no doubt about it) will cause the project to collapse. Then we would be left with just half of a great game, and that would be sad indeed. (Not to mention all the negative press for crowdfunding.)
        That said, as far as I’m concerned I’ll try everything in my ability to keep that from happening, and I’m sure the people at DF will do the same – but maybe it’d be nice if we could try to avoid this whole thing the next time, for instance with Massive Chalice. If this will happen to every video game Kickstarter (or just every second or every third one), then we have some dark times ahead of us I’m afraid.

      • obvioustwoll Says:

        @pip I’m concerned about the consequences for kickstarter’s credibility if the game doesn’t succeed too. However, I would say that we need to keep a little perspective on what it means for Schafer to say at this point that 75% of their ideas have to go. Doug’s talked about this a couple times recently but the completed Neverhood project comprised only about a third of the ideas they had for the game. It still ended up being a complete game in its own right. Schafer has talked about the possibility of making it a two- (or multi-) part game so that a lot of the concepts end up getting used, but to me that’s just a different approach to zeroing in on the final scope of a work-in-progress. Either way, some significant portion of those concepts don’t end up in the final game, but it may end up as a complete project in its own right. DF are an ambitious bunch and that has translated into a misfire or two (I still like Brutal Legend myself), but for me their portfolio of completed projects affords them my benefit of the doubt.

  9. I’ve been through the same things, but in a lot smaller scale…
    And I’ve went through the hardest time of my life, and this is how:
    Well, my mom went for a relocation to a foreign country… I had to come with her, and I learnt in an international school, which was private and all… My family isn’t rich, but her company funded my education.
    In IT class, we learnt how to code… After learning all the coding we needed to, I dreamed big of making a video game. Everyone did it because they were told to make one, but I made it for the fun of it… If I didn’t have a deadline, I would have made it a lot better!
    And we even had to post our projects on some vlog type site.
    I had worked everyday on the game, but I didn’t make enough progress for such a large game… I had to start working very late, it came to the point that the only things I did out of school was sleep and code. I even ate while coding, taking no breaks…
    The game was really large!
    I started completing sleep time while on the school bus.
    I would have had a lot of fun with the game if I didn’t have these requirements and limitations.
    A little later than the dead line, I finished the game… The farther you progress in the game, the lower the experience is… It was notable that I did a rush job, which still took me a lot of time and a lot of effort.
    When I finished the game, I tried to post it on the vlog type site for my teacher to see… And guess what? You can’t import files over 20 bytes… I went WAY over the limits… For NOTHING!
    My teacher didn’t even see the complete product…
    After all, I’m not very proud of the final product, because then again – it was rushed.
    I got really dissapointed, but at least my final grades were 6 out of 6 (and 7 is something that you only get if you were the best student). It turns out my friend copied all of the coding from some guy on the internet and just changed the template of the characters and he got a 7…

    Was it worth it? No!
    Did I learn something? How to code! :D

  10. MichaelPalin Says:

    I see this problem with delays from a different angle. For me the problem is making the release date public at all. I’d go as far as to say that there should not be any information about games until they are released (not possible with publicly funded games, though), but, at least, you should wait until the game is gold to announce its release date. How is that so difficult to do?

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