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Kickstarting Reality: Broken Age Shows Players the Reality of Game Development

Double Fine's trials and tribulations with Broken Age aren't isolated incidents in the game industry.

Article by Mike Williams, .

Sometime last night, Double Fine president Tim Schafer sent a message to backers of the Double Fine Adventure game on Kickstarter, letting them know that plans had changed. The game, now known as Broken Age, had already missed its original launch window of October 2012, but Schafer explained that crunching the numbers had shown the full title would launch in 2015.

"We looked into what it would take to finish just first half of our game—Act 1. And the numbers showed it coming in July of next year. Not this July, but July 2014. For just the first half. The full game was looking like 2015! My jaw hit the floor," he wrote in the update, which is posted in full on Kotaku.

The problem? It seems Schafer was unable to fit his vision within the constraints of the $3.3 million raised in the Kickstarter drive.

"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," wrote Schafer. "There’s just a certain amount of scope needed to create a complex puzzle space and to develop a real story. At least with my brain, there is."

"There’s just a certain amount of scope needed to create a complex puzzle space and to develop a real story. At least with my brain, there is."

- Double Fine's Tim Schafer

So now the team at Double Fine are turning to Steam Early Access for further funding. The first act of the game will be sold through Early Access in January of 2014, with backers getting free access to the game at the same time. Then the second act of the game will follow in April or May of the same year. Like Telltale's episodic games, the second half is free if you've purchased the game.

Schafer recently tweeted that Double Fine is using its "own money to deliver a bigger game than we Kickstarted." Which is true. The part of the funding will be Double Fine's, but Schafer's own previous statement on Kickstarter paints a clearer picture.

"You guys have been been very generous in the tip jar (thanks!) but this is a larger sum of money we were talking about. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough," he stated. "We were always planning to release the beta on Steam, but in addition to that we now have Steam Early Access, which is a new opportunity that actually lets you charge money for pre-release content. That means we could actually sell this early access version of the game to the public at large, and use that money to fund the remaining game development."

So the studio does need more beyond the $3.3 million already pledged, and while some of that money will come from within Double Fine, the rest will be coming from new buyers on Steam Early Access. The Double Fine Adventure originally asked for $400,000 with a release date in October 2012. It hit $3.3 million, but now the complete game isn't expected until May 2014 at the latest. The whole situation has some fans wondering if publishers aren't an important part of the industry.

Especially since one publisher already struck out at Double Fine legally for going over budget and over deadline. Back in June 2009, Activision sued Double Fine over Brutal Legend. Activision claimed that it had given Double Fine $15 million, only to have Double Fine later come back asking for $7 million and another nine-month extension. When a deal couldn't be sorted out, Activision declined to publish the game, so Double Fine took it to EA. Both parties eventually settled the matter, but it's clear that Double Fine's been on this rodeo before.

Double Fine's adventure ambitions outstripped their earlier intentions and final budget. But the honest truth is this happens a lot in game development, and this is one of the first times when fans had a significant enough stake to take notice. The general perception is it's the greedy publishers holding back the creatives, but people forget that sometimes the creatives need some structure to prevent them from running wild.

The magic costs money.

There are ways around some of these issues, like a stronger pre-planning phase, cost-analysis, and the realization that sometimes the sky is the limit. Even then, things happen. Blizzard recently went back to the drawing board on its next MMO, code-named Titan. The game's been a thing since 2007, and some of that development time and cost has now been wasted, but the game will still need to recover those costs in sales when it comes out. Take ten people who make the average US salary of $42,000 a year, have them work on idea for a month, and you'll be still be out $35,000 if that idea doesn't pan out. And that doesn't cover all the things that go into office space, like rent, electricity, heating, and internet. All gone for an idea that didn't work. That's game development.

"This is game development and some games are made with under half the budget, some are made that need double the budget."

- Vlambeer's Rami Ismail.

I understand the fans who are pausing at the news. Kickstarter backers are still getting their game, but fans now know a bit more about the reality of game budgets and some are realizing that this shit is crazy at times. Vlambeer strategic director Rami Ismail wrote about the same topic in a post on his personal blog.

"There’s no doubt that overscoping is a problem and there’s no doubt the responsibility is on Tim and his team," he wrote. "Here’s the deal, though: this is game development and some games are made with under half the budget, some are made that need double the budget. Double Fine set out to make a game with eight times the budget we had on some of our titles and suddenly had to re-scope when Kickstarter expectations were they were going to release a game that’s worth three million dollars. Instead of holding back, they are trying to give every single one of their backers the maximum amount of game for their money. Kickstarter has some weird quirks to it and overfunding combined with consumer expectations seems like one of the most devious ones."

As I was writing this, I started in one mindset and ended in another. I felt Double Fine had screwed up (still true) and they're now running towards fans to scoop themselves out of a jam (somewhat). But after looking deeper, I realigned a bit towards the reality of this industry. Whether the money is coming from a publisher or fan backers, the outcome can still be the same. It's all a big guessing game and sometimes feast will kill you just as well as famine.

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for kyleyadlosky64 #1 kyleyadlosky64 4 years ago
    This is a scary situation. It makes me wonder if they wouldn't have been better off if they just ignored the extra money and focused on making the $400,000 game they originally envisioned.

    It's also a little suspect that they waited to put this news out until their other Kickstarter had finished.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #2 pjedavison 4 years ago
    Overstretching is a reality of game development. Sometimes you have to either take extra time, or make the hard decision to cut stuff. Schafer is the sort of person who likes to realize his vision, whatever it takes.

    It's a shame that things haven't gone quite according to plan for them, but it's worth noting that this doesn't affect existing backers in any way other than the release date. And you get to play half the game considerably earlier than you would presumably have been able to were this not in place.

    Even so, all this is likely proving to be a wake-up call for Kickstarter supporters. It's easy to get sucked in by the relentless optimism and positivity of a well-crafted funding drive, but things rarely run as smoothly as we'd like them to.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 4 years ago
    @kyleyadlosky64 Yeah, the $400,000 game would have been a different title and there's always that wonder if fans will react negatively if they don't feel you used all the money.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #4 Shinta 4 years ago
    The title of the game is particularly amusing now. That Schafer, what a funny guy.

    I think fans have every right to be upset. It shows that he cannot manage budget effectively, despite getting 800%+ what he originally asked for.

    In all likelihood the game's 1st part will sell and they can cover the development of the rest, but that is really beside the point. The big takeaway here is that if for some reason it doesn't sell, he wouldn't have the means to finish the game that Kickstarter backers already fully funded. So now, despite paying for a completed game, they are actually depending on Steam sales or else the project is toast.

    This should be a lesson to everyone that Kickstarter began shady, and is really only getting worse. Enter at your own risk.

    And as for Double Fine, this makes them look really bad. They're already taking money for a 2nd Kickstarter project, despite not being able to even complete the first. How does that not look really, really bad?
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  • Avatar for kyleyadlosky64 #5 kyleyadlosky64 4 years ago
    @Shinta Yeah, I would be a little worried if I backed Massive Chalice.

    That said, it could be a very different team working on the game, one that knows exactly what they want to make and how long it will take to make it.
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  • Avatar for Andy1975 #6 Andy1975 4 years ago
    Brutal Legend's single-player campaign had a frustratingly truncated feel, and I believe Schafer later confirmed that the final game was indeed only about half of what he envisioned, so I don't have any problem with him taking more time to ensure a similar thing doesn't happen to Broken Age.

    From what I understand, they're not cancelling the game, but it's coming along slower than anticipated. I don't have a problem with that.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #7 Bla1ne 4 years ago
    I think a lot of parallels can be drawn between this and the story of Duke Nukem Forever. I won't say that Publishers are necessary, but some people just aren't meant to be handed a large check without strict supervision...
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #8 benjaminlu86 4 years ago
    Video game development is way harder than the vast majority of players can possibly imagine. Kickstarter is not a preorder service; it's a speculation service. These two facts have put Double Fine into a difficult expectation management situation. Certainly, people who back a Kickstarter that fails to deliver a product deserve to feel upset, but they are not entitled to any sort of refund (just like losing lottery tickets).

    Personally, as a backer of DFA, I feel that I've gotten my money's worth just from the 2PP documentaries which are superb. Also, in DFA's case, they haven't even failed to deliver the product yet since it IS coming out and backers won't have to pay a penny more to get it. What's the problem?
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  • Avatar for craigy #9 craigy 4 years ago
    @benjaminlu86 "Kickstarter is not a preorder service". This!
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  • Avatar for mareess #10 mareess 2 months ago
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