Lights Off


Feb 10, 2012

Double Fine Using Kickstarter Bothers Me

I asked a very simple question on Twitter that sparked healthy conversation between friends and acquaintances regarding my feelings about Double Fine starting a project using Kickstarter, a secure, crowd-source funding platform. Though I’m clearly in the minority for my thinking on this. A friend even stated I was being “mean spirited”, which is not my intention – I know it is a narrow focus of discussion, but it bothers me. I am a huge fan of Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions and have nothing against them or the idea of getting funding from fans to start a project that would otherwise never exist.

Let’s first take a look at how Double Fine got here (detailed in their pitch video). The most frequently asked question to Tim and the team is when they’ll make a classic point-and-click adventure game like that of Grim Fandago or Day of the Tentacle. If Tim approached a publisher with the idea to create a new point-and-click adventure game, they would be immediately rejected. It is noted that there is a lack of control when a publisher or investor is involved in the game design process. So they took it to the people directly, by using Kickstarter – so they would have the creative control to make the game they wanted to make while involving the fans throughout the entire process.

That’s a fantastic idea for game development. Except that, to me, Double Fine is beyond needing to use Kickstarter as a platform. I made the joke saying “Tim Schafer could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves”, to paraphrase from Tommy Boy. It’s mostly true, except instead of a ketchup popsicle it is a point-and-click adventure game.

Using Your Name as Leverage

The Double Fine and Tim Schafer names are so well known by this point, carrying with it feelings of nostalgia, positive track record, and great games. And within 24 hours they broke all previous records held on Kickstarter by raising over $1.3 million dollars [at this time], which only had a goal of $400,000 for the project. With the extra money and the 31 days left in the project, all extra donations will be put into the game and the video documentary recording during the production of the game. The name of the studio sold people on the game. Yes, I think Double Fine is “too famous”.

Dan Amrich over at asks me this: Why is it a concern that their name recognition helped them reach their goal?

My Answer: Nothing, actually. But reaching their goal on Kickstarter is the concern. They could have easily setup a PayPal Donation system to power the funding of the adventure game through their own website, and likely would have reached their goal there. Evidenced by their success, the fans will go anywhere they are asked to help them out. Kickstarter is for anyone, big or small but yet the projects you see and the people running them are usually very small.

Double Fine doesn’t have a permanent publisher for their games and in the past have used various publishers and investors so they could get their games released. And in this case they had a dream and turned to Kickstarter for help. Had this project been a developer that no one had heard of or at least not know much about, but had all of the same heart and passion for the adventure genre – would it have reached similar success (within the projected timeframe)? Most likely not.

Other developers have recently used Kickstarter to fund a project that was not successful, like Robomodo’s “Bodoink” which only reached 1/7th of it’s goal. A possible cause to this not succeeding could be any number of things. I do not wish to speculate as to what they might be, but Robomodo is looking into other options to make it work.

Other Gaming Projects Exist on Kickstarter, too

I was aware of Kickstarter for some time before Double Fine and Robomodo’s venture into crowd-source funding. Though it seems that most people had not heard of Kickstarter until the news of the project had starting making the rounds across various sites. I do not think that Double Fine is “taking away” money from small developers looking for their big break, but rather overshadowing them in such a way that they have now set an example that isn’t realistic. It is proof that Kickstarter can and does work, but it may not for everyone who tries.

People’s money is finite, they will only invest in a game or any other project if they feel it is “safe”. People do not want to take a risk in an unknown quantity. Though, that’s what I feel Kickstarter is all about, funding the great ideas of the people you know the least about for a product you want to have. By Double Fine using this method, it takes away any risk in getting involved as you know the quality they put out.

In my multi-pronged discussions over Twitter I was able to gather that no one would have perused Kickstarter looking for a game to back and that they only went there because Double Fine wanted to make a game they wanted to make and needed the fans to make it happen. Some were inspired to then look around Kickstarter for other projects to support. So the result of Double Fine’s experimental dive into funding game development brought forth awareness that didn’t really exist.

There’s nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new ideas. Double Fine underestimated their audience and their power to be successful in this endeavor. And as a result, set unrealistic expectations for future projects on Kickstarter.