Posts tagged Double Fine

Double Fine’s Double Failure

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A year and a bit ago, I wrote a topic about the dangers of Kickstarter and how the failure of a few big projects could completely kill it off. Up till now, my own Kickstarter experiences have been anything but great. None has been released on time so far and several are in development hell. The iControlpad 2 has been a monumental failure, its original release being November and now 8 months later, there’s still no optimism about it being released soon.

The Bones Miniatures was a smaller but still frustrating mess: their initial promise to ship paints and part of the order ahead were scripted for non-US orders, making them flat-out liars. On top of this, they have shoved back all overseas orders to the very very end, favoring US citizens all the way. This is not a way to make happy customers – again, a 5 month delay for the entire package and a massive 9 month delay for the paints and tin figurines is hardly a small delay. Still, I’m not all that impatient – but seeing them make promise after promise and seeing them screw up time and time again causing even more delays does get tedious very quickly.

But when it comes to software, the disappointments have been coming even faster. When you back a game before the dev has anything to show you, you have to have faith in them and it seems there’s a very good reason publishers are in control these days: many developers can no longer produce a game on time or within budget without guidance and a good occasional spanking when need be by the big awful publishers. Kickstarter game after kickstarter game turn out to lack the funds to create the game they promised – and it boggles the mind when you look at how much money these games really did raise.

Shadowrun Returns already revealed that, despite getting many times what they were asking for, they would basically make a short and severely cut down game which made many people shake their heads in surprise, but to see Double Fine, the developers who actually kicked off the Kickstarter hype, blow through three million dollars and then need at least twice that amount on top of that … wow!

What makes this so unbelievable, is that the game people wanted wasn’t anything that would cost three million dollars to create anyway. No-one I talked to wanted top edge animation – Monkey Island has the most crudest of animations and people loved it – nor did we want anything that would soak up funds like a sponge. I mean, seriously … adventure games are based on three pillars:

- puzzles = just thinking power needed

- story = again, thinking power

- setting = more thinking power

- characters = wahey, more thinking power

To be honest, they should have created the concept BEFORE they went to Kickstarter. The 4 elements above don’t take a million dollars – it doesn’t even take a tenth of that. Sit a few creative and talented people around a table and you can get a great concept in a week or so. That’s maybe $5.000 worth of salaries and blam, you get started. Making the rooms, creating the puzzles, fleshing out the characters – this can all be done on pieces of paper with people sitting around a table, bouncing ideas off each other. That’s how indie devs do it and why they can do it for tiny budgets.

But oh no, the big & mighty Double Fine has to make a big deal out of it, plan things, plan things more, discuss things, meetings, etc. etc. without ever getting anywhere and while doing it in one of the most expensive places on earth: San Francisco. It’s the American way of approaching a situation and goes right against the Flemish way of doing things (did I mention I’m Flemish i.e. Dutch speaking part of Belgium?): digging in deep and getting things done instead of yapping about it till pigs start to fly. That doesn’t mean quality is going to be sacrificed – it just means the pressure is on, making people think on their feet which often makes for the best game experiences.

So why does the title say Double Failure? Because they failed at what they set out to do – to show that publishers are not needed to make a great game. Instead, what they showed us that developers sometimes do need someone with a big whip keeping them in line. You can bet this will put a big dent into the already-scratched paintwork that is Kickstarter and it will only take a few more projects like these before people will lose confidence all together. Sure, they say they can finish the game using their own funds but we’re still two years away from a release and lord knows how much money they’ll still need and how much they’ll need to cut into their game because of poor management.

In the end, Kickstarter is a true reflection of the business world: slick salesmen who can talk big but without delivering will cause trouble and even people who mean well, simply lack the skills to pull off what they set out to do. Take the iPad stand – besides the issues with being unable to produce a working prototype, the guy actually used his friends as coworkers, paying some a fee and others not – anyone could see from MILES away that was a recipe for disaster – and disaster did strike and the Kickstarter project got abandoned. So, it all goes to show: how much risk are you willing to take? I guess we’ll find out in the next year to see how well Kickstarter will survive all these stories.

Kickstarter: the future for small developers?

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The website Kickstarter received a ton more attention since Double Fine got funding for a new adventure game using its system and with Wasteland 2 now following on Double Fine’s success, it does raise some questions.

The main question is: how many more bigger developers are about to follow suit? With two companies already running off with far more than what they asked for, it’s only a matter of time before several if not dozens of other developers decide to fund their AA or AAA title using Kickstarter money. PC gaming history is filled with classics that are begging for (more) sequels – from Ascendancy to Ultima Underworld to System Shock. I fully expect some old Sierra classics to reappear as well – Leisure Suit Larry’s expected comeback with a remake of the first game might well be followed with a brand new adventure for which Kickstarter seems ideal.

But like with all mediums, there are always limits to how far you can push a premise. Kickstarter relies on funds of gamers to start a project – basically ‘loaning’ money to developers in return for betas and/or the finished project. The very crucial weakness which the gaming press seems to completely miss … is the risk factor. What if the game never gets released due to legal issues (EA still own the rights to Wasteland after all)? What if they run out of funds? What if the company goes bankrupt or key members decide to leave? If you look at the history of even the best developers, you’ll find many such problems in their past. The difference here, is that it’s our money, the gamers’ money that is being used and not that of a publisher. We take the risk, we carry the burden of failure and while I’m sure that many will claim this is not a problem, there’s such a thing as a domino effect. Or what, god forbid, the game turns out to be a huge dud, being really terrible? That seems more likely than anything else! It takes only one or two large projects to fail for people to worry about whether they are throwing away their money.

I would love it if Kickstarter turned out to be the Messiah of bedroom coders and the revival of great classics – but I fear that people jumping on-board Kickstarter projects may be too optimistic for their own good. They see the press’s hype machine in overdrive and seem to believe the end result can’t be anything but brilliant even though many games from great developers with far bigger budgets turned out to be mediocre – even the best companies can make mistakes. A more realistic view would surely help here but looking on forums, it seems most are just too convinced that nothing can go wrong … which is exactly what might prove to be Kickstarter’s downfall: the short-sightedness of people.

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