Kickstarter Campaigns In Serious Trouble – Should Gamers Keep Backing Them Up?

Broken Age
Well, this was meant to happen. The idea of kickstarting a game sounded too good to be true. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right? Wrong. A couple of months ago we noticed a ‘kickstarted’ game featuring a sort of DRM that was never included in its initial description. That title was no other than Shadowrun Returns; a game that would be coming to Valve’s digital distribution service, Steam. Naturally, the development team revealed – back then – that a DRM-free version would be also hitting the Internet, however that version would not be frequently updated. In short, the Steam version would be the best offer. And here hopes another one to bite the dust, as Double Fine’s Broken Age is in dire danger.
First things first though; Double Fine launched a Kickstarter campaign for Broken Age with a relatively small goal. Naturally, the Kickstarter took off and Double Fine managed to get 8 times the amount of money they originally asked for. Pretty good, right? Moreover, Double Fine claimed that this game was being developed by a small team under Tim Schafer’s supervision to develop this classic point-and-click adventure. So far so good then.
However, Tim Schafer issued today an update to all backers, claiming that Broken Age was in dire danger. According to Schafer, this small game has evolved and the team won’t be able to complete it. Therefore, Double Fine decided to cut some corners, plan a release on Steam’s Early Access program and let PC gamers help them – again – completing the game.
As Schafer said:
“I think I just have an idea in my head about how big an adventure game should be, so it’s hard for me to design one that’s much smaller than Grim Fandango or Full Throttle. 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.
So we have been looking for ways to improve our project’s efficiency while reducing scope where we could along the way. All while looking for additional funds from bundle revenue, ports, etc. But when we finished the final in-depth schedule recently it was clear that these opportunistic methods weren’t going to be enough.
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.
This was a huge wake-up call for all of us. If this were true, we weren’t going to have to cut the game in half, we were going to have to cut it down by 75%! What would be left? How would we even cut it down that far? Just polish up the rooms we had and ship those? Reboot the art style with a dramatically simpler look? Remove the Boy or Girl from the story? Yikes! Sad faces all around.
Would we, instead, try to find more money? You guys have been been very generous in the tip jar (thanks!) but this is a larger sum of money we were talking about. Asking a publisher for the money was out of the question because it would violate the spirit of the Kickstarter, and also, publishers. Going back to Kickstarter for it seemed wrong. Clearly, any overages were going to have to be paid by Double Fine, with our own money from the sales of our other games. That actually makes a lot of sense and we feel good about it. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough.
Then we had a strange idea. What if we made some modest cuts in order to finish the first half of the game by January instead of July, and then released that finished, polished half of the game on Steam Early Access? Backers would still have the option of not looking at it, of course, but those who were sick of waiting wouldn’t have to wait any more. They could play the first half of the game in January!”
And this is precisely why we are a bit worried about this whole ‘Kickstarter’ thing. You see, Schafer himself said that it’s hard for him ‘to design one that’s much smaller than Grim Fandango or Full Throttle’. So may we ask why did Double Fine claimed that this would be a small project? Why didn’t they go out and say “We will build a new proper classic 2D adventure game”? In short, why did they lie about their game? Yes, some die-hard fans may say that the game evolved but let us ask you this: Would you say the very same thing if EA (assuming it was a developer and not a publisher) was behind this game? Of course and you wouldn’t.
We don’t mind with Schafer shooting for the stars. It’s all well and good. However, that was not his goal in the first place and he should… well… stick with what he promised. Imagine this: an individual asks you for money to create an airplane in order to offer you some HD landscape images. The amount he gets from his campaign is 8 times more than what he asked for but instead of building an airplane, that very same man asks you to help him further in order to build a space rocket (instead of an airplane). That man claims that he will offer you better HD landscape images from outer space, but was that what was originally promised and advertised?
And then, there is the danger of other Kickstarter projects following Double Fine’s example. Developers can easily exploit Kickstarter now and projects may get cancelled, despite hitting their stretch goals. So why should PC gamers back them up? Sure thing, there is the promise of something ‘unique’ and something that publishers would had never approved, but are we certain that we’ll be getting what was promised?
And make no mistake; Tim Schafer may have the best intentions, however this project was never meant to be a game with a really high budget. It was advertised as a small project. And to be honest, if 3 million dollars is not enough to even complete half of this game, then we seriously don’t know what Double Fine was thinking when it set its original goal of $400K.
All in all, these recent examples prove that Kickstarter campaigns are not as ‘ideal’ as people thought them to be. And this is something most gamers should keep in mind from now on. Yes, we want more old-school games. Yes, we know that publishers are not willing to fund such projects. Yes, we are definitely supporting indie developers. However, we also want developers to be honest with us and deliver what they originally promised. And if Double Fine and Tim Schafer wanted to create a new adventure game (that would be as big as let’s say Grim Fandango), they should launch a different Kickstarter campaign for it. They should not take advantage of what they already had. Plain and simple!