Question your reality and never take anything for granted. I was hesitant to write this article but I live in a free country and feel it is my right, nay, my duty to question everything.
Over the past week, Double Fine was able to set a precedent for the most money ever raised in Kickstarter history. Double Fine, a video game developer known for games such as Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, and one of my favorites Costume Quest, has always been regarded as a ground breaking company and a true innovator in their field. Their proposed Kickstarter project, set at the minimum of $400k, has now reached the “last I checked” exorbitant sum of $1.7 million and continues climbing. This, by no means, can be considered chump change. This is something that could have never been achieved before. It is only due to the recent creation of websites such as Kickstarter where people are able to leverage the power of the Internet and use crowdsourcing to raise funds for projects that otherwise would have never been able to see the light of day.
Some of the most notable projects in Kickstarters history have been: Windowfarms, an indoor hydro growing systems for inner city farmers, Revolights, an interesting take on bicycle lights and safety, and we all can’t forget Diaspora, which was a group of NYU computer science students with the idea to create the next Facebook. Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine & the designer for critically acclaimed games such as Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and the amazing Grim Fandango, proposed to make a modernized version of the classic adventure game. A point and click game that is driven by story and narrative that was once king in the late 90’s and has fallen out of favor and been replaced with over the top violent war simulation first person shooters. What Double Fine has proposed is something very different in relation to other projects successfully funded by Kickstarter. Tim Schafer has proposed is to make a game but he has not stated what the content of the game will be at all.
There needs to be made a distinction between having a great idea and stating that one day you are going to come up with a great idea. What Schafer has done in his pitch was sell the public something that is less than vaporware. Although this video was done with the utmost skill and humor, he never stated what he is selling. All he has done is hint at something that might become reality and even went on to state that it could end up being a “spectacular failure.” In the end, I am quite sure Tim Schafer and the folks at Double Fine will deliver us something tangible and, in all probability, something wonderful at the end of their stated six-to-eight month development cycle.
Now, hypothetically, let’s say Bill Gates was to come to you and propose that he had an idea for an Operating System but he is not sure how it is going to work or what it will look like. Will you put your money down to buy it? We have to question why so many people would buy into something they have never seen. It could be said that we were sold on our sense of nostalgia and we somehow yearn for the happier times of being an innocent gamer playing in our parents’ basement. Another reason might be that game publishers are so out of touch with public demand that they are overlooking opportunities to fill markets that are clearly underrepresented.
The fault of large publishers for there obsessions with cookie cutter first person shooters can only be blamed on the video gaming consuming public, when 2011 had seen the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The game managed to gross over $400 million in the first 24 hours of its release, making it the largest entertainment franchise launch of all time. Schafer also states in his video that publishers have no interest in funding adventure games. Imagine walking into a pitch meeting and stating that you have no idea for a game but all you want to do is make a game in a specific genre. Any person would be off their rocker to invest money in such a weak presentation. Publishers serve another purpose other than funding games; they serve as a check and balance for developers of large projects. With large amounts of money at stake, the creators of these games are held accountable via tight schedules were developers need to present their work for review in order to move on to the next round of funding. This method of quality control can still go awry. Some examples include Dragon Age II and the epic failure that was Duke Nukem Forever. Also in these cases the fans that pre-bought the game were the most burned, but at least they had some idea of what they were putting their money toward. This is definitely not the case with the Double Fine project. Every one who has pre-bought the game has no idea what they are going to get. The most important question we have to ask ourselves is; who serves to keep the Tim Schafer project on track, and also what happens if the project were to go over budget?
The only thing we can truly say with certainty is that this is going to be the first in a flood of large companies looking to fund their games through a crowdsourcing model. Obsidian Entertainment, a developer famous for their role playing titles such as Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, is catching the Kickstarter bug. How can you blame them when you can develop a game with little or no risk and have a product that is profitable even before conception. By cutting out the publishers, they are able to take in 100% of the profits. One can almost imagine the reaction of large game developers hearing of the Double Fine story; seeing their eyes rolling into dollar signs and the sounds of “cha-ching” pop up all round them while they dream of rabid fan boys chomping at the bit screaming “shut up and take my money.”
No one wants to see Tim Schafer and Double Fine fail and only time can tell how this little experiment will play out. We all would love to see the next Grim Fandango or Full Throttle. It would be a welcome change in a industry that has become saturated by bland first-person shooters. At the same time, we can’t forget of the ones that are keeping the point and click adventure genre alive; companies such as Telltale Games with their innovative game Puzzle Agent. We should also not forget Revolution Software ,an unsung hero of the genre that was responsible for creating such astonishing games like Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword. If you are looking to fund new and interesting games, look no further than the huge number of independent game developers with actual ideas trying to get a project funded on Kickstarter (cough, cough, pixel sand, pixel sand). I would hate to think of a future where large established companies start to dominate the crowdsourcing model. This could starve out the smaller developers, the ones who are always pushing the medium forward and bring true innovations to the video game industry.
It is a interesting time where consumers are getting to truly vote with their dollar and the idea of a truly free market might be taking shape. So, what can we take away from this momentous pivot in video game history? Being that the end user is starting to find themselves in the roll of the investors, it is important to be wary of the dog and pony shows of the Internet. As television stock pundit Jim Cramer said, “Never underestimate the promotion machine”. With all this, I now leave you with a clip from an episode of The Simpsons, “Marge vs. the Monorail”.