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Double Fine and the little $2m Adventure game that could
by Joey Núñez

Tim Schafer, head of Double Fine Productions, is probably one of the most creative and original developers currently working in the videogame industry.

Known for creating games that challenge the norm and go against genre conventions, such as Pyschonauts and Brutal Legend, it’s undeniable that the development team at Double Fine has a distinctive voice, which for many of us translates into interesting, fun and challenging games, and more often than not offer unforgettable gaming experiences. However, for the head honchos at videogame publishing companies, the creativity that Double Fine breathes into its projects mostly translates into unnecessary risk.

Under the current gaming business model, millions upon millions of dollars are poured into a single game. Here’s some perspective: according to a 2010 report by M2 research (a consulting firm which provides marketing intelligence and strategic consulting on gaming trends) the average multiplatform game can cost anywhere from $18 to $28 million to make, with triple-A games reporting budgets as large as $40 million. When the average publisher invests millions of dollars into a game, you can rest assured that they want nothing more than to make all of that money back, and then some. For these publishers, helping a creative developer to publish a unique and risky game has proved to not always be the smartest way to do that. In the end, what this means is that a unique game with less mass-market appeal is simply much less likely to be published, regardless of its quality or greatness. After all, most publishers are looking to make money, not great games.

That puts developers like Double Fine in a particularly difficult position. Guys like Tim Schafer do not want to just make any game; they want to make extraordinary, unique games that stand out from the pack. Case in point: Double Fine’s upcoming Adventure.

The story goes a bit like this. Schafer and co. are looking to return to the genre that made them famous; the point-and-click adventure. You see, both Monkey Island and Grimfandango were made at LucasArts by the same group of people now working at Double Fine, and these games are considered classics which have, to some extent, shaped the current landscape of the aforementioned genre. The problem is that when talking about point-and-click adventure games, there isn’t much of a landscape to speak of. Back when we were all running our games on huge MS-DOS desktop computers, the point-and-click adventure was all the rage with the cool kids. But those times have long since passed.

Double Fine, as stated above, has done its part in trying to keep the genre alive but, although the point-and-click adventure has bucketloads of old school cred and a niche following, and rare success stories do exist - just browse through Telltale Games' catalogue and see for yourself – once you translate those games into numbers, adventure games are simply no longer what you would call a safe bet. Therein lies the rub for Double Fine. Publishers are not willing to invest millions and millions of dollars in a game which is likely to achieve no more than moderate success.

Enter Kickstarter. It’s a simple enough concept: Kickstarter is an online funding platform, where creative folk rich in ideas and short on cash go to get funding for their projects. Comic book creators, filmmakers, musicians, artists and videogame designers can all head over to the website, present their project to the masses, set a goal and ask for funding in exchange for unique 'thank you prizes'. If your idea is good enough, the people - much like those dead baseball players in a Field of Dreams - will indeed come.

So, you have one of the most innovative videogame creators in the business asking the people he really works for - the gamers - for the support he needs to get this game off the ground. A $400,000 goal was set; if Double Fine was able to reach that goal, the money would be theirs, and if the goal was not achieved then any money they had collected would be lost. On 8th February, 2012, approximately eight hours after the project had been announced, the goal was reached. And surpassed.

As of 3rd March, 2012, Double Fine has collected almost two and a half million dollars; 68,510 have pledged their support; and there are still ten more days of fundraising to go. Two million dollars, pledged by random gamers to a quaint little point-and-click adventure game. Wow is the word you’re looking for, and don’t be ashamed of your ineloquent response; it’s more than appropriate.

Gamers, the sheer awesomeness of the feat achieved by Double Fine should not escape you. I mean, sure, Tim Schafer gets to stick it to the man and make his game (certainly a victory for Double Fine), but it’s also much more than that. When you think about it, those who turned Schafer away at the door weren’t only denying him the opportunity to make this game; they were denying all of us the opportunity to play the game. In the end, publishers who are mostly motivated by their financial interests and the potential economic gain that a game represents dictate what we do and do not play. This time, through Double Fine, we have been granted the unique opportunity to politely tell the publishers to suck it. We want our game, and we’re gonna get it.

What are the implications of this event for the future of the industry? Right now, I wouldn’t rush to any conclusions. For the time being, all this means is that Double Fine is going to get to make an adventure game that will probably be amazing, and a bunch of lucky gamers will get to play it, knowing that they played a part in its creation.

How this affects the industry in the long term depends on a few things. First and foremost, the success of the game. If other publishers see that this funding/publishing scheme is viable and can lead to success, I’m sure more would jump on the bandwagon, and that not only means more interesting games for us to play, but also a certain degree of control and choice too.

Could you imagine if each of the big developers tried out one of these 'community-funded' games at least once every couple of years? Do you want to see your favorite classic Capcom franchise reborn? Put your money where your mouth is, and a new Megaman X game might be just around the corner. Rather see a wholly new character then a rehashed Donkey Kong game? Well, if Nintendo were to give you the chance, you may get the opportunity to make that happen by simply investing in that new IP.

Through massive funding, via Kickstarter or other similar platforms, the power to mould the gaming landscape is, in a very real way, in the hands of gamers around the world. If nothing else, it's extremely nice indeed to think about the endless possibilities it entails.

If you think what Double Fine is doing is nothing short of epic, than show some support. Head on over to the game’s Kickstarter page and donate as little as a single US dollar. Donate $15 or more, and you’ll get a copy of the game once it's released. Go ahead and take part in potentially changing the future of gaming.

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- Joey Núñez

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