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Double Fine’s Kickstarter provides a Radiohead moment

Thursday, 9th February 2012 20:02 GMT By Johnny Cullen

It’s not the first studio to go down the Kickstarter route, but it’s the biggest one to do so yet. Double Fine gave the games industry its Radiohead moment today. Johnny Cullen explains.

We saw an indie drag in close to $1 million in a matter of hours today by directly engaging the community and dropping publishers completely. It won’t work for everyone, but it did for Double Fine, as it did for Radiohead. And, like Yorke and the gang, Schafer is unlikely to look back.

Eight hours. It took just eight hours after it was first announced for Double Fine to reach its Kickstarter goal of $400,000 for a brand new click-and-point adventure title. This is a game bought not by a big-name publisher, but by fans and gamers around the world.

In going down the Kickstarter route, as it says on the fundraising page, Double Fine can “make the game they want to make, promote it in whatever manner they deem appropriate, and release the finished product on their own terms,” instead of being set to a publisher’s goals as it has before with the likes of THQ, Microsoft and EA.

The truth, though, is that Double Fine’s success is about much more than fundraising. In 2007, Jonny Greenwood posted on Dead Air Space, Radiohead’s blog, to say the band’s seventh album was finished and would release within a week. The LP, known as In Rainbows, would launch as a pay-as-you-like affair, the first time anything of the sort had been attempted by a major name in the entertainment industry.

Double Fine today gave to games what Thom Yorke and friends gave to music nearly five-and-a-half years ago.

House of cards

Double Fine’s not the first studio to go down the Kickstarter route. For one, Tony Hawk developer Robomodo has attempted to use it to fund development for an Xbox Live Arcade Kinect pinball title called Bodoink, seeking $35,000.

Unfortunately, that ultimately failed; the studio only attracted $5,547.

And while it hasn’t used Kickstarter for its efforts, Slightly Mad, the UK-based developer on Need for Speed: Shift and Shift 2, has relied on community donations and feedback for its upcoming racing sim Project CARS.

So far, that’s held up reliably well. Those involved on the highest level get access to weekly development builds and have serious input towards development. The game’s set to come out for PC, Wii U, Xbox 360 and PS3, although a date is yet to be set.

But Double Fine is the first established games studio to genuinely succeed with the model. The middleman publisher has been entirely removed in the same way Radiohead managed to eschew record companies for the making of In Rainbows.

The band handled the record’s release, made the album at its own pace, and wasn’t pushed to deadlines as would have been likely had it still been with EMI Parlophone.

Go slowly

So far, the funds keep pouring in. As of writing this piece, the total has passed $820,000. The excess will be used to make the game better and possibly bring it to more platforms. Happy ending?

Yes, but there are potential downsides. Since the announcement, there’s been a peer debate on Twitter and Facebook as to the objectivity of writers covering the game if they’ve donated.

One of those journalists whose donated is our own Brenna Hillier, who summed up my thoughts on the situation in the comments of the original story.

“You don’t get any kind of profit from Kickstarter,” she said. “It’s like pre-ordering and donating.”

And then there’s the prickly issue of user entitlement. We’re fully aware it’s a user-driven fundraiser for a much-loved game studio, but does Double Fine really know what it’s getting itself into? Yes, it’s fully disclosed the game will be a point-and-click adventure on the Kickstarter page, but we’re in a world where gamers can get really fussy over the slightest detail. And this time, they’re paying for the game to be made.

Ex-GamePro editor Julian Rignall said in a tweet just before Double Fine hit its $400,000 target: “Kickstarter’s fab bar one teensy potential entitlement issue: ‘I dun put muny in ur pokets + u dint maek the game wot I payded u 4 u ahoels.’”

The gaming community is a jungle. Sense of entitlement is a lion. But maybe with Double Fine’s community backers are of a better breed.

Maybe.

Down is the New Up

So. Is this the end of the world as we know it? Or to be more specific, the end of traditional publishing efforts, even for partner schemes like EA Partners or THQ?

Absolutely not.

For, as well known as Double Fine is, one studio isn’t going to shake the current publishing model, at least in the short-term. Double Fine is exceptionally well-liked, and the games it makes don’t fit into the traditional model any more. The gamers putting up money today are saying, “We want this studio to keep making games, and we’re prepared to pay for it.” Could any old studio attempt the same and hope to succeed on this level? There are some – imagine if Valve tried this for Half-Life 3? – but there are many that would fail.

This was the right choice for Schafer. He told Digital Spy this week that he’d pitched Psychonauts 2 to publishers “several times,” but no one wants to do it. He’s well aware of how many people want that game.

Mojang co-founder Notch is also less than stupid, and immediately said to Schafer on Twitter: “Let’s make Psychonauts 2 happen,” adding in a later tweet he was “serious” about the offer.

Whether anything will come of that is anyone’s guess right now, but that’s besides the point. We saw an indie drag in close to $1 million in a matter of hours today by directly engaging the community and dropping publishers completely. It won’t work for everyone, but it did for Double Fine, as it did for Radiohead. And, like Yorke and the gang, Schafer is unlikely to look back.

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18 Comments

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  1. Mike

    Bravo.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    o/

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Joe Anderson

    Fantastic. Well put Johnny.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. humanfish

    Is it really the same thing when Radiohead were essentially giving away (how many people really paid the going rate?) something which they had already created, and i assume, produced at their own cost, from the millions they had already made.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. StolenGlory

    Superb article Johnny, with a decent (and more importantly, accurate) analogous theme running throughout.

    Sharp, succinct and entertaining for me to cast my eyes over.

    More please.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. DSB

    I think it’s obvious that it isn’t just gamers that are getting fed up with the greed and disrespect for the medium. Developers are definitely learning to keep their distance as well.

    Music is different because that publishing industry already has a knife to it’s throat as a result of consumers and creatives who simply don’t need them anymore.

    The beauty is the symbolism that people will pay, and assume the risk, to be rid of that sort of destructive influence, and bring a bit of power back to the creative class, the people who actually make something, and take it away from people who have little to offer beyond money, and are only interested in making more of it.

    In terms of entitlement, it’s really a non-issue. As long as you make it clear that there are risks to funding an unfinished game, then people have no room to complain.

    There are people bitching about Xenonauts and Project Zomboid too, but they can’t be taken seriously. It’s a pretty logical risk in funding something that hasn’t been created yet, that it might not happen, and it could disappoint you entirely.

    You’re buying into the chance of a product, not a finished one.

    @4 Nah I agree, it’s not the same thing, but it is part of a new movement of brilliant business models, most of which serve the same purpose – To take publishers out of the equation.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. spencerjnelson

    There have been a lot of projects hitting the top ten lately, like the elevation dock. I’m really excited that projects like double fine and the Order of the Stick are making money too, as creative projects!
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/599092525/the-order-of-the-stick-reprint-drive

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Old MacDonald

    I think that if you want to really succeed on Kickstarter and the like, you have to offer the public something that they want, but aren’t likely to get from the big publishers at the moment. Something that isn’t really considered mainstream.

    Like a classic, point and click adventure game.

    If you try to get fans to pay for the development of your Kinect pinball game called Bodoink, you’ll fail because Kinect is more popular among publishers and developers than it is among core gamers (who are the only ones likely to care enough to fund something over Kickstart in the first place). And of course they’re playing Zen Pinball already.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. freedoms_stain

    They’re less than 5 grand off the Million now, Imma keep refreshing til it ticks over :-D

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Colin Gallacher

    BOOM! $1 Million in less then 22 hours and…nearly crashing Kickstarter in the process!

    #10 2 years ago
  11. freedoms_stain

    That’s pretty amazing, a million in a day.

    That’s setting a precedent right there.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. DSB

    @8 But 75% of what publishers offer today are just copies of something else. Sometimes it feels like they go to great lengths just to make their games unremarkable.

    I think there’s plenty reason to empower developers to break that monotony, although the novelty factor probably doesn’t hurt.

    If someone credible put up a project for a tactical shooter, I would literally garnish my own pay indefinitely until the game was done :P

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Anders

    Based on the Kickstarter page, all Double Fine employees will have to sign 740 posters each. That’ll be a lot of signatures.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. SteOne3

    Nice article Johnny, its got ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ ;)

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Old MacDonald

    12: I agree, and it’s kinda my point. I haven’t really looked into the Bodoink-thing, but it does sound like something that could have easily been publisher-backed. Which is why I think it failed.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Johnny Cullen

    Or maybe the idea just didn’t attract publishers you’d think would jump on to it in the first place just for the fact it’s a Kinect thing (one name that jumps out to me is Ubisoft)

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Old MacDonald

    Off topic, but please don’t eat your own pants Pat. You’ll die and that won’t be fun for anyone. :((((

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Johnny Cullen

    Hahahaha.

    #18 2 years ago