Double Fine boss Tim Schafer once fell into the trap of thinking of publishing partners as family, later learning, to his dismay, that in the business world such arrangements are very rare indeed.
“It does work out for some people. They get a real sweetheart deal, and they become family with the publisher,” Schafer said in a feature article on Polygon.
“Here’s the hazard of even a good relationship with a publisher – there’s an illusion that they’re your parents. You think, ‘They’re taking care of me, they’re paying my salary and they love me. They would never let me die, they’ll protect me, because they’re my parents.’”
Double Fine has had a different experience, seeing its triple A title Brütal Legend dropped by Activision and a sequel passed over by EA – hardly parental behaviour.
“That’s not what a publisher is. A publisher is a business. If you’re making money they’ll be in business with you, and if you’re not important to their bottom line, they will cut you loose and let you die,” Schafer continued.
“There’s an illusion that they’re your parents. You think, ‘They’re taking care of me, they’re paying my salary and they love me. They would never let me die, they’ll protect me, because they’re my parents.’”
“That’s what businesses should do. They’re not here for emotions; they’re here to make money. So as long as you can not fall for that illusion, that the publisher relationship is a parent-child relationship, then you’re better off.”
Schafer said Double Fine’s goal was always to self-publish, something it began with PC ports of its games – which were also among the company’s first actually to make money.
“When you have a big hit game, like a band with a hit record, your band gets rich. But no other bands get rich, right? The same with games,” Schafer said.
“If you have a moderate-selling game, a game that breaks even or does well, you don’t get any money from publishers.”
Understandably, this business model has raised fears that there will soon be no room for anything but massive budgets and mega hits, with small to mid-sized companies and projects squeezed out. Schafer said he’s had conversations with platform holders on this very topic.
“We’ve talked to them, and told people what things would be hard for teams our size with regards to consoles. Especially self-publishing, in terms of the cost of certification and patches and [technical certification requirements] and cost of even being considered a developer,” he said.
“We’d still like to be active in that space, we care about consoles, but unless they open things up a lot more like what we have on Steam – if they opened things up more it would be a more friendly place from our perspective.
“We’ve talked to them about this stuff, and you know, they hear us. They’re big companies and they can’t make changes overnight, but I think they’re taking all of that stuff into consideration. We’ll have to see what happens.”
The full article is actually a double feature, taking a look at Double Fine’s financing partner and super fan Dracogen, who was instrumental to its gaining profitable independence.
Double Fine’s most recent release is iOS title Middle Manager of Justice, but it also recently released a number of Amnesia Fortnight prototypes. Ron Gilbert adventure The Cave is due in January, and Double Fine Adventure, its Kickstarter success story, is expected in the second quarter of 2013.