Earlier this month the game Double Fine (the development studio headed by Tim Schafer) started a Kickstarter project with the goal of developing a classic point-and-click adventure game. Now if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter it’s essentially a funding mechanism for creative projects. Anyone can propose a project with whatever funding goal they believe will take the project to completion. Backers pledge money to these projects, if they deem them worthy, and if the funding goal for the project is met then — game on! If the goal is not met, well in that case no money changes hands and the developer can either go back to their day job or try to come up with something more compelling to draw the attention of more backers.
It’s an amazing platform.
Backers are not “investors.” The developers keep 100% ownership of their creation. Backers are often enticed with rewards for various levels of backing. Depending on the project it could be a copy of the product itself or some unique experience related to it that provides something to backer for their donation.
The Double Fine Adventure is the first time, at least that I’m aware of, that an already well established company has come to gather funding for a what amounts to a side project. And it’s been amazingly successful. They reached their goal in record time, reached $1 million in record time and are the first project to reach $2 million, and as of this writing they still have over 13 days remaining of their original 30 day goal.
The reason this particular project is exciting, at least to me, is that it represents what could be a fundamental change in how games get made. Minecraft gave this type of funding it’s first taste of fame. By putting out a very early version of the game and asking people to basically pay early for the finished product Markus Persson (@notch) has been able to not only fund his brain child in perpetuity but he’s now developing all sorts of other games and projects. He’s not beholden to publisher whims. He has the freedom to create without needing to justify his decisions to a board or shareholders or some mindless marketing drone. The only thing stopping him from doing whatever the hell he damn well pleases is the support of the people who play his games. If he puts out crap, no one will buy it and he’ll fade into obscurity.
That’s the sort of relationship that I would love to have with creators. In this instance I’m talking rather specifically about the game development world but I could certainly apply the same desire to any creator.
Back to Double Fine and Tim Schafer and the Double Fine Adventure and why I think it’s potentially more significant than the success of Minecraft. The first important distinction is the chain of events. By using Kickstarter Double Fine is asking for funding up front, before development has started. With Minecraft Persson had a working game that he put out there in demo form and then asked for money to continue development. Buy getting funding up front people developers with great ideas who may not have the time or finances to get started can try to come up with a pitch that will get them the funding that they need to get started. Obviously Double Fine is a special case here, Schafer has a cult-like status in the gaming world so just putting his name on a project guarantees a certain level of support from his fan base. But the success of the Double Fine Adventure brings me to my second point.
The success has brought attention to Kickstarter as a platform for game funding that wasn’t there before. Take a look at Code Hero which blew up in the last few days of funding after Double Fine announced their project. Here’s a game with a fantastic, fresh concept that would never get the backing of a big name publisher. They may have hit their funding goal without the added attention but because of it they hit almost 200% of their goal giving them that much more backing to make the game better.
As awesome as all of this is it isn’t going to change the fundamental nature of the game development world. Triple A games are going to stay on their breakneck annual release schedule and they are going to continue to rake in hojillions of dollars on the backs of overworked developers and under funded QA departments.
What I hope does happen though, is that the success of Minecraft and the Double Fine Adventure opens up new lines of direct communication and support between creators and their fans. If a new breed of games can gather funding directly from the pockets of the people who want to play them without marketers, publishers, and god knows who else taking their cut, developers can get the freedom to do what they truly want to do. Sure, some will fail and for every Psychonauts that may be born from this process we’ll probably see just as many Shaq Fu’s but that’s the price you pay.