If you’re even the least bit connected to the gaming world, chances are that by now you’ve heard about Double Fine‘s overnight success story in which they were able to raise more than $1,000,000 in donations to fund an upcoming point-and-click adventure game. Double Fine, an independent development studio founded by industry demigod Tim Schafer, is renowned for their charming video games and their rabidly devout fan base. Through the services of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding launching platform for prospective creative endeavors, Double Fine began their 34-day campaign and estimated that they’d need $400,000 to develop their new game.
They raised $400,000 in 8 hours. Within 24 hours, they broke $1,000,000.
This outpouring of dedication by the studio’s fans is certainly impressive and admirable. In fact, it goes a long ways toward painting the picture of universal respect for Double Fine. All donors that contributed at least $15 were promised a copy of the finished product when it’s released. In essence, all 30,000+ backers had so much faith that Double Fine would create a game that they would enjoy, that they had no problem paying several months in advance without any real concrete details about the game.
Of course, this story created waves. People began to suggest that publishers might fall by the wayside, as there would no longer be a need for them. With the companies with less-than-popular business tactics, such as EA and Activision, out of the equation, developers would be able to focus on the fans and everyone would be better off for it.
We need to nip this in the bud right now. What Double Fine is doing is not a revolution; it’s an instance. Their experience with Kickstarter is an anomaly. It’s the exception to the rule, not the new rule.
It’s inane to think that crowdfunding could be the future of video games. First, while it’s inarguable that $1,000,000 is a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the budget that publishers invest in most retail games. These publishers have the capital and resources to fund everything from AAA games to titles designed to fill the summer drought. If a game bombs, these publishers cut their losses and move onto the next title. The first time that a high-profile game backed by the public bombs, there will be a backlash from the donors who feel that the developers phoned it in because they already had the profits in their pocket. This will create a huge hesitancy on most people’s part to ever partake in crowdfunding of video games ever again.
However, the most important reason that this new business model could never prosper is simply because of the players in the game. There are a handful of development studios that are so well-loved that they could pull this off. Double Fine is certainly one of them. Valve is the other obvious answer. From there, the list becomes a bit nebulous. Setting aside all affiliations that studios may already have with publishers, there are only a couple names that stick out: Twisted Pixel, Gearbox Software, and Harmonix. These five companies have (for the most part) three very important things in common: a track record of constantly successful and beloved games, a reputation of caring about their fans, and a well-recognized studio head/president. It takes these three important factors to convince people to blindly give you money with the hope that they made a solid investment, and the reality is that the vast majority of video game studios can’t live up to those credentials.
Double Fine was able to make this campaign the colossal success that it was mostly because they were the first big name to try it. A lot of people backed the project because of the novelty of the idea and because it has a particular indie edge to it. That’s absolutely okay. If the past is any indication of the future (and it has been so far) Double Fine will probably make a great game and no one will regret their investment. However, it won’t be so cute on the twentieth occurrence of a developer asking for money up-front for a game to be delivered in the semi-near future. Then, it’ll be these Kickstarter video game campaigns that fall by the wayside, not the publishers.