Published on July 5th, 2013 | by Adam DeMarco0
Double Fine’s Broken Age exceeds Kickstarter budget
Since Kickstarter emerged as a viable way to fund creative endeavors such as video games, people have been wondering what might happen when a successfully kickstarted project needs more money. Kickstarter is forthcoming with the fact that not all fully-funded projects will come to fruition, and that backing a project does not constitute a binding contract whereby developers must deliver on their promises to investors. Though people may have given this notion a passing thought here or there, there really hadn’t been a major gaming project to be affected by such a problem, which hadn’t given us any reason for serious pause. Until a few days ago, that is. Because, a few days ago, Double Fine’s Tim Schafer announced that Broken Age, their in-development adventure game that managed to rake in more than $3.3 million from its Kickstarter campaign, was running overbudget.
In an update on the game’s kickstarter page, Schafer explained that, even though the game was able to shatter its original goal of $400,000, it was running well behind schedule and significantly overbudget “because I designed too much game, as I pretty much always do.” In the letter to backers, Schafer went on in great detail about Double Fine’s plan to complete the game and get it into player’s hands:
“So we have been looking for ways to improve our project’s efficiency while reducing scope where we could along the way. All while looking for additional funds from bundle revenue, ports, etc. But when we finished the final in-depth schedule recently it was clear that these opportunistic methods weren’t going to be enough
“We looked into what it would take to finish just first half of our game—Act 1. And the numbers showed it coming in July of next year. Not this July, but July 2014. For just the first half. The full game was looking like 2015! My jaw hit the floor
“Asking a publisher for the money was out of the question because it would violate the spirit of the Kickstarter, and also, publishers. Going back to Kickstarter for it seemed wrong. Clearly, any overages were going to have to be paid by Double Fine, with our own money from the sales of our other games. That actually makes a lot of sense and we feel good about it. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough. Then we had a strange idea. What if we made some modest cuts in order to finish the first half of the game by January instead of July, and then released that finished, polished half of the game on Steam Early Access? Backers would still have the option of not looking at it, of course, but those who were sick of waiting wouldn’t have to wait any more. They could play the first half of the game in January!”
In the days since the announcement, however, the internet has erupted in flames due to Double Fine’s proposed course of action for Broken Age. From people warning us of the dangers of backing a Kickstarter, to personal gripes about hearing this news so soon after Double Fine’s other Kickstarter campaign finished with over $1.2 million, to Alice: Madness Returns developer American McGee’s response to the outrage, everyone seems to be weighing in on the topic. So, naturally, here’s my take.
Kickstarter is a double-edged sword. Crowdfunding allows end-users to have an actual say in the types of games they get to play. In the case of Broken Age, backers have even been given an unprecedented level of visibility into the title’s creation through developer blog updates as well as a full-on episodic documentary detailing the game’s progress. But the cost for that access is more than the dollars donated; backers also assume responsibility for the risks inherent to a game’s development. Games get delayed, go overbudget, have technical problems, and, sometimes, get canceled entirely. These things happen all the time, to new and veteran game developers alike.
But if all of them handle it with as much elegance and such an excellent level of communication as Double Fine has with Broken Age, I don’t think we can ask for much more. Whereas some might see Broken Age‘s development issues as a warning sign to potential Kickstarter backers, I see it as a reminder of the liabilities inherent to any form of investment and a shining example of a company trying to do right by its customers. Double Fine could have chosen to seek more traditional funding to finish their game, or they could have passed the hat once again and gone back to Kickstarter. Instead, they opted to stick to their principles. I, for one, applaud them for that.