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As I sit here refreshing another tab, watching the numbers rise and rise, I can’t help but find the vast sums of money that Double Fine are securing nothing short of astounding. For those unaware, the established developer – behind recent hits like Stacking, Iron Brigade, and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, and the classic Psychonauts – plan to create, seemingly, the world’s highest profiled crowd-funded game. They want to develop a classic “point-and-click” adventure game, however, there’s a snag. Out there, in the publisher run business, “big games cost big money”. It’s something we’ve known for some time – with the transition into the HD market being a particularly costly one – and it’s closing the door on many niche titles, even limiting the creative adventure of developers in an aim to be more mainstream. Double Fine claim that even some as “simple” as an Xbox LIVE title can cost two or three million dollars. Well, that’s some serious cash.
Headed by industry legend Tim Schafer, Double Fine required $400,000 to create the game that they envision. To be honest, this really is the first of its kind. Whilst there have been many games successfully backed and created via the all-or-nothing fundraising site KickStarter, the average cost of a game is usually under the $20,000 mark. So a goal of this size has never really been tested; we’re into uncharted waters. We’re talking about a sum, eight times the value of the next biggest goal in the games category. It’s a target that no game’s total has even come close to, let alone aimed for as a goal. However, times are changing.
The world and the practices we know are shifting with some haste. The traditional means of financing games through publishers, investment firms or loans are no longer the sole means of funding a project. Fundraising sites, like Kickstarter, provide a new avenue, a previously unbeknown option to developers. Don’t get me wrong, Double Fine’s adventure is by no means the first game to be comissioned through crowd-funding – heck, I’ve personally funded two independent games to date – yet it is undoubtedly the biggest. This is no start-up studio in need of funding for their first title, nor a developer in dire need to keep afloat; Double Fine have released a string of high quality titles over the past two years and are a well-loved studio.
Today marked a monumental shift in the industry, as the Double Fine Adventure-Adventure not only met its goal but eclipsed it in staggering fashion. Just eight hours into the five-week pledge, over $400,000 had been raised. The goal was met. It went on to smash records at Kickstater, becoming the Most Funds Raised in the first 24 hours, Highest Total Pledges, and Most Pledged in just under a day. Last year, there were 253 successfully backed games via KickStarter, which totalled at £3,616,530.88 pledged by 45,622 backers – so the fact that Tim Schafer and co. have already managed over a quarter of that total is remarkable. It’s a testiment to decades of quality titles, sticking to their principles and creating games that gamers want; but it means far more than numbers.
Currently, risks are low in the industry. We’re seeing a high proportion of sequels and more and more yearly franchises as publishers try to stop stocks falling amongst a financial crisis like no other. At the same time though, we’ve also seen an upsurge in indie developers going at it alone, and hugely successful titles with it. Just look at Minecraft; one man project to $40 million dollar title in just three short years. Removing the middle man is something that, thanks to the power of the Internet, is becoming more and more common. We’re already seeing it in the music industry, with bands leaving their record labels and going straight to the consumers. By cutting out that middle man, both parties get a better deal. The artists make more money from each sale, and they connect with their fanbase far greater than anything a label could master. The age of the Internet is here and it’s changing the media landscape forever.
Make no mistake about it, this is a defining day in the mainstream gaming industry. Double Fine are a well-renowned developer, whom, having been around for twelve years and headed by the wonderful Tim Schafer, could continue to make games that publishers want for a pay-check, if they wanted to. Yet, they want to craft their games with a freedom that working under a publisher will rarely yield. Is crowd-funding something that all developers will head towards? Unlikely. A crowd-funded title provides a developer a creative freedom and will primarily be for when a publisher perhaps doesn’t see the reward in a more risky title. If there’s public demand for it, then it’ll succeed, otherwise, crippling fail. What it does do though, is offer a brand new opportunity.
It’s one thing to successfully create a game off of the backing of the consumer, it’s another to comfortably shatter your own, and the industry’s, expectations within 24 hours. Whilst I doubt we’ll see a rush from major players in the industry to head to crowd-funded titles, it’s the beginning of a path to a new way of distributing media.
Oh and Tim…
…congratulations on hitting a million, you’ve just kickstarted a financial revolution.