This blog post has been simultaneously posted on my personal blog.
Surely you’ve been keeping up with the news, so I don’t need to say anything about Double Fine and Broken Age. I am not going to argue about budgeting, apparent poor management, who’s right or who’s wrong. For that I have Twitter (although I haven’t said much about it anyway).
You may or may not know we are working on a horror game titled Enola. Let’s say you give me around $50,000 to finish Enola. In a few months (because the game is already halfway there) you will have a finished and delivered game. Now, if you give me $1,000,000 you will, in a few months, get the same game, but with some extra polishing, although logically not all the money would be spent because the game didn’t get bigger.
Give me $1,000,000 and tell me “but you have to spend all of it on the game” and chances are the project would fail, one way or another, simply because I have never managed a project larger than a few thousand of dollars, so I have no idea how that one million would be spent in the development (although I could always buy myself a nice car).
This rather long explanation was needed so you know I am not the kind of person who’d be able to manage a huge project. Remember that I’m from El Salvador, so by our standards, a PC/mobile game with a budget of $1,000,000 is considered a huge project ($1M to develop some corporate software would be a different thing, though). Having said this, you see I am not entitled to say how a company should spend $3.3M. However, as stated above, that’s not the reason why I am writing this.
So, Double Fine asked for $400K on Kickstarter and got around $3.3M. Logical and mathematical convention would say it’s more than enough to develop the original game. However, it seems it’s barely enough to develop the first half of it (or something like that), because Tim Schafer “designed too much game.”
As I said before, I care not about their project management, planning, accounting or what have you. I don’t think Kickstarting projects will be much affected by this either, at least on an indie level, because indies usually ask for a hell a lot less money, and usually show something more than just an idea of a game to demonstrate they have something concrete. The whole point of this blog post is simply realize what we can learn from the whole thing (and of course, do a lot of kissing).
If there’s one thing any game developer knows is that games are usually not finished on time, and usually end up costing more. Our game, Enola, was supposed to be finished by Q1 2013, but right now it’s barely 60-70% finished, and won’t be released until Q1 2014, which means development is costing more. If tomorrow someone showed up and gave me those $50K, the game would still be released on Q1 2014, because that’s our current plan.
It is my motto to always hope for the best but plan for the worst. If I got the $50K then I would design a game on a $30K budget because there’s a big chance the game would end up costing more than that (actually, it did). If you get $3.3M to make a game. Aim to make a $1.5M (or so) game, so the rest of the money can be used when problems arise. After all, we’ve all seen tiny indie teams making great games for a lot less.
Every now and then a cool (or not so cool) idea will come to my mind, making me thing “hey, it would be very cool if we added this to the game.” However, I always leave them out (unless it’s based on players’ input and can help make the game better, which is totally welcome because in the end it’s about the players). Just last week I thought “it would be cool if players could crouch (you can’t crouch in Enola, nor you can jump), so you could hide behind objects and sneak past the shadow guys” but then I told to myself “STFU and keep working on that game.” The mechanic itself is pretty simple and it’s not going against the original game design or theme (it’s not like my idea was to add a rocket launcher or the ability to climb ledges). I put the idea aside simply because, as a game maker, I decide there’s a point where I have to say “this will make it to the game, and this will be left out.”
One could argue that doing that just constraints the game, the creative vision, and whatever, causing the game not to reach its full potential. However, I could counter that argument by stating that one could spend a lifetime just adding, tweaking and iterating mechanics, and still we would have room for improvement.
BTW, gameplay-wise, Enola is a very simple game: all you do is run around, interact with stuff, and try not to die. Everything in the game was designed around that, so you see the crouch mechanic would actually fit the game perfectly. Also, I limit the story-related content, because the entire story spans around 15 years.
Also, making it bigger doesn’t always equal to making it better. I could add the crouch and sneak functionality to Enola, I could add combat, weapons, more levels, 100 achievements, unlockable costumes (it’s a first person game) and an epic secret boss, but I know those elements would not make the game any better, only different. Game development is already complicated enough. I don’t need it to make it even more complicated by designing too much game.
In other words, I always remember to KISS (keep it simple, stupid).
I plan to make other games after Enola is finished, so in the next game I can test the crouching and unlockables and combat. I don’t see the current project as THE game that will define my life. I don’t need this game to be this huge thing, because I can try some of the scrapped ideas in a new game.
So, they asked for $400K and ended up getting $3.3M (which according to Twitter it’s more like $2M due to taxes, documentary costs and other stuff). They could have just developed the same small and simple, albeit way more polished game they had originally planned. However they ended up “designing too much game,” and taught us not to go crazy over money and just KISS.