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Double Fine splits  Broken Age  in half to fund completion
Double Fine splits Broken Age in half to fund completion
July 2, 2013 | By Kris Ligman




Double Fine smashed Kickstarter records when it launched its Double Fine Adventure project in March 2012. Having raised $3.3 million (over an initial ask of merely $400,000), the developed game -- now titled Broken Age -- has started to see footage teased and backers might have reasonably expected to see the game in completed form in the near future.

However, as many of our readers know, the course of game development seldom runs so smooth. Returning to a publisher to ask for additional funds is fairly common -- it's just that in this case, the "publisher" is Double Fine's 87,000 donors. So, project lead Tim Schafer sought out another solution.

With cap in hand, project lead Tim Schafer sent out an open letter to backers today explaining how Broken Age would be cut into two chapters, with the first due out in January of 2014 through Steam Early Access -- which would allow Double Fine to start to draw revenue from the game while it wraps up remaining development.

"Even though we received much more money from our Kickstarter than we, or anybody anticipated, that didn't stop me from getting excited and designing a game so big that it would need even more money," Schafer admitted. "With this shipping solution I think we're balancing the size of the game and the realities of funding it pretty well."

You can read the full statement below, titled "A Note from Tim":

Hello, Backers of Adventure!

Those of you who have been following along in the documentary know about the design vs. money tension we've had on this project since the early days. Even though we received much more money from our Kickstarter than we, or anybody anticipated, that didn't stop me from getting excited and designing a game so big that it would need even more money.

I think I just have an idea in my head about how big an adventure game should be, so it's hard for me to design one thatís much smaller than Grim Fandango or Full Throttle. There's just a certain amount of scope needed to create a complex puzzle space and to develop a real story. At least with my brain, there is.

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.

This was a huge wake-up call for all of us. If this were true, we weren't going to have to cut the game in half, we were going to have to cut it down by 75%! What would be left? How would we even cut it down that far? Just polish up the rooms we had and ship those? Reboot the art style with a dramatically simpler look? Remove the Boy or Girl from the story? Yikes! Sad faces all around.

Would we, instead, try to find more money? You guys have been been very generous in the tip jar (thanks!) but this is a larger sum of money we were talking about. 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!

We were always planning to release the beta on Steam, but in addition to that we now have Steam Early Access, which is a new opportunity that actually lets you charge money for pre-release content. That means we could actually sell this early access version of the game to the public at large, and use that money to fund the remaining game development. The second part of the game would come in a free update a few months down the road, closer to April-May.

So, everybody gets to play the game sooner, and we donít have to cut the game down drastically. Backers still get the whole game this wayónobody has to pay again for the second half.

And whatever date we start selling the early release, backers still have exclusive beta access before that, as promised in the Kickstarter.

I want to point out that Broken Age's schedule changes have nothing to do with the team working slowly. They have been kicking ass and the game looks, plays, and sounds amazing. It's just taking a while because I designed too much game, as I pretty much always do. But we're pulling it in, and the good news is that the game's design is now 100% done, so most of the unknowns are now gone and itís not going to get any bigger.

With this shipping solution I think we're balancing the size of the game and the realities of funding it pretty well. We are still working out the details and exact dates, but we'd love to hear your thoughts. This project has always been something we go through together and the ultimate solution needs to be something we all feel good about.

In the meantime, I'm hoping you are enjoying the documentary and like the progress you're seeing on Broken Age. I'm really exciting about how it's coming together, I can't wait for you to see more of it, and I feel good about finally having a solid plan on how to ship it!

Thanks for reading,

Tim


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Comments


Ron Dippold
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Key point: 'Backers still get the whole game this wayónobody has to pay again for the second half.'

I'm okay with going episodic - it will be interesting to see how many backers object.

Kyle Redd
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I backed the game. And while I certainly have no problem with getting more game for my money eventually, I definitely take issue with what seems to be a very poorly planned production schedule.

The original game was supposed to be $300,000 (6 team members for 6 months as Schafer originally described). They ended up with eight times the amount they were seeking. So how did that massive amount of extra funding end up covering only half the total production cost?

The problem now is that if the Early Access plan doesn't raise the money they now need to finish the game, what then? The game either won't be finished or will be released in an incomplete state.

Ron Dippold
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@Kyle: Once they got the $3.3M, they designed a $3M game and blew that budget - which is bad, but not quite that they weren't able to finish a $300K game on a $3.3M budget.

Your last possibility would be very bad, and of course it's very possible. At that point the Kickstarter would be hitting the fan.

Maria Jayne
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Asked for $400,000, received $3.3 million, struggling to finish.......that looks like some epic mismanagement of funds.

I didn't back this, but I did recently back Massive Chalice, which now leaves me concerned. It looks suspiciously like they knew this before the Massive Chalice Kickstarter and decided to wait until after they cashed in on their name, before revealing their current problems.

Dane MacMahon
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They definitely mismanaged funds and I believe they admit it pretty openly in the documentary videos. Everyone screamed when they got so much money not to overreach and get too ambitious, but they did it anyway.

It's a lesson for other developers on Kickstarter. Make the game you planned, use any extra funds to add to it, not revolutionize it. Make a profit.

Caleb Garner
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yea agreed, it just bothers me because it's not like these guys are new devs just starting out.. this isn't the kind of mistake a seasoned developer should not make. they couldn't be oblivious to the stakes if they did reach too far and fail.. not just for the project, but for the whole kickstarter / crowdfunding world.. with great funding comes great responsibility.. :P

Katy Smith
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Yeah, the way that the Massive Chalice Kickstarter finished shortly before the announcement that Broken Age was out of money has left a bad taste in my mouth. It's a shame that a really good veteran studio made a mistake like this. :(

Jane Castle
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Welcome to the game industry....... There's a reason for all those ridiculous crunches..... missed deadlines.... cost overruns....... and eventual layoffs.....

Gaute Rasmussen
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Sounds like a complete inability to scope to me. Mismanagement of funds implies that they've been wasting money. We don't know if they've been doing that. Tim claims that the guys are all working hard and doing their best. But he confesses that he's simply designed a game that's too big. I take that as meaning that he simply hasn't been able to adapt to the requirements of the funding model he's chosen.

The real shame here is going to be if the final game is in some way compromised by the cuts he has to make now. We've seen a lot of experimentation with funding / monetization models recently. Crowd funding, freemium, IAP, etc. I'm not sure any of them have been beneficial to the actual games being made.

Dane MacMahon
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I think InXile are the ones looking to prove the formula and bring back a genre. Wasteland 2 looks great so far with lots of updates, video and a relatively on track development plan. That's why their second Kickstarter got a lot of money as well.

Diego Leao
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@Dane DF also got a lot of money for its second Kickstarter, even with the scoping problems. I'm pleased with how they handle their projects - that is, from a "game design" perspective, not a "product".

@Gaute He is not asking backers for more money, he decided _not_ to cut the game short and release early. Would you instead cut the game up, despite knowing that the whole vision is not there, just to be budget adherent?

If he has the "luxury" of using his own money to self fund his way out of the budget constraints, I think he should be able to. He is guilty of sticking to his own vision, which is WHY kickstarter was needed in the first place.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Diego

Massive Chalice made considerably less that Torment though.

Anyway I'm sure a lot of people are not fazed by this or think an artist needs to do whatever it takes to complete his or her vision. We see that attitude in this very comments section. I just think a lot of people have a different view and are experiencing what it's like for a publisher to have an artist spend more money and take more time than ever agreed upon.

George Booth
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As long as everyone gets the game in the end, why the hell does it matter so much? People just like to get upset about anything and everything these days I guess. Maybe the people who were funding the Kickstarter were doing so for a much more greedy reason than to help the studio make the game they want to make? I could understand the hurt feelings if the Kickstarter backers didn't get their copy of the entire game, but they do! So what's the beef?

The thing about Kickstarter is that the minimum asking amount is barely what the content creators expect when they first get the game idea rolling. $3M opens SO MANY DOORS, and they had to adjust their plans accordingly. IMO it's better that they spent ALL the money making the game the best that they can, rather than spending half, pocketing the other half, and then delivering a mediocre game. I'm eager to play it and see if it's worth sticking around for Act II, even though I didn't have the money to support the Kickstarter in the first place. And hey! I get to help fund it after all.

Ben Sly
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Broken Age was the first big videogame success story in crowdfunding. Its development reflects on Kickstarter as a whole: if it bogs down into development hell it sends a big blinking warning sign to crowdfunders. As the funding model is so focused on reputation, that can help determine whether or not Kickstarter and its ilk become either a fad or a viable funding method.

I don't doubt that all the backers (myself included) will get a game out of it eventually. What may be in question is the time at which the game is released and the resulting quality of the game. If half the staff had to leave because they needed the money, or desperate decisions effected a slash-and-burn approach to the original design document, or if the original vision became too ambitious in the heat of the Kickstarter frenzy, the game will suffer. And the first major evidence of that issue may be that a game never intended to be broken up into two parts has to be.

Honestly, Kickstarter is a place rife with the potential for bad management decisions. Overpromising is incredibly easy to do when both the development team and the fans are constantly encouraging eachother during the campaign, and the same restraint that makes good decisions possible counteracts that enthusiasm if displayed publicly. When the dust of the campaign settles - or worse, when the money runs out mid-development - the developers may discover that their promises were naive. It hasn't stopped me from being an avid Kickstarter supporter (traditional publishing models have just as many issues), but it's something that anyone who conducts a Kickstarter should be keenly aware of.

Eyal Teler
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Interestingly, Double Fine didn't promise a game in its original pitch, it just promised that they'll make an effort and the success or failure will be documented.

I think it's a feature creep scenario. The more the game progressed, the more they saw what could be achieved. You can see in the documentary how they added 3D animations and other things, because they could, and I imagine that Tim was encouraged by what could be made and in his excitement didn't think what it would take to create everything he's thinking of.

That's no excuse, of course, but looking at the latest clips, the game does look great (IMO).

Still, whatever we backers get in the end, there has been no overpromising, because nothing was promised.

David Navarro
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" Maybe the people who were funding the Kickstarter were doing so for a much more greedy reason than to help the studio make the game they want to make?"

I would imagine that the purpose of the average Kickstarter backer is not to "help the studio make the game they want to make", but to "help the studio make the game you want to play". I wouldn't call that "greedy" as such: Kickstarter is a funding framework, not a charity. If Double Fine promised X, people backed that, and now the entire project is in jeopardy because DF started making X(3) instead, it's entirely DF's fault and all anger directed towards them is well justified.

This is just in general; adventure games aren't my thing, so I have no emotional investment one way or the other.

Michael Joseph
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I don't think it's wise to help kickstart any video game project that is not already at playable tech demo/alpha stage.

To me, and for games, kickstarter is early adoption... it's not investment funding.

But that's just me...

Eyal Teler
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It depends. Kickstarter is risky, so unless you get something close to release (like Giana Sisters) there's a chance for the project to fail to meet expectations. For concept projects you have to go on faith. I think that's what usually determines how much money a concept project gets, the belief in its creators. So it's an issue of how much risk-averse it the backer and what the backer expects.

I think that Double Fine still hasn't broken the trust of any backers. It fully plans to make a game and it will be a better game than would have resulted from just using the Kickstarter funds would. It just takes longer (most Kickstarter projects do) and it's a burden on the company, which is something which backers didn't want. Still, as far as investing in a product in order to get as good a return (product) as possible, Double Fine will probably over-deliver.

Ben Sly
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Broken Age was a dangerous investment. I knew that when I backed it and if it came out today I wouldn't back it. It was a risky idea to support the vague idea of making an awesome adventure game with only a big name and what I'd consider to be an okay studio behind it (the game wasn't even named at the time).

But I wanted to help crowdfunding become a viable funding model, and it would have been difficult to do that if Broken Age - the first major video game by an established studio - collapsed. So, it was worth supporting the movement as a whole. And even if the whole thing falls apart and the game is poor, I've still got a decent look at the perils of game development through the updates and video documentary they provide.

It may sound like I've already assumed Broken Age will fail, which I haven't. I'd be quite happy if it does well, crowdfunding for video games gets some validation as a funding model, and I get a good game out of the whole deal (even though I don't have much nostalgia for adventure games). Indeed, one perverse benefit to not having clear public promises about what they're going to do with that money is that it gives them the flexibility to reduce the scope without compromising reputation, and that may prove to be an important point that lets them pull a great game together. But its eventual success will be hard to predict at this point.

Josh Griffiths
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Every bit of profit they're getting is going into Broke Age. Then everything they get from Broken Age Act I is going into Act 2. Am I the only one who sees the glaring problem here? They need to cut the game in half and salvage whatever they can or this money hole is just going to keep growing.

Honestly at the rate this is going, I don't think Double Fine will make it to 2015. I certainly hope not, but this is bad business management on every level.

George Blott
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doublepost

George Blott
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I'm a backer and not at all upset at this change, but I fear it might not be as beneficial as expected. I wonder how many fans of adventure games / double fine games are out there who haven't already invested in the game? How much business can they expect to get selling this first part when most of those interested have already handed over their bucks through the KS? I'm not a money guy and I assume they have some money people on staff who went over the numbers and saw a good opportunity to make that extra cash. Good luck to em, the game looks gorgeous, and I'm excited to get my hands on it.

Chris Foster
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I'm a backer and I love adventure games as well as almost every other type/genre of game out there. I'm a little bummed by having to wait until next year and the decisions that were made because, like George Blott above mentioned, the game now stands to do significantly less in the long run for the company. They are basically tapping every revenue stream available and they could have used and banked to help break their developer-publisher dependency or that could have possibly been used to tilt the scales in the future in their favor. I know the game will still generate some revenue once its released because every article i've read about it to date there is almost always at least one or two people in the top handful of comments that say "i didn't back it but i'll buy it when it comes out" or something about not trusting kickstarter and waiting for the proof of a finished product before giving any money to anything. The documentary process has been an eye opener in many ways.

Brendan Gallagher
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Getting the job done with desired funds would have ushered in a new business model. Receiving 10 times that shook an industry. This fiasco simply gives the industry suits a nice big High-Five crowing moment: 'the All Holy Creative Gurus couldn't get it done with all that cash? This is why they need us, they can't help but blow the wad for their precious vision'

It may all turn out fine, but this was a crappy, avoidable situation, 'Kid in a Candy Store' syndrome. All Tim's charm and good intentions can't defend his egregious overreach. Crowd-funding is hurt.

Dane MacMahon
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I've already seen it mentioned several times that this incident "proves creative types need a publisher holding a stick."

Never mind the thousands of indie devs who prove otherwise.

Brendan Gallagher
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I certainly don't agree, or wish such a thing. But those thousands you correctly mentioned didn't hold up a banner of independence, didn't take 10x the money they (I'd imagine), planned to need, and then come up not just wanting...but so wanting that they can only produce a fraction of the product as promised and boasted.

I utterly respect and long enjoyed the creative vision and esthetic of Tim and crew. And I know backers will eventually get something marvelous. But in his own words designed a game well beyond his original vision. That is where hubris took over and the original pact was broken. DF was not given license to tread a path that they were unprepared to travel, they were given means and support to deliver upon promise.

This situation and is a spanking well earned, and hopefully a lesson well learned. That said, time for the boys at DF to get back on the horse and travel promised path to conclusion. And I wish them great success.

Dane MacMahon
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I'm not disagreeing. I am just saying indie devs who operate within a budget and use responsible design do exist. Tim Schafer just isn't one of them, obviously.

Cordero W
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I try not to be pessimistic about things. I really do. But I am not surprised. Then again, I like donation models. It is what it is.

Michiel Hendriks
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Project is going over budget, and is failing to deliver in time.

Wait? Why is this news? Oh right, this time it's that it is happening. And people are angry that what is constantly happening, is now also happening.

Michael DeFazio
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Also, 'cause it's not just over budget, it's >10x over budget
...also 'cause its their (backers) money (not some "amoral" corporation)
...also 'cause it represents what Kickstarter funding could be and people have gotten their hopes up it would be a prototype for "customers funding and getting what they want" in video games.(reviving lost genres)
...also 'cause studio seems to be stretched thin from multiple Kickstarters, so can get budget and timeline reigned in.

...and lastly I think there is some Schadenfreude by some folks who just plain dont like Tim Shafer, DoubleFine, Kickstarter, or Adventure Games...

Michiel Hendriks
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I'm pretty sure they're not at $33M budget yet. Unless you really believe that they were still going to make a $0.3M game.

Corey Bingham
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People are reading into this as being a Kickstarter issue but I think this reflects worse upon Double Fine. This isn't the first time a game that Tim Schafer has designed hit delays and challenges due to scale...this was happening as far back as Grim Fandango!

Rachel Presser
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Didn't DF also almost bankrupt Majesco because of Psychonauts? Yep, there's a pattern...

Kyle Killian
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I remember reading something (or maybe it was one of the documentary videos) that Tim doesn't view money as object and generally does what he wants so it's not particularly surprising. If I can find the source, I'll add it to this post.

Leandro Pezzente
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I need to back this game ASAP . In fact , I am even more deligthed to know its becoming episodic !!! YAYYYYYY !!! SO happy !!!!!!

Charles Herold
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Kickstarter backers are now, it appears, getting to experience the frustration usually felt by publishers when games get delayed and go over budget. It makes me feel a little for the suits to see what they're up against; creatives who simply ignore monetary limitations to do what they like.

I hope this won't be a case of making a great game but bankrupting the studio in the process.

Jon Dick
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Eh. It happens in the industry, and the only difference here is that Double Fine is admitting to it and being transparent about it, unlike some companies who probably go over budget and you never even hear about it. The fact that they're releasing the game in two parts (with backers not actually having to pay for the second half) actually sounds like a good idea to me, given the circumstance. The full game will get released eventually, nobody has to pay for both halves separately (the open letter says that you buy the first half, and the second half is released as a free update once it's done) and Double Fine gets the funding it needs to finish the game. Wins all around.

And for everyone saying that everyone who's interested has already contributed and they won't make any money from the early access, a lot of people won't know about this until the game gets a Steam page. Just because it had a successful Kickstarter doesn't mean that everyone's heard of it already. Not to mention, some people will wait to pay until there's an actual product.


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