When I first looked at the Kickstarter page for DoubleFine's new Kickstarter project, I was extremely curious as to how things would turn out. I never thought for a moment that the project would fail to raise the $400K that it targeted, but I wondered if it would be a long slog to the finish line. In quite the opposite, DoubleFine completed and then went on to exceed funding in less than 24 hours. I love the fact that this money comes with almost no strings attached. And it didn't require any help from publishers.
With news out of the DICE conference that traditional publishing is broken, I was curious to consider it's future in the face of DoubleFine's awesome achievement.
A few thoughts came to mind:
1. Most of us are not DoubleFine.
Sure, no surprises here, but if you review DoubleFine's Kickstarter ask, they are really just asking for the funding. The particulars on the project are "...a classic point-and-click adventure. Where it goes from there will unfold in real time for all the backers to see." There are a handful of individuals and studios whose names we all know that could make this vague of an ask and succeed. Then there are the rest of us. While traditional publishing must evolve, the vast majority of game developers do not have the clout or ability to succeed where DoubleFine has (on many fronts). For the rest of us, we may need to take those advances on royalties to build the product and hope that our publishing partner will promote it enough to build success. It's possible that we're still stuck with them for the time being. More on this later in the post.
Micro Side Ranty Sentence: Be smart with your money and you can break these chains and get off that treadmill. That is another blog post.
2. Publishers will continue to bring value beyond funding
Ask developers what the role of the publisher is and you'll generally hear "They are here to #$% the game. There's no denying this happens all the time. More broadly though, publishers serve more than to mess up your progress or write checks. Publishers are very in tune with the heartbeat of the marketplace. They know what's moving and what's not. They put down alot of bets on products that fail to ever make them money. Many times, that's money they expect to lose to learn where to bet next. Ultimately, DoubleFine's success makes me think we're coming to a bit of a crossroad question:
3. Can you go it alone?
Earlier, I mentioned that we're potentially stuck with traditional publishing for the time being. I don't think I really believe that anymore. This really comes down to a question of self.
Who are you as a developer and what you want from your time in the game industry? That's right, this blog post has shifted away from how to get money and has turned towards the question of why we do what we do in the first place?
Are you trying to get famous or rich?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then it's my opinion that you'll still need a publisher. Why? Because your motivations are clearly aligned. This doesn't mean you're bad, but if you're going for revenue and you're not independently wealthy or have a DoubleFine track record, you're going to need financing from a Publisher to move your projects along.
Can you be happy on a modest salary making your games for the rest of your life? Thousands of indie games that we never hear about do this every day. You may have never heard of them, but at least they get to do exactly what they want, every day.
DoubleFine has received this amazing outpouring of love from their fans because of what they've proven they stand for in their games. They have an authentic voice that their fans appreciate. DoubleFine no longer needs a publisher.
They have the freedom to take their visions to their fans who have demonstrated that they will support more from the studio. This also means other prominent 3rd party studios can also make this leap. Things have taken a turn and the traditional publishing model has taken a blow.
For DoubleFine, it's a new day. The rest of us have some work to do.