Tag Archives: Double Fine

Turning An Accidental Launch Into An Opportunity For Success

Originally Published on Techdirt.

Many times, when a company has an early release of their work leaked in the wild, it responds in much the same way that Fox responded when an unfinished version of the movie Wolverine was leaked. It complained about the leak. It got the FBI involved. It fired one of its own reporters who reviewed the leaked copy. Eventually all this lead to the arrest and sentencing of the man who leaked the film. Throughout the whole ordeal, we tried to explain how Fox could have turned this leak to its advantage by using the leak as a promotional opportunity.

When you compare that string of events to this latest report of an early release of Double Fine’s newest mobile game, Middle Manager of Justice, you can see that Double Fine has a better grasp of reality than Fox and many other companies.

“So I was on the train heading to work this week, and I get a call from our tech director saying, ‘Hey, um, so it looks the game is live in every territory.’ And I just went, ‘What!?'” Looking back on it, Chi laughs, but for a time he was worried about how this early launch could affect his game’s reputation.

“It wasn’t what I wanted the world to see quite yet,” he said. “At Double Fine, we pride ourselves on putting a solid product out there, so having something out there that was buggy and not quite ready yet was really frustrating.”

At this point, Chi had a number of options. He could have followed Fox’s example and complained about the early release and told all those people who downloaded the game to stop playing it because it was unfinished. He could have threatened those players if they released any video or screen shots of the game. Or he could have done what we tried to tell Fox it could do, use it as a promotional opportunity. And that is exactly what Chi did.

“I guess it kind of just turned into a beta test,” Chi said. “I mean, if people find bugs that we haven’t found internally, I’d love to know about them so I can fix them,” Chi said.

Even just a few days later, Chi says he’s received a ton of valuable feedback that’s helped Double Fine eliminate bugs, and make the game’s free-to-play elements less restrictive for non-paying players.

“If anything, I welcome these suggestions from people, because we’re still learning and we plan to work on this well after it goes live to make the game deeper, and luckily this means we’ll get an early start on that process,” he said.

While the game was not meant to be in the hands of players, Chi did what he did as a way to preserve the integrity of the company as well as strengthen its relationship with its fans. He used the early release as a way to help fans become more invested in the company by becoming early testers. He didn’t have to do this. He could have had Apple remove the game from those players’ accounts. Yet, he didn’t because having a healthy relationship with consumers is more important than a mix up in the release schedule. Hopefully, more companies will take notice of how Double Fine handled this affair and will respond in kind.

Double Fine’s Kickstarter Success Get’s Attention Of Other Developers Big And Small

We are all pretty familiar with the success of Double Fine’s Kickstarter Campaign. This campaign has been the fastest and most valuable success on Kickstarter. After only 8 hours its original $400,000 request was met and now a week later, it has reached nearly $2 million. This is a success that many people are watching very closely, but none so close as other game developers.

One of the things this Kickstarter shows is that game developers don’t have to rely on publishers to fund games, especially if those games are targeting a niche. As Tim Schafer said in the campaign video, he approached a number of publishers about the idea of an adventure game, but no publisher was willing to back it. So he went to the fans. This particularly is what caught the attention of a couple other prominent game designers.

First off we have David Jaffe. While not outright saying he will follow Double Fine, he says that in his new studio, it would definitely be something he would consider:

Now, with what’s happened with Tim’s Kickstarter, sure, I would consider [crowdfunding]. There’s kind of the fear that this would suddenly become, you know, a dick-measuring contest. Schafer comes out and raises a million, and Jaffe only raises $200,000.

But joking aside, I definitely think it’s a really cool thing, so I would consider it. I think I would be really nervous because suddenly now it’s not just a publisher’s money. Suddenly you have all these peoples’ money, and you don’t want to let them down.

While Jaffe is looking at this from a speculative point of view, other game designers are looking at Kickstarter as a way to revive old and loved game franchises. Brian Fargo, the creator of Wasteland and Fallout is one of those designer. He is looking at Kickstarter as a way to fund a Wasteland sequel.

It doesn’t escape Fargo that a new, Kickstarter based Wasteland would raise some eyebrows. “A lot of people have forgotten that there would have been no Fallout if there wasn’t a Wasteland,” says Fargo. But having it be publicly funded by the fans would mitigate a lot of this risk, because they’d know going into the project that the fans, the believers in the original game, were backing them.

But even with all this attention that Kickstarter is getting from major devs, not everyone is happy about it. Some people seem to consider this attention from major designers as somehow treading on sacred indie ground.

The whole point of this internet spaces was giving people funding to projects that couldn’t get notice any other way, but the rude intrusion of fame and trajectory rips this noble principle to replace it with HYPE.

I find laughable that the kickstarter double fine adventure game project says nothing of the project itself other than We’re cool, and funny and we will make an old school graphic adventure game. While other projects are specific and detail plot ideas, Doublefine is absolutely confident (cocky) about them getting the complete funding and more, they know that they will be featured in steam and know that people will pay more than enough to get their game going. They didn’t need this kickstarter fund to make their game, they needed it to add bejewelled rims on their already functional humvee.

Personally, I just can’t see it. I don’t see how raising the public awareness of Kickstarter is bad for anyone. Sure Tim Schafer raised a ton of money just by telling people he is returning to his roots, but that shouldn’t turn anyone off. In fact, if this game is successful, we could see far more crowdfunding happen as more people are  willing to take a risk on these developers.

If people are really worried about Kickstarter failing them, it will not happen because someone that garners more attention jumped in. Any failure will be on the part of the person running the campaign. Here is what I have learned about Kickstarter and what it takes to be successful based on Double Fine’s success.

  1. Build a name for yourself. Very rarely will anyone succeed on a Kickstarter campaign without some kind of trust between the developer and the community. It helps if you have completed some games prior, or at least have the game you want to fund completed enough that people can try it. If people don’t know who you are or what you can do, they won’t fund you.
  2. Create a game the fills a niche. Sure you may love a FPS or RPG game, but most gamers would rather get those games from established developers. If you instead look to develop within a niche, you will find many people who are willing to fund a game that they like and can’t get elsewhere.
  3. Ask for a reasonable amount. $400,000 is actually quite a lot for a Kickstarter campaign, but because people knew Tim, he was able to ask for it and get it. As a lesser known developer, you should ask for far less and the more successful you get, the more you can ask for. Most campaigns ask for only a few thousand dollars. You are far more likely to achieve that than 10s of thousands.
  4. Set your completion goal to be something reasonable. I am talking months here, not years. People who fund a campaign want the finished product in a short time frame. So you need to be realistic with your goals. If doing this requires you to shorten the game or cut features, make sure you make those decisions prior to starting your campaign.

So those are my lessons. There is probably a whole lot more that we could learn from this success. But the main thing I want to get across is that you should not give up. Don’t look at Double Fine, Jaffe or Fargo as villains or competition. Look at them as people who want to get a product out that they couldn’t otherwise. If you think of it that way, you will be far more likely to appreciate their successes and work to create your own.