Not so Double Fine....
If the name The Broken Age doesn't sound familiar to you, then you may recognize it by what it used to go by: The Double Fine Adventure. That's right, the game that took Kickstarter by storm, made over three million dollars, and pretty much started this wave of developers turning to the crowdfunding site in order to get their games made. This was the game that would prove that it worked, right?
Yeah, well, about that.
I do remember saying that it would probably be a matter of time before a game that was funded through Kickstarter failed to deliver. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would be one of the most successful ones that served as a precursor and trailblazer for the rest. Granted, perhaps failure is too harsh of a word, at least at the moment.
The proposed solution to this problem, at least as far as Schafer is concerned, is to put the game into Steam's Early Access program, or rather, put what can be made of the game into it. His line of reasoning is that people that want to will be able to pay and then play the first half of the game -- Act 1, as it stands -- while helping fund the necessary revenue to get Act 2 up and polished and all that jazz.
Somewhat predictably, there have been two major camps about this: the first one and the one that is probably the most vocal are the people who are angry about this revelation. It's not very hard to understand where said anger is coming from, given that the game's Kickstarter was and still is considered one of the most successful video game related ventures. While Kickstarter is quick to remind people that even funded projects have no guarantees of getting results, many people do believe in the tacit agreement that if a project gets the funding it needs that it will generally deliver on what's promised.
To that end, people that have donated money, while not forced to buy early access to the game if they don't want to, are still feeling somewhat jilted because of the wild success of the initial backing and a perceived failure to live up to the promises that were made therein. There are also the more general naysayers that point to this as proof positive that Kickstarter is not and has never been an appropriate venue for such projects. To the latter I believe that the bluster is quite nonsensical, but I have to admit that this certainly didn't help matters in any case.
There is also a second group of people, more of a minority perhaps, that has been more understanding regarding this affair. People have been saying that the inside access to the game's development has been worth the price of backing alone, and that Schafer being upfront about what's happening with the development process is a refreshing change of pace from the usual smoke and mirrors. While I can understand that some may not be upset, this tone can't help but strike me as somewhat apologist at best. Granted, that's neither here nor there in terms of what's actually being done.
After the announcement and subsequent backlash, Schafer did go on Twitter, stating, "Double Fine is not asking for more money. We are fine, financially," and "We are using our own money to deliver a bigger game than we Kickstarted," Still, given that his initial letter on the Kickstarter talked about such things as:
"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."
It really does seem like an admission on his part that within the current scope of things that the game was simply not going to be done within a feasible period of time. Talks of cutting a game's content by three quarters is generally never a good thing, and when the subject is then broached with, "but we've found a way to not do it, and all you have to do is X!" makes it harder to swallow still.
Would I say that The Broken Age is in trouble? No, I don't believe it's that bad. However I do think that this entire incident has left a very bad taste in the mouths of many people. I wonder if there are those that are looking at their recent backing of the other Double Fine game Massive Chalice and wondering if they have made the right decision. All I know for certain is that the studio may have to be very careful where and how they tread for the next little while.