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Double Fine Making Crazy Business Deals Isn't New

Meet Steven Dengler, co-founder of XE.com and super fan who found a way to make fulfilling a personal dream into a business opportunity for Double Fine.

You might not know who Steven Dengler is, but you've probably used his website, XE.com.

Steven Dengler has money, and he wants to spend it on cool stuff.

Dengler is the co-founder of universal currency converter website XE.com, an early Internet success and an entrepreneurial endeavour that made him rather comfortable financially, and allows him to use his money in a way that most of us might only dream of.

You know, like funding the PC port of Costume Quest and Mac version of Psychonauts.

“I’ve seen a lot of people become very unhappy as they got financially successful because the money goes to their head,” said Dengler to me last year. “It changes who they are. Their whole existence starts to be about the accumulation of things. [...] I really didn’t want to do that, I really did not want to become that person.”

I spoke with Dengler in early November, not long after the first two Double Fine projects he’d been involved in had launched.

In moments, it became clear he's an enormously passionate fan, just one who also happens to be the day-to-day CEO at a seriously focused web enterprise like XE.com. Unfortunately, not long after our Skype call had ended, the busy holiday review season arrived in force, and I never had a chance to write anything about our conversation.

In light of Minecraft creator Markus Persson making an offer to help bankroll Psychonauts 2 and Double Fine launching a $400,000 Kickstarter project to possibly develop a brand-new adventure game, it made sense to revisit my time with Dengler. It’s not like Double Fine is opposed to funding for otherwise impossible projects in crazy ways.

Double Fine founder Tim Schafer made a jokey comment on Twitter in March 2011 about how much money the studio would need to port some of its existing games onto other platforms. Dengler took notice of this, and joked back about what that number might be. Schafer responded with a number, which may or may not have been real. Schafer then pointed Dengler in the direction of Double Fine’s business manager. The whole exchange was tongue-in-cheek.

And this is where most stories like this would reach their logical end--joke’s over! Instead, Dengler really did email Zach Karlsson, Double Fine’s VP of business development at the time. Karlsson has since moved on to Capcom.

“The early couple of exchanges, they were just humoring me,” he said, “but in a couple of emails, I was asking relevant business questions and we were talking about specific numbers for specific things and suddenly it became clear that we were actually having a real conversation about this.”

From start to finish, transitioning from jokes over Twitter to actually writing a check, the process took just 18 days.

Since signing his deal with Double Fine, Dengler's visited the studio's offices in San Francisco.

This is not charity, however. Sure, it comes from a place of passion, but this was (and is) a very real thing.

“This is something that’s an actual commercial, business deal, where there’s money involved and I do expect to get my money back and then some,” explained Dengler, “but quite frankly, I’m not a video game publisher, I’m not looking for obscene amounts of long-term ownership or profit or anything like that. I asked them to pitch me a proposal and I accepted what they pitched me--I didn’t negotiate it. That’s what I wanted to do. ‘You tell me, because I’m a stranger to your industry, you tell me what an ideal situation would be like for you, that would let you accomplish your goals.’”

Ironically, Dengler and Schafer initially joked about the idea of more Psychonauts, as well, but it was just that: a joke. When the parties involved actually talking, it morphed into ports of Costume Quest and Psychonauts.

Dengler has spent his money on many other personal interests, all collected under the Dracogen Strategic Investments banner. He contributed $5,000 to help make Fallout fan film Fallout: Nuka Break happen, and decided to bankroll his sister’s artistic aspirations with the webcomic MegaCynics. He's active on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

“In the worst case scenario, we have fun for a couple of years,” he said.

Stacking and Costume Quest might never have come over to the PC without Dengler's help.

Even though Dengler had no real involvement past the investment stage, his financial contribution meant he was credited at the start of the versions of the game he helped make possible. When he started to talk about the animated Dracogen logo that appears when you boot Costume Quest on PC, his voice elevated in both pitch and speed. For a moment, it’s almost squeaky. He was so, so excited.

“You go from something that’s just an idea in your head, or a joke on Twitter, and then you think ‘Yeah, I can make this happen.’” he said. “I find that immensely satisfying, and that’s where I get my kick out of it. Maybe in the fullness of time this will be proved to be a really good business decision or a really bad business decision or a break-even business decision. Well, okay, we’ll see how that goes. I have my expectations, but in many ways, my goals have already been met just by making it happen--helping it happen.”

During our conversation, Dengler mentioned that he’d be willing to work with Double Fine again, if the stars happened to align--and they did. The reason Stacking exists on the PC is because of Dengler.

With that in mind, maybe the idea of Notch helping make Psychonauts 2 a possibility isn’t that far fetched, after all. And when I asked Dengler about Psychonauts 2, he expressed the optimism you’d expect from a big fan.

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Double Fine,” he said in an email last night. “I'm really happy to see Markus interested in helping out now. It looks like Markus will be a very positive force in this as well. My fingers are crossed, as are those of many, many gamers, I suspect.”

You can follow Dengler on Twitter, and keep tabs on where his money goes next at Dracogen Strategic Investments.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
106 Comments
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Edited by GaspoweR

@patrickklepek said:

@blacklab said:

@ChrisTaran said:

Never heard of XE.com before this, and not sure why anyone would have...

Absolutely no reason why anyone would, unless they work in financial services or related. Not sure why PK would make the claim that 'you've probably used it' based on this audience.

Totally not true! I used to use XE.com all the time when I used to import games...

I would have never thought that the co-founder of a currency site that I've been using for 3 years while living abroad for school is a BIG fan of Double Fine and video games in general. It is just fucking amazing. I would have imagined that the co-founder of a currency site would have been some stereotypical business magnate.

Posted by buckybit

@patrickklepek: btw, there's a Double Fine ActionCast (Episode 5 - 11/10/11): Ron Gilbert, Steven Dengler joining Tim Schafer talking about that exact subject.

People can get that thingy on iTunes or direct via RSS

Posted by jaks

It's cool to see that gaming can bring out such passion in people that they can put their own dollars behind something they really have faith in. You don't see this kind of thing anywhere; not even in the film industry.

Posted by Alex_Carrillo

This is a feel good ass feel good story.

Edited by ChrisTaran

@patrickklepek said:

@blacklab said:

@ChrisTaran said:

Never heard of XE.com before this, and not sure why anyone would have...

Absolutely no reason why anyone would, unless they work in financial services or related. Not sure why PK would make the claim that 'you've probably used it' based on this audience.

Totally not true! I used to use XE.com all the time when I used to import games...

Don't get me wrong, I've used my fair share of currency converters as I've been importing from Japan and Europe for years, just never heard specifically of XE. I either just google it, use an iphone app, or in years past, whichever random conversion site was near the top of the list. Which may have been XE, but the brand (nor look of the site) certainly did not stick out in my mind.

Posted by MariachiMacabre
@Jayzilla

Hey look everyone! It's the daily Double Fine news hour!

Like it or not, what Double Fine did last night and what this guy did for Double Fine last year are very newsworthy. Just because you would rather see a shitty article analyzing a trailer doesn't mean it belongs on this site. If you don't like Klepek shining a spotlight on one of the very few developers willing to be open with their fans and making weird, great games then go read a cookie cutter article on another site.
Posted by blacklab

@patrickklepek said:

@blacklab said:

@ChrisTaran said:

Never heard of XE.com before this, and not sure why anyone would have...

Absolutely no reason why anyone would, unless they work in financial services or related. Not sure why PK would make the claim that 'you've probably used it' based on this audience.

Totally not true! I used to use XE.com all the time when I used to import games...

Good point, fair enough.

Posted by csl316

Great article, Patrick. Good job.

Posted by Artigkar

I often use xe.com to see what prices on steam are in my local currency. Crazy that one of the founder of that site is funding double fine stuff!

Posted by chrispti

Dengler sounds like a mega cool dude. Really enjoyed this article. Thanks Patrick.

Posted by senorfuzzeh

This is one of the many reasons I love double fine.

I wish more people would support creatvie ideas in games like them.

Posted by iamthejuggler

Wonder if he feels like his toes are being stepped on a bit by this kickstarter thing. It's awesome news, but essentially it cuts out his chance to invest in a project if we're all providing the capitol (for basically no return apart from the game and feel good factor).

Posted by Phatmac

Cool to see how he funded the development of Psychonauts and Costume Quest, two awesome games that deserved it. Great read, keep it up Pat!

Posted by prestonhedges

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Posted by Nentisys

I use XE quite alot, pretty cool that the dude is a gamer.

Posted by MetalGearSunny

I love this.

Posted by Lemi

Dude also loves Planescape and is good friends with Avellone. Donated 2 Obsidian stones to them he found while travelling.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Jesus Christ, grow up. This isn't about Double Fine as much as it is about the guy giving them funding. If you'd read the article, you'd know that.

Posted by mister1337

Meh. I don't like Double Fine because Tim Schaffer isn't funny.

Posted by Dberg

@mister1337 said:

Meh. I don't like Double Fine because Tim Schaffer isn't funny.

I'm sorry to hear. I don't know what you have, but I hope I don't catch it.

Posted by Besetment

@zoner said:

@Besetment said:

@Soulblitz said:

@MrGtD: It was Notch.

https://twitter.com/#!/notch/status/167551424396394496

No it wasn't.

https://twitter.com/#!/notch/status/167537368419663872

Apparently I have no idea how to post links.

Yeah, it was. He gave 10k. He chose the 5k prize because he didn't want to be in the game he just wanted to play it.

I don't get why this is so difficult to grasp. The post I was replying to said "Somehow I get the feeling the one person who put themselves down for $10,000 on the Kickstarter was this guy," referring to the fact that the $10,000 pledge reward is sold out (0 of 1 remaining.) Neither Dengler nor Notch claimed that reward. Neither of them are that "one guy." Someone else besides those two got the lunch with Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert, unless they're lying on Twitter.

Posted by Blackout62

All I know is Steve Dengler gave a XE.com hat to one Graham Stark of Loading Ready Run. And apparently his entire purpose in life is to throw money till awesome things happen so he's okay in my book.

Posted by SlasherMan

@ChrisTaran said:

Never heard of XE.com before this, and not sure why anyone would have...

I use XE all the time.

Posted by Krystal_Sackful

@zoozilla:

Steam doesn't release that kind of information. Which is a shame really, but I'm certain that they did rather well.

Posted by prestonhedges

@MariachiMacabre said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Jesus Christ, grow up. This isn't about Double Fine as much as it is about the guy giving them funding. If you'd read the article, you'd know that.

Oh really...

"Double Fine Making Crazy Business Deals Isn't New"

Yeah, you're right, it's not about Double Fine at all. I bet if they wrote an article about a bird that flew by Double Fine's offices, you'd say it was about the bird. Pffft. Piss off.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@gladspooky said:

@MariachiMacabre said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Jesus Christ, grow up. This isn't about Double Fine as much as it is about the guy giving them funding. If you'd read the article, you'd know that.

Oh really...

"Double Fine Making Crazy Business Deals Isn't New"

Yeah, you're right, it's not about Double Fine at all. I bet if they wrote an article about a bird that flew by Double Fine's offices, you'd say it was about the bird. Pffft. Piss off.

Yeah, I usually absorb my information by simply reading a headline too. Who needs the rest of the article, am I right?

Posted by prestonhedges

@MariachiMacabre said:

@gladspooky said:

@MariachiMacabre said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Jesus Christ, grow up. This isn't about Double Fine as much as it is about the guy giving them funding. If you'd read the article, you'd know that.

Oh really...

"Double Fine Making Crazy Business Deals Isn't New"

Yeah, you're right, it's not about Double Fine at all. I bet if they wrote an article about a bird that flew by Double Fine's offices, you'd say it was about the bird. Pffft. Piss off.

Yeah, I usually absorb my information by simply reading a headline too. Who needs the rest of the article, am I right?

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Double Fine,” he said in an email last night.

Uh-huh. Keep posting.

Posted by fuchikoma

Yeah! XE.com! I've used that site for over a decade and it's always been easy and to the point. A better run than Google!

I love Double Fine in theory. Never stuck with one of their games for long, but I like the concepts and am glad they're made...

Posted by RenegadeSaint

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

I would if I could.

Posted by oljunebug

I am really excited to see what they come up with.

Posted by nick_verissimo

My heart glows with pride in knowing that Dengler is not only Canadian, but a Leaf fan! What a beautiful human being!

Online
Posted by prestonhedges

@RenegadeSaint said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

I would if I could.

Polygamy isn't legal.

Posted by Dtat

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Yeah there certainly is a glut of coverage of a handful of companies. Them and Harmonix to name a couple.

Posted by piropeople13

Haven't their last few projects been pretty successful? I would think they would have $400000 banked from all that.

Posted by Picard

My god, Double Fine Adventure has made 100,000 dollars as I was drinking my nightly beers.

Posted by NegativeCero

Even though it would be a sequel, cool people like this are a relief in an industry that rarely wants to take a chance on an idea that may or may not pay off.

Posted by Ne0teric

@ChrisTaran:

Have you never left your country? xe.com was a great source of information when I traveled through europe. Just because you haven't heard of something doesn't mean it's unknown by others.

Posted by geestring

@Dtat: I was about to mention the coverage of Double Fine, but you guys beat me to it. I though it was just me.

A lot of quick looks and that TNT for iron brigade with the crew.

Posted by Xeirus

@Dtat said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Yeah there certainly is a glut of coverage of a handful of companies. Them and Harmonix to name a couple.

Being nice, open, and interesting have a way of making people friends. Go figure...

Posted by mewarmo990

What Steven Dengler is doing is what I've always wanted to be able to do one day if I have the means - fund awesome stuff.

Cool article! You guys seem to really love Double Fine and that is okay with me because they are a fun group of devs. Keep at it!

Posted by Zaccheus

A cool duder with money and a lot of nice things can happen.

Posted by YoThatLimp

@piropeople13 said:

Haven't their last few projects been pretty successful? I would think they would have $400000 banked from all that.

Getting a load from a publisher for an old school arcade game would never happen. This way they can make the game they want. No compromises.

It was worth $30 to me, as my wife loves documentaries and this seems cool.

Posted by MachoFantastico

Had no idea this sort of stuff went down, it's awesome and gives me hope for a better future in video games. To many suited up execs who don't understand the love for the industry have to much sway in gaming nowadays.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

Great work Patrick.  This sort of stuff will raise GB's profile.  Nicely done!

Posted by StrikeALight

@Dtat said:

@gladspooky said:

Okay, okay, I get it, you guys like Double Fine. Jeez. If you like them so much why don't you marry them?

Yeah there certainly is a glut of coverage of a handful of companies. Them and Harmonix to name a couple.

If anything, it just goes to show how on-the-pulse Giantbomb are, in terms of their correspondence in the industry.

Edited by heavyplay

@Ne0teric said:

@ChrisTaran:

Have you never left your country? xe.com was a great source of information when I traveled through europe. Just because you haven't heard of something doesn't mean it's unknown by others.

Yeah, I think these people have never gone overseas.

I actually prefer the X-Rates calculator because there's no loading page everytime you click the convert button, but everyone knows XE.com because it has always been the first link on a google for "currency calculator".

Posted by probablytuna

Still have yet to play a Double Fine game...... Although I do own Psychonauts on Steam.

Edited by Corvak

Ive used XE.com many times. Being Canadian, I frequently use it to convert USD to CAD, as most major online sites list pricing in USD.

Recently I havent had to, as our dollar has been so close to parity with the US, however.

Posted by squidracerX

Steve is still cooler than 90% of rich guy investors out there. He could hoard his money like Jay Leno or buy Walmart stock etc; so cheers to him for a Double Fine investment. BUT, and don't get all hater on me here for my opinion, I mean him no harm. BUT when i first heard about him i thought it was a really cool video game nerd who got some cash and was like a video game johnny appleseed who wanted to make a game he liked no matter what. Plant his cash in little companies just to see them grow. But then reading this article i am like, he kinda became a lucky rich dot com boomer who happened to invest some of his wealth in a Double Fine side project for profit. Again why shouldn't he want profit!? But why make a story out of it then? Im sure there are hundreds of rich guys (like Ice T) who own video game stock because they too love games. Heck the Big Huge Games story of a bunch of rich guys getting together to make a studio is cooler than this! But he just invested in side ports of some already made games, not even a new IP; and again I think if he lost money he'd be mad. That doesn't make him bad, and he said in the article he went by their terms which is awesome of him, but I think that makes an article about him almost totally pointless (in my eyes).

Many indie developers have cooler stories about mortgaging their own homes or living in the game office to make their own games out of love, that seems like a more story worthy topic. This is just a rich guy who invested a little bit cooler in our eyes.... He's not a video game saint. I would think 90% of the Giantbomb audience would do that if we had excess millions!? Especially if we could get our money back.

Now the Minecraft guy, it isn't expanded upon here so he might be exactly the same, but HE sounds like he just wants to put his new money towards some new games he wants to see - money and profit be damned! I think if he lost all his cash but Psychnauts 2 came out he'd call that a win still. I'd personally like the hear that story more!

Posted by squidracerX

The $5,000 fallout movie gift seems like a bigger story even, he wasn't getting anything back from that! I've never heard of the film though, i'll have to read up on it!

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