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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+
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Posted by patrickklepek
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.

Staff
Posted by Marmalade

I like this

Posted by Nautilus1515

So cool

Posted by tescovee

neat

Posted by Cloneslayer

relevant

Posted by schematic

Interesting read

Posted by MrGtD

Somehow I get the feeling the one person who put themselves down for $10,000 on the Kickstarter was this guy.

Edited by Besetment

@MrGtD said:

Somehow I get the feeling the one person who put themselves down for $10,000 on the Kickstarter was this guy.

He and Notch both did, but neither of them are the "one person" that is getting the lunch reward. They opted out of it.

I'd cite their twitter accounts as a source, since it was Dengler himself who said it, but I'm too lazy and who believes something they read on twitter anyway?

Posted by king2bob

Thanks Patrick great read. It is amazing when people get the chance to help dev teams like the Double Fine guy

One small correction, you missed a zero in the link for the a $400,00 Kickstarter project

Posted by SlashDance

He should fund realistic Jak and Daxter. I really want to see that.

Posted by leebmx

Man I'd love to be able to do this. I daydream about winning the Euromillions (need to buy a ticket first:)) and then using it to set up my mega studio where I can develop the game of my dreams.

It must be so satisfying to be able to help people make their artistic dreams come true.

Posted by Soulblitz
Online
Posted by Branthog

@Besetment said:

@MrGtD said:

Somehow I get the feeling the one person who put themselves down for $10,000 on the Kickstarter was this guy.

He and Notch both did, but neither of them are the "one person" that is getting the lunch reward. They opted out of it.

I'd cite their twitter accounts as a source, since it was Dengler himself who said it, but I'm too lazy and who believes something they read on twitter anyway?

Notch said he paid $10k for the lunch, but opted for a painted portrait, instead, because he's going to get together with Tim at GDC in a few weeks.

Posted by ChrisTaran

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

Posted by PimblyCharles

Hey Patrick you're missing a zero in the line:

making an offer to help bankroll Psychonauts 2 and Double Fine launching a $400,00 Kickstarter project to possibly develop a brand-new adventure game

Edited by Besetment
Posted by Brendan

Christ, that Kickstarter page is insane. I was just there last night and it had maybe 60k, and it's over 500k now!

Posted by Wuddel

Trenched PC version1!!!

Posted by fusion42

Great that this is now possible.

Welcome to the 21st century!

:D

Posted by steevl

@ChrisTaran said:

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

I've used their currency converter a lot in the past when ordering stuff from Europe. It blows my mind that the guy who created that site is responsible for some of DF's recent output.

Posted by White_Silhouette

I am glad to see that Double Fine is finding ways to continue to make awesome games...

Edited by Pepsiman

@ChrisTaran said:

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

It's a pretty understandable sentiment for the sort of audience that this site attracts, but for the record, it's a site that you'll come across pretty regularly if you're ever in any sort of field that requires dealing in currency exchanges. Ask Google to perform a conventional currency conversion (ie: "1 usd to eur") and, in addition to Google's calculation, the site will be among the first search results you come across typically. Although I haven't used their services in a while, I have a personal interest in the site because of my work and study obligations here in Japan, so at least in cases like mine, it's not completely unheard of for non-businessman types to know about it.

Online
Posted by Springfart

they just passed 600 000 in less than a day, so long for that 400 000 within 33 days.

Edited by PsychoPenguin

Dengler showed up at the Child's Play Charity event Desert Bus and donated quite a bit of money there. People started writing a fanfic about him and Steve Butts (the editor at the Escapist) as detectives and he said he'd donate about $1000 for each new chapter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgE6GVoqZ_Q

Dengler is the crazy rich man we all wish we could become.

Posted by thebatmobile

Really interesting article. It's pretty cool that this is possible.

Posted by Vorbis

I would also fund a PC port of Trenched Iron Brigade, just saying.

Posted by andriv

I would love to see another Psychonauts game but I would rather like to see more original ideas from them, all the worlds they have created are great and revisiting them would be great but not as great as discovering a new world from them. (ok, pretty ugly sentence). In the end, this always comes down to marketing the known vs. marketing the unknown.

Love the adventure game kickstarter thing they are doing, 30$ well spent!

Posted by rmanthorp

@Vorbis said:

I would also fund a PC port of Trenched Iron Brigade, just saying.

YES. YES. PLEASE.

Also this is just an incredible article. All this stuff coming up about Double Fine is crazy interesting.

Moderator
Posted by rmanthorp

@ChrisTaran said:

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

I surprisingly use it all the damn time.

Moderator
Posted by paulunga

@buckybit: That's not the tweets he was looking for.

Posted by Gamer_152

Really cool to see someone who's able to make genuine business deals with developers without becoming some greedy exploitative force.

Moderator
Posted by blacklab

@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.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

@Wuddel said:

Trenched PC version1!!!

That's more about Microsoft letting it be anywhere besides Xbox Live.

Posted by AncientMecha

Hey, Patrick Klepek! I just wanted to say that, as one of the few real journalists in this industry, you rock. I got really pumped back when the rest of the crew said you'd be coming to Giant Bomb. Since then, you've failed to disappoint.

So, yeah, thanks for actually journalizing and stuff.

Posted by Example1013

if you have the exact words, you can do a google search and tweets will pop up, assuming they're publicly available. For instance, searching for Turgid Minotaur Cock still brings up Mr. Navarro's tweet as the top result, if you want a specific example you can try. Just a friendly tip.

Posted by dragonzord

@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.

Posted by Soulblitz

@Besetment: Bah, technicalities and comprehension.

As for links, I just copy and pasted it into the post. It hyperlinked itself.

Online
Posted by buzz_killington

His site is really good for exchange. I remember using it a couple years back.

Posted by Thusian

I am torn on this and maybe I don't know enough about the current state of Double Fine. I feel like they should be established enough that they can round up funding without Kickstarter. I feel like their brand recognition may overshadow indies trying to fund games on Kickstarter. I don't wish them ill I just get nervous, at what point is Bioware using Kickstarter and eating the lunch of a future Mojang?

Edited by zameer

I'm glad he's getting some love for his decision to help fund those PC ports. I'm hoping they're a success!

Oh, and as someone living in Asia constantly importing stuff from the UK and US.. XE is pretty handy.

Edit: Hmm.. I wonder if they would consider crowd-sourcing funding ports now. I'd love me some PC Iron Brigade..

Edited by gike987

@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.

Because it's useful when you travel or buy stuff from another country (especially their iPhone app). I use their currency converter pretty much every time I buy a game from Steam to convert from Euro to SEK.

Posted by AURON570

Woot an actual article. Interesting to track the development of these things, from half-serious joke to actually happening.

Posted by MrKlorox

"You've probably used his website, XE.com"? I highly doubt it.
 
Also, nice smog San Francisco.

Edited by Conmused

So to get older twitter posts, you can just use google's search tools.

To start, type anything into google the full search options to show. On the search result left-side bar, look below "Everything images, maps, videos". There should be a Search Tools option. Click it, and it expands. Choose date. If you know roughly when the tweet was posted, your work is basically already done.

Once you have all those refinements, what you search for is this:

site:twitter.com/TimOfLegend/status @dracogen

It'll pull everything Tim, and only Tim, has ever said to Steven Dengle, within the selected time period, in an easy-to-read search result. Since twitter messages are short, you can usually read the whole thing in google's text preview. If you happen to know the exact tweet, you can tack that on the end of the query. Twitter's new UI should allow you to pull easily display exchanges, once you find something relevant.

You can replace any twitter username with TimOfLegend in the search string, if you need someone else. For example, if twitter's new UI doesn't help with conversations, and you need to see what Dengle said to Tim.

I hope this helps!

Posted by Jayzilla

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

Posted by avantegardener

Anyone who has never used XE.com is still living in the town they were born in.

Posted by zoozilla
Posted by Chris2KLee

I actually used XE.com a few of times to do quick conversions before a vacation, and if I was buying something from out of country to see if it was worth it. Dude's living a pretty cool dream scenario, glad he's funding fun!

Online
Posted by patrickklepek

@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...

Staff
Posted by Batmeng

@Thusian said:

I am torn on this and maybe I don't know enough about the current state of Double Fine. I feel like they should be established enough that they can round up funding without Kickstarter. I feel like their brand recognition may overshadow indies trying to fund games on Kickstarter. I don't wish them ill I just get nervous, at what point is Bioware using Kickstarter and eating the lunch of a future Mojang?

What if it has the opposite effect? If this continues to grow and gain more attention, and people who didn't even know such a thing was possible (I had no idea something like kickstarter existed) realize how powerful and uncomplicated it can be to directly/intravenously support a developer. Maybe more people/gamers will accumulated around stuff like this.

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