Notch, Tim Schafer and the public funding of video games

First up, if Notch and Double Fine can work something out, it feels like a pretty big deal. One thing is doing a Gearbox and purchasing game assets to bolt together a "game" to publish, another is to take profits from an indie game and funding a totally separate AAA studio. I know Notch is "new to this huge money thing" and probably is a lot more whimsical because he can, to an extent, afford to, but it doesn't make it any less stunning. That is, if it happens.

Now, time for a potentially stupid discussion.

I know this joke was thrown around a bunch, but somewhere in the back of my head a studio like Double Fine starting Kickstarter projects with some proper publicity behind it feels like it just might actually work. I'd pledge so many dollars to have games made. Being a consumer is so reactive so much of the time. We are given a palette of games to choose from, and we commit our dollars to them after the fact, so to speak. We hear stories of games that studios would like to make, but can't because publishers don't believe in them, or some other similar story.

Now with digital distribution and the mechanisms for crowdsourcing or public funding pretty much formalized, would it be that unthinkable really for consumers to be able to "vote" with their dollars for the games they would like to see made, rather than have to pledge their dollars after the fact and rely on an industry of census takers to decide what the public wants so as to justify the investment?

I know this would likely result mostly in project that wouldn't happen, but at the same time, that's how things are already anyway. In terms of value to pledgers, being able to play a game you would like to, as well as being credited as a pledger would be more than enough, and when the game is done it would still be for sale as usual, so everybody wins, no? Perhaps royalties for high pledgers? I dunno, there are probably bibles of legal ramifications.

But still, is crowd funding games given a properly announced and publicised campaign and a simple reliable payment scheme really be so unthinkable?

26 Comments
27 Comments
Posted by Sunjammer

First up, if Notch and Double Fine can work something out, it feels like a pretty big deal. One thing is doing a Gearbox and purchasing game assets to bolt together a "game" to publish, another is to take profits from an indie game and funding a totally separate AAA studio. I know Notch is "new to this huge money thing" and probably is a lot more whimsical because he can, to an extent, afford to, but it doesn't make it any less stunning. That is, if it happens.

Now, time for a potentially stupid discussion.

I know this joke was thrown around a bunch, but somewhere in the back of my head a studio like Double Fine starting Kickstarter projects with some proper publicity behind it feels like it just might actually work. I'd pledge so many dollars to have games made. Being a consumer is so reactive so much of the time. We are given a palette of games to choose from, and we commit our dollars to them after the fact, so to speak. We hear stories of games that studios would like to make, but can't because publishers don't believe in them, or some other similar story.

Now with digital distribution and the mechanisms for crowdsourcing or public funding pretty much formalized, would it be that unthinkable really for consumers to be able to "vote" with their dollars for the games they would like to see made, rather than have to pledge their dollars after the fact and rely on an industry of census takers to decide what the public wants so as to justify the investment?

I know this would likely result mostly in project that wouldn't happen, but at the same time, that's how things are already anyway. In terms of value to pledgers, being able to play a game you would like to, as well as being credited as a pledger would be more than enough, and when the game is done it would still be for sale as usual, so everybody wins, no? Perhaps royalties for high pledgers? I dunno, there are probably bibles of legal ramifications.

But still, is crowd funding games given a properly announced and publicised campaign and a simple reliable payment scheme really be so unthinkable?

Posted by BSw

@Sunjammer: Well, a similar thing is happening in the music business. There are websites on which listeners can pays certain artists as a support, so that these artists raise the money to release albums etc. However, game development obviously costs a lot more, especially in the case of a title like Psychonauts. I'm not saying it wouldn't work by definition, but it would require a super solid business model.

Intersting thought, I'm going to think a bit more about this!

Posted by Brodehouse

I like Skrillex but I hate iTunes so I'd like to just send him 20 bucks and then get some mp3s.

Posted by Deathawk

Today when I woke up I honestly felt like I was in the future.It just seemed so crazy. Whenever I saw something about Yu Suzuki not having the money to make a Shenmue 3 I thought to myself "Well let's see where the internet takes this." It was only a joke, no one in there right mind would ever come up and honestly fund something like this. Then in the last week or so it actually happened, someone was willing to fund a project that major publishers wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Regardless of whether or not we get a finished game out of the thing is almost besides the point, the seeds have been planted.

Posted by Sunjammer

@BSw: I've been using Bandcamp for my own music for a while, and so do friends of mine with varying success. My latest Kickstarter pledge finally panned out and I received my set of these in the mail the other day. I followed that project very closely, and actually receiving the stuff felt kind of nuts, having followed it from idea to assembly and manufacture in China. It's not like you order an existing product, but you order a potential implementation of an idea. I think it's directly applicable to game dev, at least theoretically.

Posted by Jimbo

It'll be stunning if they do it and it's successful. If they throw a big budget at Psychonauts 2 and it flops (which to me seems a far more likely outcome) then it won't be stunning, it'll just be embarassing. Anybody with millions of dollars can throw away millions of dollars - it's not exactly an impressive feat in and of itself. All it'll reinforce is that having emotionally detached publishers actually serves a vital purpose in maintaining a sustainable big budget game industry. They aren't always right, but I imagine these publishers universally said 'no' to Psychonauts 2 for very good reasons (such as: 'yo, Psychonauts sold like 8 copies').

I'm sure a Psychonauts 2 would be neat, but I don't wanna see Double Fine repeating past mistakes just to see it happen. Tim Schafer is a creative genius, but he should not be in charge of AAA budget games. On the other hand, if Notch wants to subsidise Psychonauts 2 for the rest of us, to the tune of millions of dollars, great!

Posted by Deathawk

@Jimbo: The important thing to remember here is that Schafer wanted this, he has publicly stated his intrest in the project and ultamitly he's the one that will have the final say in what happens. If Double Fine goes under because of this, it wil not be Notch's fault it will be Tim's.

If you think about it though, Psychonauts 2 isn't all that far off from what Double Fine has been doing for the past few years. Costume Quest and Stacking are two titles that basically explore the same themes and they did alright primarely for the price point. If Psychonauts 2 launched on digital download services at a price under $20 it could stand a chance.

Posted by VisariLoyalist

Only way I could see this working is if people could buy reserve copies of the game in advance. Otherwise just donating money that will be used to make profits without receiving any added value seems really messed up.

Posted by Jimbo
@Deathawk

@Jimbo: The important thing to remember here is that Schafer wanted this, he has publicly stated his intrest in the project and ultamitly he's the one that will have the final say in what happens. If Double Fine goes under because of this, it wil not be Notch's fault it will be Tim's.

If you think about it though, Psychonauts 2 isn't all that far off from what Double Fine has been doing for the past few years. Costume Quest and Stacking are two titles that basically explore the same themes and they did alright primarely for the price point. If Psychonauts 2 launched on digital download services at a price under $20 it could stand a chance.

I agree that it probably has a better chance at a lower price (though possibly $40). They'd need to cut it right back from Psychonauts to make it for anything like a Costume Quest / Stacking budget though.

I don't think they can make a straight sequel, because the only real audience for that is a very vocal minority. I figure Banjo Kazooie: Nuts&Bolts; makes for a decent model in this case - use the franchise to do something new, in a way that nobody needs any prior experience with the franchise to enjoy it.

Posted by BSw

@Sunjammer: Yes indeed, theoretically. Practically, however, it is a lot harder. Kickstarter and those kind of websites ask for relatively small amounts of money, while a game like Psychonauts will cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. For that, you need very large investors, who are not going to invest without having a certain guarantee to receive something back.

Alternatively, you will have to ask for - say - minimum donations of $40,- a person, in exchange for a copy of the game on launch day. I doubt you'll be able to get enough people to do that in order to fund your project. However, if the fundraising goes well, publishers might get interested along the way.

Another problem is that, if you would start such a business, you are depending on very few large and specific customers, instead of a diverse, massive customer base with minor investments. That's very risky.

I don't know. It feels like there is some sort of viable business idea there, but it'll require a lot of research and thought. Maybe it could work as a part of Kickstarter (they already do games)?

Edited by deathstriker666

If the Internet payed Double Fine to make Psychonauts 2, then it should be released for free. Otherwise that'd just be exploitation. But I doubt it's ever going to happen anyway.

Posted by dudeglove

if AVGN can raise 350,000 dollars for some ghastly movie project, I don't see why not.

Posted by RagingLion

A well put OP. I don't know. Kickstarter stuff is already happening. Anything on slightly bigger scales than that such as a Psychonauts 2 require multiple millions and that seems to start to be out of reach even if a bunch of people are excited about it. It would only be the biggest projects that could generate that kind of interest - almost certainly only sequels of long unseen games though maybe a creator who's lauded enough might stand a change. There's probably a sweet spot where the bigger more intensive games aren't possible but those below that will work. For example 30 man teams are too much to be funded but maybe 10-15 and below are possible at numerous hundred thousands of pounds and you can still do an awful lot with that amount of money and the right amount of creativity. I wonder how much Journey took to fund for example? That size of game maybe.

Posted by Deathawk

@deathstriker666: What? That makes no sense. First of all "The internet" is not paying for Psychonauts 2, one guy is. Second of all why should it be released for free? That's counter-intuitive to the main point, that there are audiences out there that would buy it. I don't think you understand that funding a game and purchasing it are very different things...

Posted by Whamola

I think it's definitely possible to publicly fund a video game, but I think there's a certain threshold where it becomes a logistical nightmare.

Take the HD Restoration of Manos. To restore it cost about 10,000 dollars, and I believe their Kickstart is now around 30,000. They had various levels of support, most of which got you a copy of the movie. That's all well and good when you're dealing with something you KNOW the result of.

I feel like it's just too different when it comes to games. I mean, imagine if Duke Nukem Forever was publicly funded. Imagine how pissed everyone would have been that they had donated money to a game they assumed would be great and turned out to be terrible.

Furthermore, I feel like if publicly funding games became popular, it'd lead to stagnation in the industry. What I mean by that is that gamers are notoriously fickle and skeptical about change. I still remember a lot of my friends being enraged when GTA III came out because it wasn't top down, so it wasn't a "real" GTA game. So I feel like the industry would just become small groups of fans funding the same projects over and over again, and we'd end up with Metal Gear Solid 12 where Snake's still young and doing the same thing over and over again. I mean, yeah, change can be horrible, just look at what happened to the Sonic franchise, but I think in a way, pressure from the studios ends up in quite a bit of change for the better, even IF most of the time it just ends up being terrible.

Another potential downside for publicly funding games is that not as many games would get made. I don't know about you guys, but I almost NEVER blindly buy a game (That's kind of why I like Giant Bomb after all). So while I might be convinced to donate to an interesting sounding game, there's no way I'm doing it more than once or twice a year. I feel like a lot of other people feel this way, and if publicly funded games became commonplace, a lot of them simply couldn't generate enough money to be made, even if they'd turn out to be amazing. So yeah, huge games like Call of Duty would, I would hope, NOT use public funding, but why wouldn't they? They know that the public would fund Call of Duty, so they'd only have profits on it. So basically, the first five good games of the year would have everyone donating, and then the rest would struggle.

Finally, publicly funding games seems like it'd just end up being a giant crap-shoot. A lot of people are excited about Psychonauts 2, and I am too I suppose, but it remains to be seen if it'll be any good. I mean, I might be forgetting something here, but what was Double-fine's last BIG game? If memory serves, it was Brutal Legend, which was filled with really good ideas, but by and large was a huge disappointment. The point is, it may seem like it'd be easy to figure out what's worth investing in, but in reality it's not. To use a really geeky Star Wars analogy, look at what happened with George Lucas. He had a completely different idea for what the original trilogy was going to be (and surprise, it was completely terrible), but the studios forced him into doing things in a way that wasn't completely what he wanted. The average person doesn't think about all that stuff and only sees the finished product. Years later, Lucas has so much money that he doesn't need studio funding at all, and he releases movies that he was able to do whatever he wanted with, and they were pure garbage. So what I'm saying is, it's not ALWAYS a crime to stifle people's creativity if they aren't savvy enough to know what works and what doesn't. A lot of creative people tend to have big ideas that aren't always feasible, and publicly funding these ideas is essentially letting them have free reign to do whatever they want, which isn't always a great idea.

Basically, let Notch be a weird philanthropist, but I doubt this kind of thing will ever catch on.

Posted by deathstriker666

@Deathawk said:

@deathstriker666: What? That makes no sense. First of all "The internet" is not paying for Psychonauts 2, one guy is. Second of all why should it be released for free? That's counter-intuitive to the main point, that there are audiences out there that would buy it. I don't think you understand that funding a game and purchasing it are very different things...

He said crowd-sourcing didn't he? As in get a bunch of people to chip-in to pay for the production of a retail product which they themselves would have to pay again to purchase. Not have one investor dump a bunch of money and get returns. I don't think you understood the point I was trying to make at all.

Posted by TheHBK

Tim Schafer has lost companies a lot of money. His own personal projects have not made anyone any money and while it might be another good game, he cannot sell it to anyone and just like what happened with Majesco, he had a lot of people lose their jobs.

Posted by mastrbiggy

The group doing Interstellar Marines are doing something like public funding I think.

Posted by GreggD

@deathstriker666 said:

@Deathawk said:

@deathstriker666: What? That makes no sense. First of all "The internet" is not paying for Psychonauts 2, one guy is. Second of all why should it be released for free? That's counter-intuitive to the main point, that there are audiences out there that would buy it. I don't think you understand that funding a game and purchasing it are very different things...

He said crowd-sourcing didn't he? As in get a bunch of people to chip-in to pay for the production of a retail product which they themselves would have to pay again to purchase. Not have one investor dump a bunch of money and get returns. I don't think you understood the point I was trying to make at all.

That's not what's happening with this situation, though. Notch is talking about self-funding Psychonauts 2.

Posted by Jay444111

The best way to do this is to NOT release on disc, but go full digital with steam/live/psn support. make it 10 to 20 bucks and it will sell based on the amount of praise it gets for being cheap and awesome. Hell, it would sell out on steam... and you can't sell out on steam at all! (Just trying to make a joke people!)

Also, if a company was going to fund a game, they would been to GARENTEE people that if they are given enough money, they would be able to do it no matter what and in good time as well. Unlike many studios that would take advantage of people by canceling the game for shits and giggles and pocket the cash.

Posted by SamFo

 I know this joke was thrown around a bunch, but somewhere in the back of my head a studio like Double Fine starting Kickstarter projects with some proper publicity behind it feels like it just might actually work. I'd pledge so many dollars to have games made. Being a consumer is so reactive so much of the time. We are given a palette of games to choose from, and we commit our dollars to them after the fact, so to speak. We hear stories of games studios would like to make, but won't be made because publishers don't believe in them, or some other similar story.

 
you're a freaking wizard...
Edited by Sunjammer

I pledged $250 but I think that might be irrational. But man, this is so important. At first when I read about it I thought, well, yeah, this is awesome but so unlikely to work. And then I go to their kickstarter page and they're already over 300k.

I got so excited I couldnt sleep haha

Edit: We win! 400k raised in a day! I knew this could work <3<3

Posted by Humanity

@TheHBK: b..but! Psychonauts was so much fun!

I agree fully that behind all the fun theres a dark past looming over the more recent projects Schafer has been involved in.

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Posted by sickVisionz

@TheHBK said:

Tim Schafer has lost companies a lot of money. His own personal projects have not made anyone any money and while it might be another good game, he cannot sell it to anyone and just like what happened with Majesco, he had a lot of people lose their jobs.

Sad yet true. Plus, I wouldn't trust him. This is the same dude who told Activision he'd make Brutal Legend for like $15 million, missed every deadline, asked for another year to work on it and demanded $8 million more to finish it. What's to stop him taking crowd sourced funds, missing every deadline, asking for another year and 50% more money again and making a Beyonce joke if anyone complains about his tactics?

Posted by RagingLion

@SamFo said:

I know this joke was thrown around a bunch, but somewhere in the back of my head a studio like Double Fine starting Kickstarter projects with some proper publicity behind it feels like it just might actually work. I'd pledge so many dollars to have games made. Being a consumer is so reactive so much of the time. We are given a palette of games to choose from, and we commit our dollars to them after the fact, so to speak. We hear stories of games studios would like to make, but won't be made because publishers don't believe in them, or some other similar story.

you're a freaking wizard...

The timing really is pretty crazy and this topic is now stupidly prescient. The world is changing just a little bit...

Posted by Sunjammer

A million bucks. What the fuuuck