Tim Schafer: Publishers could have a place on Kickstarter, too [Interview]

Double Fine
Double Fine

"You're almost at $1.5 million, aren't you?" I ask the Kickstarter legend. "Yeah, at just like a minute. I think we're minutes away, like a telethon," Double Fine founder (and Kickstarter legend) Tim Schafer quips. The game designer behind critically-acclaimed '90s point-and-click adventures, like Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, has raised over $1.6 million to create a modern adventure game since our talk.

He initially asked for $400,000. Aside from breaking records for the crowdfunding web service, this news raises a few questions, like what does this mean for game makers in the Facebook and casual games world, whose budgets are similar? Where does the publisher (i.e. EA, Activision Blizzard) fit into this clearly validated option? We sat down with Schafer to find out just that and more.

The budget that you sought initially was very similar to a social game or casual game's. What do you think of this as a trend for social and casual game developers to get into the increasingly restrictive business?

We had a great, kind of unexpected success with this. The question then, along that line, is "Can you extrapolate that to other developers, publishers? Will a bunch of people be able to do this or is this just lightning strike?"

We had a lot of advantages, you know, like a public awareness about our story and what we were trying to do. We had a lot of fans of the old game that we're talking about making--that genre of games from 20 years ago--there's a lot of awareness about that. If you're just starting out, there's a question of "Could you do that?"

I don't think you could do it exactly the same way. But I think that whether you're making a pitch to a publisher, or a [financier] or even Kickstarter, the most important thing you have to have is a good story, like "Why now? Why these people? Why this game?" I think you just have to figure out your own good story, then you could have just as much success on Kickstarter as anyone else.

Tim Schafer
Tim Schafer

In the Kickstarter video, you say that a traditional, large publisher wouldn't go after an adventure game these days. We can say what genres we think should be revived these days, but I'm curious as to what you think.

Growing up, I loved adventure games, like text adventures and things like that. You know, I actually miss stylized 3D platformers, like Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil. All of those games were exploring a real world that's still using platforming to do it. I think that was a fun era in gaming.

But I think it's not any specific genre we're trying to bring back. It's more just a diversity of genres, because the market tends to congregate around the last great success. It feels like someone has to risk, like millions of dollars to try out something new, and no one wants to do it. You see much more on iOS and tablets. Casual games--you see people trying and inventing new genres all of the time.

Speaking of which, what role do you think the publisher will play in the future of this field?

I mean, they have a lot of resources. A publisher is a big organization with lots of money, and they could actually be experimental with small amounts of money. It would kind of get past the fact that they're all machines that were built to build other huge devices. They're geared up to make big games, and place a few very large bets every year. It would be great if they made a lot of smaller ones, too.

Their place is that they could be providers of the portals through which things are distributed, and help with the discovery of these games. Or they could just fund a million experimental prototypes and hope that one of them is a breakout hit.

Double Fine Adventure
Double Fine Adventure

You said that the mainstream games space tends to congregate around concepts, so what are your thoughts on the recent rampant copycat claims in Facebook and mobile games?

I think it's been a terrible trend where people in casual and social games are talking like "Hey, get over it. It's cool to copy games. It's fine, we can totally imitate other games. We all do it, it's no big deal." They're wrong. They're lying. It's totally bad and it's bad for everybody. I think it's embarrassing for them.

If a Facebook or casual game maker tried this model, would you invest in it via Kickstarter or otherwise? Do you wish big time game publishers would invest more in these types of projects? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.

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