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COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Broken Age, Double Fine, Double Fine Adventure, Feature Bloat, Kickstarter, Zeboyd Games

COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

The Double Fine Adventure ignited public interest in Kickstarter and adventure gaming back in 2012. After asking for a modest budget of $400,000 to develop a new point & click title, Tim Schafer and co. quickly received over three million Dollars, a massive war chest capable of funding even the most ambitious adventure game. As the project revealed itself as Broken Age and more details became apparent, our excitement continually swelled, despite the promised October 2012 release date merrily shooting past us.

A year on, however, and the project has hit an incredibly controversial stumbling block. Schafer revealed that Broken Age has somehow become too ambitious to complete even with their enormous budget, meaning that the project will have to be cut into two halves - the first of which will be released in January next year in order to raise some extra dosh.

How could this happen? Where did the money go? Does it actually matter? Over the next few hundred words, we're going to take a look at how runaway success can be your own worst enemy.

COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

Broken Age's delay comes down to one of the more worrying Kickstarter phenomena to have manifested over the last few years: Feature Bloat. This term was coined by Zeboyd Games' Robert Boyd earlier this year, who argues that the proliferation of stretch goals and extra gameplay features is having a negative effect on the most successful crowd funded games. It's tempting for developers to spend any extra money above their original goal (remember, we're talking an extra THREE MILLION DOLLARS here) on new features, content, visual flair and frippery; as opposed to delivering on the initial design document and keeping the bonus war chest for ports, DLC and pre-production for their next game.

There's nothing wrong with stretch goals and extra features in theory. After all, more money should lead to better polished and feature-rich games. But in this case, Double Fine simply went off the rails, and perhaps bloated their design with far too many features. “Even though we received much more money from our Kickstarter than we, or anybody anticipated, that didn’t stop me from getting excited and designing a game so big that it would need even more money," Tim Schafer readily admitted, before revealing that Double Fine had managed to all but fritter away three million Dollars on a project that was originally budgeted at less than a sixth of that figure.

COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

Actually that's not entirely fair, because Broken Age was never really on the rails. Double Fine didn't share a design document or brief with us, instead just promising to make an adventure game and keep backers up to date with the development cycle. In fact, they said this:

"Over a six-to-eight month period, a small team under Tim Schafer's supervision will develop Double Fine's next game, a classic point-and-click adventure.  Where it goes from there will unfold in real time for all the backers to see."

Okay then. As opposed to being motivated by a tight budget and using it to advantage, Double Fine's vision inflated to monstrous and unrealistic proportions in the false safety of having all the money they could ever need. Which is now running out. For many backers, this extravagance will be more than a little vexing, since Double Fine would have presumably already have released their game had they just scraped past $400K. Especially since they didn't get to have a say in the decision, and backed it because they wanted "a classic point-and-click adventure" in "six to eight" months.

COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

Boyd is right. Kickstarter, when you drill right down to it, is effectively charity. Developers ask for good faith donations, not investment, in order to try and deliver on a promise. The fact that donations sometimes come with bonuses is neither here nor there, because even a few dollars (it's a $1 minimum, remember) can be enough to tip the balance for a starving theatre troupe or amateur graphic novel artist. If you get more than you need, surely it's better to make good on your pitch before looking to the future rather than squirting your extra cash up the wall... and asking for more?

By the same token, though, you've got to look at the other side of the coin. Kickstarter asks you to donate on the strength of a pitch and promise, not a firm pre-order. Projects slip all the time, for games as well as numerous other projects (see also: the Pebble Watch), many of which fail to match their original pitches or don't even release at all. There's never any concrete guarantee that Kickstarted product or even any videogame will meet its deadlines, we knew this going in, so any disappointment has to be tempered with a dose of real-world common sense. Games are expensive. Games take time to make. This cannot be denied, and to do so is dangerously naive.

But that's arguably still no excuse for a $400,000 game expanding into a $3.5 million-devouring monster like a point & click equivalent of the Stay-Puft Man. Schafer must have had a plan, and by the looks of the community reaction, he might have been better off sticking to it. Even if Broken Age turns out to be utterly sensational - there's no reason to suspect that it won't be - we're still only getting half a game fifteen months after it was originally slated, and seeing a studio breaking the bank for a game that should have been better managed to fit the brief.

Personally, I didn't back the Double Fine Adventure because of one of the key points alleged by the campaign: that publishers won't touch adventure games. This simply isn't true (Reverb and Focus Home Interactive do, to name but two, and just look at all those Telltale IPs on home console marketplaces), but more to the point, we've been playing any number of fantastic point & click adventure titles courtesy of great indie developers on shoestring budgets. With only tiny teams and miniscule war chests behind them, games like Time Gentlemen Please!, Gemini Rue and Girl With A Heart Of made their money go a long way with superb writing, clever mechanics and attractive colourful visuals that didn't need to break the bank. Any number of one-man indie outfits, regardless of genre, have accomplished great things with less than 1-10% of Broken Age's budget. The sheer hypocrisy of it all makes me want to, erm, play some of Zeboyd Games' cracking RPGs that were developed on caffeine and peanuts.

COMMENT | Broken Age Broken: More Money Than Sense?

In this case, however, I think that Schafer was right about publishers, but for totally the wrong reasons. Even the most liberal and forward-thinking publisher wouldn't agree to spend millions of pounds on such an unnecessarily extravagant single adventure game, one that couldn't even make its mighty budget stretch far enough to releasing the whole thing in one go and let unbridled ambition get in the way of managing an obscene amount of money. Hell, they shouldn't. Not when they could spend the same amount on multiple projects that would make deadlines... and cash.

Despite this polemic, I'm not actually angry or even particularly peeved about this situation. On a basic level, I didn't back the Kickstarter campaign, so it's probably none of my business. But more importantly, the Double Fine Adventure single-handedly raised awareness of Kickstarter as a source of funding for independent developers, directly leading to the likes of FTL, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, the OUYA and more. Countless more projects are in the pipeline, many from tiny outfits who desperately need the support. Be in no doubt: Broken Age made this happen, and I'm eternally grateful.

None of which will matter much to the army of loyal backers who'll only be getting half a game in six months' time. I suspect that the end will ultimately justify the means, but Broken Age had better be doubly fine as a result.

Are you paying attention, Project Eternity?

What do you make of the Broken Age delay? If you're a backer, have an opinion to share or want to tear my arguments a new A-hole (the "A" stands for "Arguments," obviously), drop us a line in the comments!

Add a comment19 comments
Late  Jul. 3, 2013 at 17:33

...but Broken Age had better be doubly fine as a result.


Well played Sir.

I've already noted my thoughts here, but I definitely think Schafer is taking liberties here.

He knows there's demand for a $400k game - and he's discovered there's a lot more demand for it than he imagined. But to take the three and a half million dollars he's made from selling the idea of a $400k game and unilaterally decide to instead make a $5m game instead (rough guess)? That's taking the p*ss.

Yes, it's likely that the $5m game will be better than the $400k game. Could well be much better than the $400k game. But if he'd asked those who contributed whether they wanted him to proceed with plan A and make the game he originally planned to make, or whether they wanted him to disappear for a couple of years chasing rainbows I think a fair few of them would've voted to stick with the original plan.

Despite the fact he's under no real obligations to anyone, other than moral ones, and can do what he wants as the kickstarter program is largely built on promises and faith rather than rules, I'd say he's gone about this in completely the wrong way.

Imagine instead of making this uber-game he'd made the game he originally promised. And he'd made it for less than $500k. And released it on time. And most folk thought it a fine game, and everyone was pleased.
And then a year later he announced he's making a completely new game with a $2m budget - and he's kept the details of everyone who donated to the last game and he's going to give them all the game for free.
He'd then be a hero to all, would be getting praise and great press from all quarters, and would still have spent less than he's currently doing...

DivideByZero  Jul. 3, 2013 at 17:52

"Over a six-to-eight month period, a small team under Tim Schafer's supervision will develop Double Fine's next game..."

Yeah... about that "Next game" bull s***...

The Cave has come out since. Dropchord and Massive Challice are in the pipelines and they still toss about with Amnesia Fortnight.

Perhaps Tim got too in to Amnesia fortnight and forgot what the f*** he did with everyone's money?!

You better make this a good game Tim... I know you can do it, I just really hope you actually manage it.

Last edited by DivideByZero, Jul. 3, 2013 at 17:52
DivideByZero  Jul. 3, 2013 at 17:54

Thinking about it, I wonder if the Humble Bundle was anything to do with Tim wetting himself over not having enough money to come through on what he had promised?

Anarchist  Jul. 3, 2013 at 17:58

I'm mostly confused as to what he could have spent all the extra money on.

I understand there will be technology/engine licensing costs, software/hardware costs, and wages, but I can't see how these could have increased so dramatically.

That much money could have paid for a team of 100 designers/developers over here in blighty for a year.

JonLester  Jul. 3, 2013 at 18:40

@Late: I tried to balance the article as much as possible, but yes, I agree. Backers should have been consulted at the very least, or perhaps the original plan should have gone ahead followed by the first part of a much bigger new project with the leftover capital.

Also, I know so many developers who would kill for between 1-2% of this budget. Literally kill for it. And yet they manage to keep to deadlines, produce great games and even balance day jobs. The sheer shocking extravagance of the whole thing astounds me.

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 3, 2013 at 18:43
dekwaedsteniet  Jul. 3, 2013 at 19:37

I really can't understand the problems here.

When DF started this whole thing, Kickstarter was still at it's infancy. The original budget was actually 300k, because no project before DFA had ever got more then 100k. In a last minute decision, they upgraded it to 400k. That's 300k for the game, and 100k for the documentary. This was absolutely bare minimum.

So, they got more. That meant more documentary, more KS rewards costs and a larger game. Not only were they the poster boys for point and click adventures, but also of KS projects. They feel the responsibility, and they want to deliver. And they're giving it all. What can be wrong with that?

I can't for a moment understand the hate this is getting. They're basically getting backlash for investing their own proceeds in the game, to make it better. So instead of a small 'flash-game', we get a polished deep story about new characters. They've been completely honest about the budget problems from day 1, so backers knew exactly what was going on.

They could've just cut the game down, but they believe in it and are jumping in the deep end. So here's a game developer willing to risk it all with new IP, instead of all the other succesfull kickstarter which all have been remakes of existing games, or sequels. And they're getting hate for investing their own money? I really don't know why.

Last edited by dekwaedsteniet, Jul. 3, 2013 at 19:41
Anarchist  Jul. 3, 2013 at 20:59

I really can't understand the problems here.

When DF started this whole thing, Kickstarter was still at it's infancy. The original budget was actually 300k, because no project before DFA had ever got more then 100k. In a last minute decision, they upgraded it to 400k. That's 300k for the game, and 100k for the documentary. This was absolutely bare minimum.

So, they got more. That meant more documentary, more KS rewards costs and a larger game. Not only were they the poster boys for point and click adventures, but also of KS projects. They feel the responsibility, and they want to deliver. And they're giving it all. What can be wrong with that?

I can't for a moment understand the hate this is getting. They're basically getting backlash for investing their own proceeds in the game, to make it better. So instead of a small 'flash-game', we get a polished deep story about new characters. They've been completely honest about the budget problems from day 1, so backers knew exactly what was going on.

They could've just cut the game down, but they believe in it and are jumping in the deep end. So here's a game developer willing to risk it all with new IP, instead of all the other succesfull kickstarter which all have been remakes of existing games, or sequels. And they're getting hate for investing their own money? I really don't know why.



You really don't know why? What is wrong with you? Here are the simple facts.

They asked for 400k to make a full game, by October 2012.
They received 3.5 million ish.
They have used all 3.5 million and are providing HALF a game.

I'd rather pay 0.4 million and have a game, than pay 3.5 million for half a game, a year late.

What are they going to do with the proceeds from the game sales to non kickstarters? Use it to make the second half and give it away free? Give over. They are buying ferraris all round.

dekwaedsteniet  Jul. 3, 2013 at 22:06

I really can't understand the problems here.

...



You really don't know why? What is wrong with you? Here are the simple facts.

They asked for 400k to make a full game, by October 2012.
They received 3.5 million ish.
They have used all 3.5 million and are providing HALF a game.

I'd rather pay 0.4 million and have a game, than pay 3.5 million for half a game, a year late.

What are they going to do with the proceeds from the game sales to non kickstarters? Use it to make the second half and give it away free? Give over. They are buying ferraris all round.



I'm not really sure if there's anything wrong with me or not.

But I am quite sure that backers do get Part I and Part II, so they are getting the second part 'for free' when it's released in April/May. As do non-kickstarters who buy the first part on 'steam early access'. And people who buy it after that are just buying one full game. So no ferraris yet for Double Fine I'm afraid...

DivideByZero  Jul. 4, 2013 at 15:54

You're still missing the point (though I am happy that you are OK with it though, that's fine).

Basically we the backers paid to have a game by Oct 2012 and we don't have it yet. Given that they had extra money and can therefore through extra resources at it, it is hard to swallow that they are now saying we only get half a game in 2014 - a year and half late!

Moreover... to get an e-mail from Tim, personally, saying they don't have enough money to make the $400k game they pitched when they got several times that amount just adds to the issue.

As Jon said, smaller companies do it on a shoestring. Surely DF could have used this money to bring a bigger game in the same timescale if they had wanted.

They have been busy on other stuff too though. It's not like they have just been working on DFA... perhaps they should have shelved everything else to at least try and meet their promise to the people who gave them money on faith.

I really like DF and I really like Tim's work. But this whole thing stinks. I expected better from someone like Tim.

As and when this game comes out, assuming it is awesome, this will all be water under the bridge.

Or if it stinks, it'll probably be the end of Double Fine.

Last edited by DivideByZero, Jul. 4, 2013 at 15:54
dekwaedsteniet  Jul. 4, 2013 at 18:07

Yes, but that's exactly the thing. They are not making a 400k game, but a 3,4 mln game. Try to imagine organizing a party for 40 paying people. Suddenly 320 people are buying tickets. So now you're organizing a party for 320 people, which makes the organizing part way more complex, and there's a bigger chance of costs running, because when you're increasing the scope there are way more factors which can increase the cost.

So, what if they stuck to the 5-man 1 year flashgame they originially wanted to make, and they would have kept the 2,8mln? Can you imagine the outcry then?
In a story driven game with deep characters, which I'm sure everyone wants, you cannot simply make a 400k game, and the fit some DLC in with more adventures.

So making a budget for a large game is extremely hard. Even more so when you don't know what you're going to make when you pitch it. Can you make a budget for a year, when you've got no idea what you're going to do that year? And then try doing that for 15 people. They've been building an engine, designing puzzles, developing an art workflow etc.

And besides that, can you name one ambitious game with new IP which has been delivered on time? Let's see how Blizzard does it? Far Cry 3 has been delayed, Bioshock Infinite has been delayed 3 times. Let's not start about Valve.

So, they haven't even used their kickstarter budget, but they don't want to compromise their game. So they fund the rest out of their own pocket by selling early acces to the game. What stinks about that?

Of course, there are probably small gamecompanies working on a tighter budget. But I can imagine they're doing that working impossible hours in a small team out of their parents basements, way under the payscale or farming out the work to cheap labor countries.

But the thing what suprises me most; I think Double Fine earns a bit of respect by being one of the few 'bigger' developer who shy away from rehashing game ideas, only producing sequels and/or going for the biggest polygon count. It's from company's like them that we're going to see new ideas and a step forward in more story driven games with interesting characters. So when they're in trouble for being ambitious, it's downright saddening that the whole gaming community calls them a 'sham', moneygrabbers or are being 'insulted' for being late.

DivideByZero  Jul. 4, 2013 at 20:23

Have to disagree here mate.

"They are not making a 400k game, but a 3,4 mln game. "

If that was the case, they would have enough money... they are making a $5m (est) game...


"So, what if they stuck to the 5-man 1 year flashgame they originially wanted to make, and they would have kept the 2,8mln? Can you imagine the outcry then?"

No one suggested that. But you could quite easily scale it up if you wanted to. 20 people 1 year game, for example.

I do totally support devs releasing games late so they are ready rather than just beta... but that's not really the issue here.

The issue is that DF set up a kickstarter to make a game. They made more than their target... but are now saying it is not enough!

As for time... you have to imagine that when a normal developer is late, when they have a meeting with the publisher to say "Sorry, we are running behind", the publisher wont be all like "Oh, that's fine... take all the time you want". In fact, there would probably be a heated debate, lots of shouting and some promises to work harder and faster by the devs.

The publishers front the money to get the games made... in this case, we fronted that money and I feel we have every right to feel a bit upset with this situation.

It's annoying when a game you are looking forward to is delayed... but there was never any promise there and whether you pre-order or not has nothing to do with the developer. With a kickstarter on the other hand, it does.

Also, if you are running behind schedule.. why stop for Amnesia fortnight and also start another whole new kickstarter? Seems crazy to me.

As for Double fine being pioneers... not so much. Now I do love DF, but they do just do their own take on games you have already played before. They hardly push boundaries like games like Journey did, for one example. Double fine are more original in the story-telling department than game mechanics one.

dekwaedsteniet  Jul. 4, 2013 at 21:29

Have to disagree here mate.
......



Well, I don't think scaling up is that easy, that was kind of the point I tried to make. I have no experience leading large teams, but as I pointed out, lots and lots of games have been delayed. Including Journey, which is a great game, but also needed more time to finish it. Is that also poor management? I think they saw the game, and thought 'We can make this better', and they apparently did. So why can't Broken Age do that. Because it was funded by Kickstarter?

'In fact, there would probably be a heated debate, lots of shouting and some promises to work harder and faster by the devs.'

Well, I think they're working as hard and fast as is feasible. I think the producer would have said: 'Cut half of the game (hence a lot of bug-ridden, half finished games)'. Then DF would have said 'No, were investing our own money to finish it the way we want'. I can't imagine the producer would disagree with that solution, because it doesn't cost them anything, and hopefully makes it a better game.

As for Amnesia Fortnight and Massive Chalice. They do that to keep the company alive, and keep everyone employed. It's not eating any budget for Broken Age.

I agree with you that waiting longer for a game is annoying. Myself, I can wait a little longer. I'm enjoying the documentary and forum posts a lot, and if it results in a longer and (hopefully) better game, then that's a price I'm willing to pay. I can understand if you don't. But can you name any game which hasn't been delayed?

As the wise man once said:

"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."

- Shigeru Miyamoto

And DF doesn't always succeed in inventing new mechanics, but their ambition is to do new things. Not every game is a 'Journey', but at least they try every time. And that is wat counts in my book.

Well, thanks for replying anyway.

Anarchist  Jul. 5, 2013 at 12:22

"But can you name any game which hasn't been delayed?"

Only about a thousand. Lets start with pretty much the whole call of duty, battlefield, FIFA and forza releases.

If DF are putting so much of their own money into it, why did they ask the public for a measly $400k to start with when they obviously didn't need it...?

It just seems like such a tardy way to fund their games without having to be answerable to anybody, no pressure, no responsibility, no risk.

DivideByZero  Jul. 5, 2013 at 17:02

Sorry I didn't post back sooner, I went out for a meal with the Mrs.

We went to this really nice Indian in town. I ordered the Rogan Josh and Lisa had the Korma. When we ordered though, they asked us to pay up front. I thought it was a bit cheeky but perhaps we looked like we might do a runner. Anyways, we were hungry so we paid the £40 up front.

We waited about half and hour and our food didn't come. I complained to the waiter and he said it would be with us soon.

After over two hours and several complaints, the manager came out saying they couldn't afford to cook our meals today... but not to worry, if we came back next week, we would get the best items on the menu.

So we went home, £40 down, starving hungry and really happy with the great service we got and that we were going to get something more than we had wanted.

Last edited by DivideByZero, Jul. 5, 2013 at 17:02
Late  Jul. 5, 2013 at 17:27

Game, set and match to Mr. Zero.

Anarchist  Jul. 5, 2013 at 20:40

+1 like

dekwaedsteniet  Jul. 6, 2013 at 00:53

Thanks for your interesting responses :).

Well, I'm not really surprised Fifa 2025 and Battlefield 12 are released on time. They're remaking those games every year, with a higher polycount. If you have been making the same games for years, it's not surprising it's much easier to manage.

And mr Zero's (I can't stop thinking about 'When Harry met Sally now) story is very nice. And yes, waiting sucks, I know. But I don't think the way you tell your story is how it actually happend.

You forgot to mention that the Indian restaurant you went to was actually quite new, and nobody really knew if there would be much interest in Indian food in your town. To be on the safe side, they planned the restaurant in a really small building. The master chef of this restaurant, mr Tinjin Schaffier, was a famous cook and he hadn't made any Indian food since he left his old restaurant to start his own. He asked if people wanted to invest in his little venture, and in return they received a meal when the menu was finished.

Now, the menu he was proposing was quite simple, but effective. People who've had Indian food would not be disappointed, but it wouldn't set the world and their throats on fire. But something wonderful happened. There were way more people wanting to invest in Indian food then anyone thought possible. So many in fact, that not only the Indian food was popular, but suddenly people wanted to invest in a lot of other restaurants as well.

Now, Schaffier had to move the restaurant to a new building to accommodate all the new costumers. This meant hiring more personnel, building a giant kitchen etc. and so costs were rising rapidly. When the investing round ended Schaffier sent an e-mail saying that the opening of the restaurant would be delayed, because of the moving to a different location, and because with all these investments he wanted to show his customers that Indian food was not dead and that there's still a lot of new ground to explore.
He never mentioned a new date again, until they knew when they knew anything more. Because inventing new recipes is really difficult, it ended up taking more time then the chef had anticipated. He never had made Indian Food with all these modern ingredients before, so before the money ran out he decided he would take some more time to deliver his customers a better experience, at the expense of his own profits later. But he thought it would be worth it. But in the meantime, there were plenty of restaurants to go to, so no one would get hungry.

Well, that was fun. I'm pretty sure this story won't convince anyone, but at least I showed some ambition in this discussion. I want to conclude my statement with this quote from another Kickstarter:

'Delays, content cuts, pushed back dates, plans to make revenue sooner- this is how games are developed. Bioshock Infinite, the biggest game of 2013, got delayed for half a year, AFTER pre-orders were sold. Journey took 3 years to make a 3 hour game and had to go back for more funding from Sony TWICE. That’s how game development goes. They didn’t know they’d need to do it. Humans are not good at estimating creative endeavors, no matter how “professional” they are.'

Source (is worth reading):
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga/posts/529873

Take care, and have a good day!

Late  Jul. 7, 2013 at 10:41

I like this guy. He's feisty and holds his own very well against the crowd. Very nicely done :D

Two sides to every story, and all down to personal opinion/perspective, I guess.

But my opinion is the right one, of course... ;)

DivideByZero  Jul. 8, 2013 at 10:34

I will just quickly reiterate what I have already said and then leave it.

Firstly, if people don't have a problem with the way this DF Kickstarter is going, then I am happy for you, but sadly I can't relate.

I don't think anyone would care if last weeks e-mail came through and said "We are making a bigger game so it's taking longer". I would certainly be cool with that. The problem is that they ran out of money, having got more than they asked for in the first place.

To me, this shows p*** poor management of this project. You have a budget right at the start, right before the design phas - which only started after the Kickstarter. Failure to work to this budget is entirely due to poor management of the project - a project that has not had the full attention of it's management or staff (The Cave, Dropchord, Massive Chalice Kickstarter, Amnesia Fortnight...).

This is why people are upset and once people are upset, it highlights all the other elements of a project that are less than perfect which you would usually ignore.

If and when the game comes out it's a great one, this will all be water under the bridge. However, with a large percentage of Double Fine fans backing Broken Age and the way the project has gone, if the game releases and it's naff, then it will be extremely damaging for the Double Fine reputation.

I really hope it's a great game.

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