Double Fine disappoints with Broken Age delays and requests for more funding - who is running the ship over there?

by: Chuck -
Last year Double Fine stunned the world by using Kickstarter to fund Broken Age, a new adventure game.  People (including myself) were excited by the idea, so excited that the game set a Kickstarter record for funding by raising over $3.3M in funds.   For me it was a chance to back a personal hero and someone who had a profound influence on my early gaming life.  I plunked down $100 to get not only the game but the t-shirt, the poster, a boxed copy of the game, and the documentary on Blu Ray.  I was literally one of the first 10 people to back the game as I pledged my money the instant I got the press release.
 

The company has issued twenty plus updates on the game since it was funded but today Tim Schafer revealed the game was massively over budget and far behind schedule.  Here’s a clip from the release that was sent out to backers today:
“Those of you who have been following along in the documentary know about the design vs. money tension we’ve had on this project since the early days. 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. 

I think I just have an idea in my head about how big an adventure game should be, so it’s hard for me to design one that’s much smaller than Grim Fandango or Full Throttle. There’s just a certain amount of scope needed to create a complex puzzle space and to develop a real story. At least with my brain, there is. 

So we have been looking for ways to improve our project’s efficiency while reducing scope where we could along the way. All while looking for additional funds from bundle revenue, ports, etc. But when we finished the final in-depth schedule recently it was clear that these opportunistic methods weren’t going to be enough. 

We looked into what it would take to finish just first half of our game—Act 1. And the numbers showed it coming in July of next year. Not this July, but July 2014. For just the first half. The full game was looking like 2015! My jaw hit the floor.”

You know whose jaw also hit the floor today?  Mine. 

Like John, my full time job is in the development and deployment of customer software solutions (something I’ve been doing for the last 18 years).  John is on the development side while I sold my soul many years ago to work on the analysis/project management side of things.  Reading the Double Fine statement sets off nearly every single warning siren I have around writing and delivering software, as of late my projects have about the same timeline and budget as Broken Age.

You see, writing software/games is about working within constraints. There are three factors that govern your project, time, resources (people and money), and scope.  These form what is known as the “Iron Triangle” of software development because changes to one of these items will impact the other two.  For instance, if you raise a bunch of money by crowdsourcing your project you need to work within that budget constraint.  This then impacts your timeline and the scope of the project. 
 


You can argue that game development is a bit trickier as you have to iterate a bit on the scope to find things that work and that are “fun” and that’s a fair statement.  However the statements above indicate that they didn’t even reach that point, that they fundamentally blew the budget before even starting development.

When I read the words “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. “ I wonder why someone at Double Fine didn’t take Tim into a quiet room and talk to him about cutting the scope of his vision to fit within the budget they were given.  I get that Tim is kind of a living legend in the game development world but to find out a year later that his vision was going to require so much more money and such a change in budget just boggles my mind.  Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations if you want to be successful. 

I get that Tim has a vision for a game and I’m respectful of that but at some point you have to learn to work within the constraints you are given.  Double Fine has released some great small games like Costume Quest, Stacking, and Iron Brigade and that track record is why I pledged as much money as I did as I thought Double Fine had this “Develop small games for little money” thing worked out.

As disappointed I am in what’s going on I have to wonder what the impact is going to be on other game developers trying to get their game funded.  Here we have the flagship for KickStarting games admitting that they couldn’t manage the scope of their effort to match their budget. 

I also feel guilty for supporting the effort so vigorously and promoting it heavily on this site.  I know we’ll eventually get the game but the entire experience leaves a sour taste in my mouth as I have to wonder how much work they did before asking for their money.  At the end of the day I guess I’m just disappointed to be let down by a personal hero and that’s what stings the most.
 

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