Fans Matter – Why More Developers Should Be Like Double Fine
Double Fine’s Tim Schafer is one of the most creative minds in the gaming industry, and the studio itself is easily one of the most talented groups of people to ever make a video game. Whenever they announce a new project, or even so much as hint at one, fans go crazy and message boards are filled with speculation, rumors, and outright excitement. Very rarely do we hear “let’s hope they get this one right” or “meh, I’m not so sure about this.” Double Fine is consistent in quality and makes the games that they want to make, instead of following the trend of trying to make the next big first-person shooter. There is a reason why we continue to follow the studio’s projects, and it’s because they do the most important thing a developer can do – they listen to us, and care about us.
Take, for example, the studio’s upcoming adventure game. Rather than go through the typical steps to get a game published, Schafer decided to try a different tactic. Using Kickstarter, a funding platform in which people can donate money to fund festivals, dances, and more, Double Fine set a goal to bring in $400,000 to fund a new adventure game. Anyone who donates at least $15 gets the game immediately on release day, and tons of other bonuses, like being able to watch the progress of the game via a documentary released in monthly installments and participate and beta testing. And better yet, Double Fine is even asking those fans to make decisions in the game based on what they like and dislike so far. As if things couldn’t get any better, the game is being released DRM-free, meaning that anyone who purchases the title, or those who have received it because they donated, can pass it on to anyone they choose, for no extra cost. Not only did Double Fine reach their $400,000 goal (which happened within 8 hours of the announcement that it would be funded by fans) they surpassed it. At the time of writing, the project has a $3,336,371 budget, with a total of 87,142 people having donated.
Now, you might be wondering where all of this is going, but we’ve finally reached the point. After seeing this astounding number, a question came to mind: how many of these people would donate to other developers to fund a game? Honestly, I can’t say that there is another studio out there that deserves our money, because they haven’t proven themselves reliable. Take, for instance, the recent outrage at Mass Effect 3. Long-time fans of the series feel betrayed at Bioware’s complete lack of creativity, and the fact that the problems from Mass Effect 2 didn’t get solved, and in most cases, got even worse. Instead of fixing the combat system, they dumbed it down even more. Instead of bringing the series back to it’s RPG roots, it once again has become nothing more than a glorified third-person shooter, much in the same way that Dragon Age II abandoned it’s Baldur’s Gate style of gameplay for a more action-oriented feel, another decision that fans weren’t very happy about. It seems that today, developers only try to please the masses in an attempt to sell more games and make more money, instead of focusing on refining the experience for those that have been dedicated from the beginning.
The other problem is developers creating terrible games and pretending their fans don’t even exist, or saying that their fans are wrong about the problems with their games in the first place. There is no better example of this than Reality Pump’s Two Worlds II. The original is still regarded as one of the worst RPGs of the current generation, but yet it still managed to have quite the dedicated following. The announcement of a sequel put a lot of gamers on edge, immediately responding with “well, they can’t do any worse,” but fans of the original didn’t shy away from being excited. The official forums were flooded with ideas and suggestions about how to fix the issues from the first title. Did Reality Pump listen? Not a damn bit. Once again, a less-than-mediocre product was released at full-price, and fans were outraged.
A lot of this obviously stems from how big the gaming industry has become, but with the number of video game players continuing to grow, there’s no reason for developers to sacrifice quality and fan service for an average product that will sell more games. Over 87,000 people have funded Double Fine’s project, which is an average of $38 and some change per person, almost the price for a full-retail release. Though the game is DRM-free, Double Fine is sure to see a large number of sales once the game is released because fans are willing to help out, which just proves how powerful fans can be. Ultimately, they help a game survive, or let it crash and burn. What developers seem to keep forgetting is that it is the fans who actually purchase the game, and without them, it can mean the end of a studio’s life.
The point here is that, as a gamer, I feel that we need to be heard, more so in this generation than ever before. Being involved in such a growing community, it’s really off-putting to see a new, unimproved version of Call of Duty being released every year, and to see every game become nothing more than “aim and shoot and forget the substance.” I’ve been a gamer for my entire life, and I know there are others out there that have done it longer than I have. It’s really starting to make me wonder why I keep investing my time and money, but then, out of the darkened sky, a ray of sunshine breaks through in the form of Double Fine studios, or any other developer intent on making the best game possible for their fans. These studios are the future, and the reason why gaming will live on for years to come. If only the other major companies could follow their shining example.
What do you think, readers? How to you feel about developers not listening to their fans?