A victim of its own ambition
In an update issued to backers of Broken Age, Double Fine CEO Tim Schafer explains that he's designed too much game for the studio to be able to stay on a reasonable schedule. Recent estimates put the first half of the point-and-click adventure title as arriving in July 2014, with the full thing looking at 2015. "This was a huge wake-up call for all of us," he wrote. "If this were true, we weren’t going to have to cut the game in half, we were going to have to cut it down by 75%!"
After weighing its options, the company has decided to make "modest cuts" to finish the first half of Broken Age in time for January. This initial public release will happen by way of Steam Early Access, which will help fund extended development on the project and eventually lead to the second half coming in a free update. Backers are still going to get their promised exclusive beta access prior to whenever the Steam Early Access launch occurs.
"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," said Schafer. "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." Disappointing news, obviously, but I can't fault the reasoning behind the choice. If it makes for a better, fuller game, so be it.
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The full note from Tim Schafer:
Hello, Backers of Adventure!
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.
This was a huge wake-up call for all of us. If this were true, we weren’t going to have to cut the game in half, we were going to have to cut it down by 75%! What would be left? How would we even cut it down that far? Just polish up the rooms we had and ship those? Reboot the art style with a dramatically simpler look? Remove the Boy or Girl from the story? Yikes! Sad faces all around.
Would we, instead, try to find more money? You guys have been been very generous in the tip jar (thanks!) but this is a larger sum of money we were talking about. Asking a publisher for the money was out of the question because it would violate the spirit of the Kickstarter, and also, publishers. Going back to Kickstarter for it seemed wrong. Clearly, any overages were going to have to be paid by Double Fine, with our own money from the sales of our other games. That actually makes a lot of sense and we feel good about it. We have been making more money since we began self-publishing our games, but unfortunately it still would not be enough.
Then we had a strange idea. What if we made some modest cuts in order to finish the first half of the game by January instead of July, and then released that finished, polished half of the game on Steam Early Access? Backers would still have the option of not looking at it, of course, but those who were sick of waiting wouldn’t have to wait any more. They could play the first half of the game in January!
We were always planning to release the beta on Steam, but in addition to that we now have Steam Early Access, which is a new opportunity that actually lets you charge money for pre-release content. That means we could actually sell this early access version of the game to the public at large, and use that money to fund the remaining game development. The second part of the game would come in a free update a few months down the road, closer to April-May.
So, everybody gets to play the game sooner, and we don’t have to cut the game down drastically. Backers still get the whole game this way—nobody has to pay again for the second half.
And whatever date we start selling the early release, backers still have exclusive beta access before that, as promised in the Kickstarter.
I want to point out that Broken Age’s schedule changes have nothing to do with the team working slowly. They have been kicking ass and the game looks, plays, and sounds amazing. It’s just taking a while because I designed too much game, as I pretty much always do. But we’re pulling it in, and the good news is that the game’s design is now 100% done, so most of the unknowns are now gone and it’s not going to get any bigger.
With this shipping solution I think we’re balancing the size of the game and the realities of funding it pretty well. We are still working out the details and exact dates, but we’d love to hear your thoughts. This project has always been something we go through together and the ultimate solution needs to be something we all feel good about.
In the meantime, I’m hoping you are enjoying the documentary and like the progress you’re seeing on Broken Age. I’m really exciting about how it’s coming together, I can’t wait for you to see more of it, and I feel good about finally having a solid plan on how to ship it!
Thanks for reading,