GamingJack Wilson

The Power Of Development Narratives

March 13th 2012 saw the end of one of one of the most brilliantly executed crowdsourced funding campaigns in the history of Kickstarter.

The Power Of Development Narratives

The " Double Fine Adventure" was pitched to the world as a collaborative project between game developer Double Fine and documentary film-makers, 2 Player Productions. After just 24 hours not only had their $400,000 goal been reached (that happened in just 8 hours), the funds pledged had surpassed $1 million. Two days later the total went past $1.6 million. When funding ended, the project had reached an incredible total of $3,336,371 with the backing of 87,142 people. Seeing the success of this project got me thinking about the power of creating a development narrative and the increasing opportunity for product creation and project investment to become an open and collaborative process.

The aim of using Kickstarter for Doublefine was to sidestep the need for financial backing from a publisher and mobilise the support from the massive fanbase for Tim Schafer & Double Fine's games (including Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, Psychonauts among others) and raise $400,000 funding for their next game - a classic point-and-click adventure. The benefits of having this project independently funded meant that Double Fine would be able to "make the game they want to make, promote it in whatever manner they deem appropriate, and release the finished product on their own terms". Although the strategy of crowdfunding a commercial project is nothing particularly new, the crucial difference in this project would be that since the team would only be accountable to themselves, there would be "an unprecedented opportunity to show the public what game development of this calibre looks like from the inside - not the sanitized commercials-posing-as-interviews that marketing teams only value for their ability to boost sales, but an honest, in-depth insight into a modern art form that will both entertain and educate gamers and non-gamers alike".

Double Fine are capitalizing on this opportunity of unrestricted control over their own transparency by having the entire developmental process being documented by 2 Player Productions - a company with an excellent track record for gaming industry focused documentaries. 2 Player Productions are no strangers to this sort of project, producing the first series of Penny Arcade TV and currently being engaged in documenting the extraordinary story of developer Markus "Notch" Persson and his development team in Minecraft: The Story of Mojang. On the Double Fine project, 2 Player Productions have committed to release monthly video updates exclusively to the Kickstarter backers - "this documentary series will strive to make the viewer as much a part of the process as possible by showing a game grow from start to finish, with all the passion, humor, and heartbreak that happens along the way.  Double Fine is committed to total transparency with this project, ensuring it is one of the most honest depictions of game development ever conceived."

Not only are Double Fine opening up themselves and their creative process to the world, they are also giving investors the opportunity to contribute to the development process. This was done through a brilliantly structured multi-tiered pledge system, committing a steadily increasing level of extra content from the development team/documentary experience. Interestingly, even at the lowest pledge tier boundary (15$) - Double Fine have promised to provide all donors with "The finished game in all of its awesome glory DRM free on PC, Mac, and Linux, or via Steam for PC and Mac, exclusive access to the Beta on Steam, access to the video series, and access the private discussion community". This is an incredibly smart strategy. Not only do investors feel money savvy because they'll be getting access to the final game at a bargain price, they've also gained access to witnessing and engaging with the narrative of the product development. As they watch the development process unfold, all of these investors will have access to an exclusive community of likeminded people where they can discuss the videos and the progress of the game. As everyone in the community will have made a financial contribution to the project, it's likely that the large majority of them unite around the common goal of helping Double Fine produce the best game possible. The upshot of this is that not only will Doublefine be able to conduct all of their research for the game within a community of up to 87,142 dedicated Double Fine enthusiasts, if all goes well with the development, they will also have an established and engaged community base that can be mobilised to help market the game at the time of launch.

The success of Double Fine's crowdfunding strategy has already had a significant impact on the gaming industry - there has been a wave of Kickstarter game proposals launched in the last few days and weeks. MonkeyPaw Games and Gaijinworks have launched a Kickstarter page to fund the development of the JRPG Class of Heroes 2. Developer Serellan have also launched ( and relaunched) a Kickstarter to fund the development of a squad-based tactical shooter. Kickstarter is even being considered by publishers for bigger well known IP's -  Overhaul Games have expressed an interest in funding the development of Baldur's Gate III through a Kickstarter initiative.

Perhaps most notably, InXile Entertainment, (developers of The Bard's Tale and Hunted: The Demon's Forge) are reaching the end of funding on a Kickstarter for Wasteland 2 - the sequel to the 1988 post-apocalypse themed RPG classic. Their model of multi-tiered crowdfunding is very similar to Double Fine Adventure. However, the crucial difference between the Double Fine Adventure and the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter project is arguably the difference in their existing and committed level of sustaining a development narrative. Although it remains to be seen whether Wasteland 2 will top Double Fine's $3,336,371 (at the time of writing Wasteland 2 is currently at $1,873,170 with 14 days to go), it remains to be seen whether the additional factor of fully documenting the developmental experience will mean the difference of tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars...