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We don't keep forgiving Double Fine

On the differences between how people perceive game development and the costs and realities, via a recent article on Double Fine.

Robert Fearon, Blogger

April 21, 2015

7 Min Read

"Why do we keep forgiving Double Fine?" is a question someone asked, in all seriousness, on a website today.

The answer is, weirdly enough, we don't.

I don't know where the author has been on the internet for the past six months or so but since DF-9 ran into a wall the internet has been full of people who simply do not forgive Double Fine of anything., whether that's entirely reasonable or not. The story around what Double Fine is, what Double Fine do, how they make games, what games they make, what people think of those games has, in comments sections and reviews alike, become one of internet myth and with the internet's oft-noted lack of ability to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable.

In the wake of the DF-9 backlash, I'm not entirely sure how anyone could ask "why do we keep forgiving Double Fine" with a straight face.

Nobody does. Nobody who likes the work Double Fine have created is forgiving them of missteps. They genuinely like the work Double Fine do. They are OK with how things have turned out. They are OK with how things are turning out and the parts where they don't? Maybe that's not so much forgiveness as tolerance or understanding that game dev is a fickle and awkward thing. The overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam, thousands of them, testify that there's plenty of people perfectly happy with their purchases, perfectly happy with how Broken Age has panned out.

And those who don't like what Double Fine have created? They're most definitely not forgiving anyone of any missteps because listen to them. If you even so much as mention Double Fine or Tim Schafer in a comments section these days it's like casting a "summon a whirlwind of internet angries" spell. "They're scammers", "they broke their promises", "they're thieves", "they messed up DF-9", "they haven't even finished Broken Age LOL" The overwhelmingly negative reviews on Steam, thousands of them, testify there's plenty of people not so happy with how DF-9 has panned out.

There's no forgiveness there. Yet there, in the article, the words...

"Any other developer would have been steamrolled by questions, complaints, and refund requests after one of these blunders. What makes Double Fine so special that the studio gets a free pass after all of this?"

Nothing makes them so special. Nothing. Not one thing.

There's been a sustained amount of griping, complaining and internet-isms. How could someone be writing about this and not even notice? How can they not see the thousands of negative reviews on Steam, the comments sections filled with guff, Double Fine's own forums... surely if someone is going to start writing a piece like this, they'd at least check first? And if they have checked and not seen this stuff... well, I don't know.

Someone asked the internet void earlier, is this thing where people ask for less money on a Kickstarter than they need a bad thing? Is this perpetuating a really bad thing? In many ways, I think yes but I also think it's more nuanced than that. I think there's people who understand that a Kickstarter will likely aim low and they're cool with it, they know the risks and they enjoy the peek into the development of a game and watching it unfold knowing they put some money in the slot to make it happen, knowing it wouldn't happen without them.

And then there's some other folks who cannot and will not ever grasp how game development works no matter how small you keep your words, how simple and clear you keep the explanations. Press the button, give me the game, please.

This is a weird Kickstarter thing. There's a good chance you need the under-the-hood curious as well as the press-button-make-game folks to make up enough numbers to fund a videogame at a decent level. I'm not even sure if this is reconcilable. When you get a massively popular Kickstarter and one that runs into what most developers see as normal game development woes, it's a flashpoint, yeah?

That's not to rule out that there's people who avail themselves of money from the public to make videogames who maybe should sit down and think long and hard about what they've done, obviously. But everyone who runs into game development woes isn't, say, whatever the current public figure of Kickstarter-gone-wrong may be when you're reading this.

Repeatedly in this article, we're seeing things flagged as problems when realistically, it's more a knowledge gap on how things work. The shock revelation that some big box games took four years to make when that's pretty much not far from the usual. This raises its head again later in the piece, Axiom Verge took one guy five years so that's OK but a whole big studio working on a massive console game taking that time? Inconceivable!

In game development, you can't just throw more people at a thing to get the thing done faster. Some stuff? Sure. But so much stuff where thirty bodies isn't necessarily better than one or a few. The bodies thing is also why a studio can develop two or more games at once split across teams, not everyone is needed to be doing one thing all the time. It's either work on multiple projects or lay people off and try and rehire later, y'know? What's preferable here, a world where people get laid off or one where another game exists?

The idea that a few million quid makes for someone's magnum opus (OK, OK, it'd make for mine and you'd never see colours like what I could buy for that money) when there's a studio full of people who need paying, contractors that need paying, musicians that need paying, artists and... the money runs down pretty fast right there.

For some perspective and scale, a year or so back the lovely Superannuation wrote a piece rounding up some numbers for Kotaku. The results may just shock you etc... Broken Age is, in real terms, being made for less than what Electronic Arts spent on the marketing of Dead Space 2.

Of course, Double Fine could have just delivered what they originally promised. A short point and click game developed over six to eight months with a documentary around it. Who knows, maybe it would have been met with nothing short of critical acclaim but y'know, how long did it take for Monkey Island to exist? Would the internet really be content with a multi-million dollar six month project? Is the internet really ready to find out precisely what that'd mean in game development terms?

And DF-9, well, that's a weird one. Under the publisher model, it'd maybe have been quietly cancelled. Or noisily cancelled. Or the studio just closed down for its failure. Or the game would be gutted and released (yes, I know, I know) and nobody would ever be none the wiser that it ever should have been anything more because of the black box development that is big box games. The idea that games don't evolve, don't ever fail to reach the ambitions and goals of the creators, always get made on time is... well, it's kinda possible to scope perfectly, cost perfectly but this is videogames and things aren't quite that simple, things never have been. The world of videogames is littered with changed projects, expanding projects, failed projects and on since videogames were a thing.

If you want to hold people to account for their spending or for how they create videogames, it's maybe best to first educate yourself on how things work normally, y'know?

Ultimately though, the biggest mistake the article makes is assuming that there's some sort of cult of personality in play around Tim Schafer and Double Fine, that people are forgiving a person, a studio when they really shouldn't and should just stop right now because can you not see this is bad? Y'know, rather than the far more likely, far more realistic thing that people really, really like what Double Fine do, flaws and all.

And obviously, that there's plenty of people who don't too.

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