Last week, Double Fine Productions announced that their latest project, the long-awaited Psychonauts 2, had reached its $3.3 million US crowdfunding goal on Fig. While most fans of the first game were elated to hear the news, others were more skeptical about Double Fine’s budget for Psychonauts 2. In an AMA Double Fine owner Tim Schaefer posted today on Reddit, one poster named johndoz posed the following question:
Hey Tim. Many people have lost trust in your company due to the mishandling of several past games resources, such as the space base debacle. What would you say to ease the fears of those worried psychonauts 2 may suffer a similar fate?
Schaefer responded by citing Double Fine’s track record for releasing completed games. He also explained the troubles of funding new game projects, and reminded fans that the development process is a far more unpredictable undertaking than it may seem.
Regarding games going over budget: Many times in the past I have made the choice to invest more in a game than the original budget specified. That is because in the end, my highest priority is the quality of the game. Most of the games you play (not all of them, but more than you think) went over budget and extended their schedules at some point. Double Fine is just more honest and transparent about it. There are many things that lower the risk of Psychonauts 2 going over budget. It’s a sequel, so the gameplay and IP of the game are already known. We are using the Unreal Engine, so we don’t have to write an engine from scratch. And our team is much more experienced than when we made the first game. But if even after that, if the game has any overages, Double Fine is committed to paying for them ourselves, as we have done in the past.
His response sparked debate among fans over Psychonauts 2‘s future, which can be viewed in the very long thread below johndoz’s question.
First, some backstory is needed to understand why Schaefer’s response ignited the proverbial powder keg. The incident to which johndoz and Schaefer both refer is the crowdfunding campaign for a previous Double Fine project called Spacebase DF-9. Spacebase began as a space colony simulator created by independent designer-programmer JP LeBreton. The game was included in Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight 2012 project, which was a bundle of prototypes designed by various developers. Players could vote on projects that they would have liked to have seen made into full-fledged games. Spacebase received the second-most votes out of the bundle and entered an early access period in 2013, where it enjoyed constant updates and testing by players who had purchased the early access version through Steam.
A year later, however, Double Fine announced that they would be releasing the complete version 1.0 of Spacebase. Many early access supporters of the game were outraged for a number of reasons. Primarily, they were astounded to hear that Double Fine had jumped Spacebase’s alpha stage straight to a full release, without any beta testing period. Early access supporters recalled an earlier statement by Double Fine, which established Double Fine’s commitment not to “silently pull the plug on Spacebase.”
The fact that this statement was deleted at the time further upset supporters (the statement itself was retrieved through a cache of said post on the Double Fine discussion forums).
Six days later, Schaefer addressed his supporters’ ire over the sudden conclusion of Spacebase’s development period in a Steam Community post. In this thread, Schaefer explained that Spacebase failed to sell enough early access copies to continue its development process. Spacebase would no longer be receiving major updates, though it would continue to undergo minor tweaks and bug fixes after its release.
Schaefer’s post only incensed supporters more than before. Many players accused Double Fine of mismanaging their time and funds, which resulted in an unpolished final game. Others pointed out that Double Fine is not, as the company itself had said in the aforementioned deleted post, a small independent studio. With enough of a budget to operate out of San Francisco (an area notorious for its high cost of living), and enough to pay its employees a $10k US monthly salary, Double Fine clearly seemed – to many fans – to have enough money for Spacebase’s development.
Elsewhere, a retinue of indie studios (including Chucklefish Games, the developers of Starbound) stated that their own crowdfunding projects were relatively solvent throughout the development process. Others, like Project Zomboid developer Andy Hodgetts, noted that Early Access is an especially volatile and risky venture when it comes to creating new games. Nonetheless, these developer accounts added more fuel to the Spacebase fire.
Spacebase eventually released in October 2014, to lukewarm reviews. Though Double Fine has since abandoned the project, part of Spacebase’s source code was released to the public. Fans of the game continue to update the Spacebase to this day, where they follow Double Fine’s original plans for the game.
Double Fine’s public relations slate was not spick and span prior to the Spacebase debacle, either. A previous Kickstarter campaign for the studio’s latest point-and-click adventure, Broken Age, began at a humble $400k US funding goal, but quickly escalated to a $4 million US goal. Though reviewers and fans received the game positively, some players questioned the game’s short length and episodic nature in relation to its $4 million crowdfunding goal.
It is understandable, then, why so many gamers view Psychonauts 2’s funding process with skepticism. The above AMA is alive with debate over the budgets of contemporary games and Double Fine’s ability to handle what some fans call “scope creep” (the tendency for crowdfunded games to vastly exceed their initial funding goals).
Despite negative comments in the thread, some posters are careful to point out that time and funding budgets in a game development project are “notioriously [sic] difficult to predict.” Other posters note that the standard budget for a game today is tremendously higher than it was in the past 20 years.
It is difficult to tell how Double Fine will mend its wounds with the disappointed portion of its playerbase. What is certain, though, is that Psychonauts 2 will likely be Double Fine’s biggest project yet, and that it is imperative for the company that this latest entry in the Double Fine saga has as smooth a takeoff as possible.