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Nobody, including the folks at Kickstarter's New York headquarters, expected Double Fine's campaign to break records. In the two and a half years since Kickstarter launched, Communications Director Justin Kazmark has seen plenty of projects come and go, many of them without reaching their funding goal. "To see Double Fine go well beyond $1 million was incredibly exciting," Kazmark says.
Double Fine broke other records, too. More than 60,000 people joined Kickstarter to donate money to the adventure-game campaign, but they didn't stop there. In the month before the studio's project debuted, Kickstarter's videogames category averaged 629 pledges per week. After the launch, those pledges jumped to 9,755 per week, not including donations to Double Fine. Double Fine fans backed more than 1,200 other projects, giving $877,000 to help launch videogames, film, comics, and music projects. They even gave $83 in the dance category.
Soon after Double Fine hit the jackpot, other forsaken videogame projects publicly rebooted. Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen sought money to launch a new adventure-game studio, and Al Lowe garnered $655,000 to make a sequel to his Leisure Suit Larry games — which feature the adult-themed romantic misadventures of a lovable-but-sleazy loser — in a campaign dubbed "Make Leisure Suit Larry come again." A sequel to the post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland raised $2.9 million. Double Fine's fundraising record has since been broken by Pebble, an e-paper wristwatch, which collected $10.2 million in donations.
Wasteland developer Brian Fargo took Double Fine's inspiration even further. He launched "Kicking it Forward," in which developers who seek Kickstarter funding promise to give 5 percent of their donations to another Kickstarter project. By late April, 61 projects had joined. "I loved this concept of fan funding so much that I was thinking, 'How can I help perpetuate it?' To have the fans pre-fund it, that's the best financing," Fargo says.
However, some game fans are already tired of studios asking for money. After geek-news site Slashdot highlighted a $340,000 campaign for video-capable glasses — glasses which never materialized — gamers on the NeoGAF forum agonized over Kickstarter's lack of guarantees. Some complained that complex projects, such as films, backed just a few months earlier had not been finished. Over on the Quarter to Three gaming forums, members debated how long it would take for disingenuous marketers to launch Kickstarter campaigns, pocket the donations, and flee. One even jokingly wrote, "Quick, check Tim Schafer's Facebook for photos of him on a beach."
"I reserve the right to go to the beach," Schafer says. "There's bound to be backlash, but the system is self-regulating. People will stop funding projects when they get sick of it."
Given Schafer's track record of producing games despite obstacles, many fans feel like donating to Double Fine is a pretty fair bet. Game developers' reputations could be permanently damaged if they fail to deliver, says Fargo.
Fans backed Double Fine's project knowing nothing but Schafer's place in the graphic-adventure genre. Their multimillion-dollar support will buy them a longer game, available on more platforms and due out next spring. Schafer and Rice, the game's producer, are just now developing the story, characters, themes, and art style, and have shared tidbits with backers. Down the road, Schafer may seek fan feedback that could shape the game. So far, backers are doing a good job of protecting their exclusive access and catching leaks before they get out.
Backers will also have to contend with seeing inside the design process — including the ugly parts — as the documentary rolls out. "We are going to show you how the sausage gets made," Schafer deadpans in Double Fine's Kickstarter pitch. "We are going to take our sausage and shove it in your face, warts and all." Although Schafer doesn't want 2 Player's film to give away too many game secrets, he does want the design process to be transparent. "If we have fights or whatever, that's what I want to show."
That's a big change from his days designing The Secret of Monkey Island in seclusion at Skywalker Ranch. Many major game publishers — none of whom would comment for this story — demand secrecy because projects can go off the rails, budgets can skyrocket, or a role-playing game can turn into a shooter halfway through development.
Those things can still happen with Double Fine Adventure, which leaves Schafer wrestling with just how much sausage-making actually to reveal. "You're kind of like a magician on stage, and that's why it's so frustrating when something gets leaked," he says. "You feel like you're backstage, stuffing the rabbit into your hat, and someone yells, 'Hey, he's stuffing a rabbit into his hat!' You want to entertain people, and part of that is surprise.