The average project on Kickstarter—a crowdsourcing site where donors can support new business or arts projects—usually sets out to raise less than $10,000. But for firmly established video game developer Double Fine, a Kickstarter mega-success story proved to be much more powerful.
But Double Fine is no newcomer. Founded in 2000, the company has produced several video games that have appeared on a variety of consoles. Before that, company founder Tim Schafer made a name for himself at LucasArts, designing some of the most critically acclaimed adventure games of all time, like Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and The Secret of Monkey Island. He has become somewhat of a celebrity and auteur in the video game community, but that hasn’t necessarily translated into financial dominance: while games like Psychonauts and Brütal Legend were successful, they were not blockbusters on the scale most video game publishers need to profit. This led Double Fine to focus more on smaller, independent downloadable games for services like XBox Live and Playstation Network, and the more niche market of children’s games for Microsoft’s Kinect controller.
This changed on February 8, however, when Double Fine announced a new project to be funded via Kickstarter with the goal of raising $400,000 by March 13. This sum would fund both the game’s development and a documentary about its production. Donor rewards ranged from a download of the game itself to in-person meetings with Tim Schafer and the team. In just 8 hours, Double Fine reached their $400,000 goal, and by February 23, they had raised over $2 million. The question must be asked: Why would over 60,000 people give this man and this company $2 million dollars? But perhaps more importantly, why didn’t anyone do this before?
To be fair, video games are popular projects on Kickstarter. But these are usually smaller, independent projects by individual developers or students trying out their skills, whereas Double Fine is a well-known and respected company. If Double Fine was already successful before Kickstarter, though, why would they even seek crowdsourced funds? In short, the team saw a need for a certain type of product in their industry (in this case, “adventure” video games) that was not being met by publishers and developers. Ron Gilbert, a designer at Double Fine, put the industry’s aversion to adventure games best when he said, ”From first-hand experience, I can tell you that if you even utter the words “adventure game” in a meeting with a publisher you can just pack up your spiffy concept art and leave. You’d get a better reaction by announcing that you have the plague.”
Double Fine’s overwhelming success on Kickstarter has shown a completely new way of viewing the business paradigm, one that puts artists and creators in direct touch with consumers. Not only does this save everyone in the process money, but more importantly, it delivers exactly what the consumer wants, not what the publishers want. Double Fine will make profit by selling games to those who did not back the project. And for a contribution of just $15, donors get the game that they really want. It’s a more direct and pure form of capitalism can emerge, where consumers truly have the final choice and say of what products they want. For now, it seems that there some projects whose costs are simply too great an investment for a group of interested consumers to handle, but if a niche video game developer can raise $2 million in less than a month, this funding strategy will only become more accepted.