INTERVIEW PART 2: Tim Schafer talks platforms and business models

Leigh Harris
INTERVIEW PART 2: Tim Schafer talks platforms and business models

Following on from Part 1 yesterday, MCV talks to Tim Schafer about the new business structure and platform choices at Double Fine.

Tell me a little bit about the structure of Double Fine developers. When did your new structure come about?

We did it after Brutal Legend. The biggest we ever became was 65 people, working on a big budget game. We were seeing the way the trends were going, making those bigger and bigger games, and every time you go and pitch a game like that to a publisher they’re more and more resistant to new IP, risky ideas, unproven or risky gameplay mechanics – all things that we like to do, that are the most interesting to us.

That’s the fun of it is to come up with new worlds and characters and gameplay ideas and stuff like that.

So we saw there was going to be trouble if we tried to keep pushing those big games. Also, the terms you get are not that good as a business, because when you’re asking for a lot of money you’ve got to give up a lot of stuff like your intellectual property rights and all these other things.

What we did was split up into four teams. We’d been doing this process that we called 'amnesia fortnight' which is this kind of game jam within the company where forget what we’re working on (that’s the amnesia part), and then fortnight because we spend two weeks with each team making a game. We did that in the middle of Brutal Legend just to take a creative break, and then second time at the end of it.

We were all going to work on Brutal Legend 2, then that got cancelled by the publisher. They’d said it was a done deal, so we were all geared up for that. So when that got cancelled we were like ‘Oh, crap’ because we’d kind of extended ourselves financially. But, we had these eight prototypes which were really fun, so we just picked the best four, took them on the road and got them signed.

And those were Costume Quest, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster and…

Stacking and Iron Brigade. It’s was a great kick in the pants, because that was what we’d always wanted to do. We’d always wanted to do multiple projects, but we always thought we’d have to do it on the side. The problem with that is that the big game always takes priority and steals team members from the side projects, so it’s really hard to get them going.

It’s kind of like how you’re always going to write a novel in your off hours. It’s so easy to just not do that. We’d always wanted to do that, but now we just had to do it because we didn’t have any other options, so that put us in a position of being really nimble. We could say ‘One team is going to make a kids game and a Kinect game, and one team is going to make an RPG’ and now we can get into things like iOS games and free-to-play games so we can have one of our teams look into that and not have to bank our whole company on it.

When you look at iOS, do you consider it a platform which would fit those classic point-and-click style adventures?

Yeah, actually I have a secret hope that it’s the way to get the kind of games that adventure games were. They just handled different topics, and getting them into the hands of people who are not necessarily into the games, but are into the kinds of stories that adventure games have. But they wouldn’t consider themselves gamers or call themselves gamers, but they just happened to give this a go, and they got more and more into it, and it was so easy to use (I mean you don’t have to don’t have to do anything but tap on the screen and stories unfold), and you’re taking part in it.

It’s like a second chance in some ways for adventure games.

And is iOS and freemium something you’re actively trying to push into?

We’re interested in free-to-play. There are really ugly ways to do it, but there are games which are just not – you don’t have to be so sleazy.

Some games like League of Legends have interesting systems. Theirs is that they have these rotating random characters which you play, but if you want to play as a specific character, you have to pay money. So it’s not forcing you, but they make tons of money out of that.

I think hardcore gamers are more attuned to getting mad if you try to do something dodgy. The main appeal to me is that his model of making a game, trying to make it as good as you can, shipping it and crossing your fingers and thinking ‘I hope everybody likes it’ is in some ways going to become antiquated.

Any game which has funding which continues after you ship allows you to keep the team on. It pays for a team to stay on and make the game better, listening to what the players are saying and adding features and adding content, creating new characters. This is mostly for multiplayer games of course, not like the Kickstarter-based game that we’re doing.

No game is perfect when you ship it. You can do all this work and if you just miss this last 5 or 10 per cent, that’s what people will notice and that’s what you’ll hear about on the internet all the time, but if you had some sort of in-app purchase which allowed the team to stay with that game and fix that problem or make that better and tune it, you can make a better game.

And you’ve never worked outside of a publisher model until now?

Well, we have done some without. We went through Angel investors, just this year we did the PC ports of Stacking and Costume Quest, and we did an extension on Psychonauts. We met them on Twitter. I was just tweeting about wanting to do these and he was like ‘How much would that cost?’ and I thought he was talking about something else, so I just said ‘About $15’. But he ended up funding a lot of our ports.

So we’d done some of that, and that was great because he wasn’t a publisher, he was just like a well-off fan.

Keep tweeting! That’s my advice to you. Just keep tweeting and eventually, someone will come and give you a whole bunch of money.

Thank you for your time!

 

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Tags: interview , ios , double fine , tim schafer , freemium , business model , Game Masters , Kickstarter

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