Schafer: How to stay afloat in "a pool of Internet Twitter hate"

Double Fine founder shares lessons from Broken Age Act 1, confirms funding secured for Broken Age Act 2

Last month, Double Fine Productions officially launched Act 1 of its Kickstarted adventure game Broken Age. While the developer is still working on the second and final act of the game (to be released as a free update once completed), Double Fine founder Tim Schafer told GamesIndustry International earlier this month that a weight has already come off his shoulders.

"We've shipped enough that people can see we weren't kidding, and that's a big relief. Because I think there's a lot of pressure on Kickstarter projects, especially the really big Kickstarter projects, to just not screw it up for everybody else. It's such a great, positive thing for us, and being able to be funded by our fans opens so many doors for us to do original, creative things that we just wanted to live up to [expectations]."

Schafer knows it's not the first time he's had expectations to meet. But the stakes here, and the repercussions for failure, were distinctly different.

"If you take money from a publisher, it's a contract you fulfill or they'll sue you. Here it was just a moral contract with the backers to do right by them, and that felt in some ways a lot stronger. If you found a loophole in a business contract, you could get out of it and not really feel that bad. But here, if the backers were happy, we succeeded. And if they weren't happy, we didn't."

"If you take money from a publisher, it's a contract you fulfill or they'll sue you. Here it was just a moral contract with the backers to do right by them, and that felt in some ways a lot stronger."

One way Double Fine tried to keep backers happy was by making sure they were well-informed on the team's progress with exclusive ongoing updates and documentary videos tracking the game's development. While that may have worked for backers, there was a downside made clear after Schafer announced the decision to split Broken Age into two parts because the original Kickstarter funding wasn't sufficient to see the game to completion.

"People who hadn't been following us all along thought we were out of money and going under," Schafer said. "No, no, no. We were just expanding the game and paying for it ourselves, not asking for more money. Seeing that difference between backers' and non-backers' perspective on the whole thing was illuminating."

Schafer called the backlash to that announcement a "wave of anti-Kickstarter hate" and "the hardest part" of his first experience with crowdfunded development.

That was really a lesson for us, learning that even though our backers are really well informed, the rest of the world hadn't really heard of us since the Kickstarter happened," Schafer said. "It's weird because the Kickstarter experience had been wading in a sea of love from the fans. Because you don't just get money. You get all this positive support from the backers who believe in what you're doing. They hang around and cheer you on. And it was like being dumped from that into this cold pool of Internet Twitter hate. And that was crazy. It was like, 'Oh yeah, right! There's a bunch of people who hate the idea of what we're doing and are waiting to pounce on us if we make a single mistake.'"

To deal with the hate, Schafer considered what some of his celebrity voice acting talent (Jack Black and Elijah Wood among them) has gone through. The bigger you get, Schafer said, the more support you receive from fans. But at the same time, that scope also increases the negativity you get from the other end of the spectrum.

"It was like, 'Oh yeah, right! There's a bunch of people who hate the idea of what we're doing and are waiting to pounce on us if we make a single mistake.'"

"What is it like for Jack Black?" Schafer wondered. "And I think the answer is he can't possibly sit there and read what people write because he gets love and hate. And it must start to just not mean anything in a weird way. It does mean a lot when you get positive notes, but the negative ones, you just start to see them as all coming from this one angry little hole that usually doesn't represent the vast majority of what people are thinking. I really don't know who they are. It's kind of a mystery to me."

Ultimately, Schafer said he took a cue from the horror movie Paranormal Activity, about a demon that thrives on people's efforts to get rid of it.

As Schafer explained, "The demon expert is like, 'Stop doing this. Stop paying attention to it. Stop filming it. The more you engage with this demon, the more you call it into this world.' Twitter haters are the same way. If you start to pay attention to them, the demon grows and gets bigger and starts to become real."

Ultimately, Schafer's takeaway from his first go-around with Kickstarter-funded development has been to be even more transparent. For the company's second Kickstarter project, Massive Chalice, it is doing just that. The game's forums are open to the public, the team has been livestreaming the executable of the game in public ever since it was executable, and Schafer said there's been no worry with showing people "the ugly, pizza box version of the game."

Of course, there's still Broken Age Act 2 to finish. While Schafer wouldn't discuss sales figures, the good news for Double Fine fans is that the plan to split the game in two as a way of funding the final stretch of development worked.

"We've made enough that we can make the second half of the game for sure," Schafer said. "And we're not done making it to all the platforms because we haven't released it on iPad yet. I feel that's going to be a really interesting platform for adventure games. It's such a fun place to play point-and-click graphic adventures, and so many people have them. That's exciting to me."

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Latest comments (7)

Shaun Farol Studying Computer Information Systems, California Polytechnic State University8 years ago
Kickstarter is such a new platform for many people there are bound to be growing pains along the way. I think the biggest problem about Kickstarter is the public and many new backers misunderstanding the purpose of Kickstarter as well as developers and would be Kickstarters underestimating the budgets and scope of the projects they are trying to launch.

A lot of the backlash about games Kickstarters in particular seems to be people comparing backing a project to preordering a game. Supporting a Kickstarter shouldn't be treated as if you were pre-purchasing a product from GameStop, but rather treated as you backing the developers, an idea, and in the end getting the final results of the idea you backed.

I am not sure if my thoughts on the issue are the right one, but after having launched my own indie music related Kickstarter and having backed a dozen or so game projects the above is the attitude I choose to adopt. You should back ideas & people, not the products and reward tiers. Judge not only the end-product promised but the people and their end-vision you back before committing money.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Shaun I'm with you 100%. Also, Broken Age Act 1 was genuinely great. Keep on trucking Tim Schafer.
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Cale Barnett Animator 8 years ago
There's so much expectation with projects like these, and typically people will always be focused on what they are getting. What they fail to realise is that Kickstarter is a platform founded on giving.
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Show all comments (7)
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
If anyone is abusive on Twitter you should block them immediately. No second chance.
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Eyal Teler Programmer 8 years ago
@Shaun Farol et al, telling people how to look at something is counterproductive. It doesn't matter what you think, to most backers pledging on Kickstarter is a pre-order. What's important to them is the product. They fund the product, they want to get that product, and they want it to be as good as they envisioned it. They're willing to overpay to have that product which otherwise might not exist. Stretch goals too are all about getting more product for your money.

"You should back ideas & people, not the products and reward tiers" is a nice notion, but how many products do you think would get funded if there were no rewards, if it was just "back Tim Schafer and Double Fine, we've produced a bunch of nice games, help us continue to produce them"? A project creator of all people should realise this, and put releasing a satisfying product above other things. If you start to believe that it's all about giving you money just because you and your idea deserve it, this feels like a slippery slope.
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Eric Leisy VR Production Designer, Nike8 years ago
Indeed - I think for kickstarted projects to stay grounded and effective they need to stay focused on a specific product or specific project. When you start using language like "supporting ideas and people" thats when things start to get off the rails and you end up with a lot of kickstarted projects with dubious intentions... i.e.: support me through college, buy me a new car, so that I can do X, Y, and Z - maybe - for you in the future.

Thats a dangerous territory, and I've seen (and I'm sure some of you have seen) people and developers abusing the system in this regard.

I didn't fund Brokenage, however, I bought the game - and I think it's wonderful. As someone who designs primarily in 2D and not 3D, I found it really inspiring.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
Self-entitlement from people that do not create a thing. That is just pathetic. I used to wonder how sad their life must be if the can't just let it go.

Last time I got a big disappointment from a game I did what I'll do every time this happens, and what every mature person will do; deal with it and move on.
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