Jon Blow has gone into debt to finish The Witness

"20 years from now, I am not going to care about whether we took an extra six months or a year in development"

Jonathan Blow is betting the farm on his enigmatic new game, The Witness, borrowing the capital necessary to complete its development to combat declining revenue from sales of Braid.

Blow's first game as an independent developer, Braid, was one of the original indie success stories on Xbox Live. It sold well enough for The Witness to be more ambitious in almost every respect, without the need for Blow to trade creative control for development funds.

A New Yorker article in April last year indicated that Blow had made $4 million from Braid at that point, but the increasing scale of The Witness seems to have proved too much. Remember, the world first learned about Blow's intriguing, language-free puzzle game in 2009, with playable demos of the game available as early as 2010.

Now, Blow's team has finally completed all of the game's puzzles - 677 in total, according to a new interview with Engadget - but the console transition has forced him to borrow the money necessary to finish development.

"If there is such a thing as taking 'too long,' we have probably already done that"

Jonathan Blow

"Braid still sells well on platforms that are thriving, but two of Braid's big platforms were the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, both of which are sunsetting at this point. Not so many people are buying digital games there," Blow said.

"So the Braid income is not nearly enough anymore to fund the team. I have borrowed a bunch of money to finish The Witness. So I hope when it's done, some people buy the game."

This seems to be down to the way The Witness has changed during the course of its development. Specifically, it's much bigger, with estimated playtime ballooning from the initial plan of eight hours to somewhere between 25 and 40 hours. It's a big risk for Blow, who could easily have stuck to his original conception of the game and avoided a great deal of the financial risk involved with its development.

The fact is that a great many people were excited by The Witness on the strength of Braid, a genuinely brilliant game. But as the time between the two grows longer and longer, it becomes more difficult to judge how much of that momentum has been lost. For Blow's part, he's saying all of the right things, pushing to make the best possible game regardless of what that means in terms of breaking even.

"If there is such a thing as taking 'too long,' we have probably already done that," he said. "20 years from now, I am not going to care about whether we took an extra six months or a year in development; I am going to care about the quality of the game people got to play.

"It'd be a shame to sacrifice some of that quality just to squeak the game out a little sooner."

Related stories

Loot Crate launches monthly indie game subscription

Loot Play subscribers will get five games each month for $10, but only one will be revealed before launch

By Matthew Handrahan

Panic Button and the search for "design fun"

GM Adam Creighton shares how the studio hailed for Switch ports approaches broadening its portfolio, tackling hardware challenges, and accessibility

By Rebekah Valentine

Latest comments (10)

Tim Browne Game Studio Design Director, King.com3 years ago
Like many I'm looking forward to The Witness. He went into debt to make Braid also. If I recall it cost around $250,000 and he was around $40,000 in debt after it launched.

I read that he had put $2m of his own money into The Witness and that was back in 2012 so I'm wondering how much money has been spent on the total development.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Pygott Level Designer 3 years ago
the greatest disasters / triumphs have been achieved when the risks are highest!

Innovation in the industry is rare at the moment, its nice to see a different approach with the Indie scene which is surely the highlight of the industry over the last few years, some of the gems in my opinion have come from the indie scene and Braid was brilliant.

Indies can afford the risk most cases, whereas the big guns have to keep the shareholders happy with the next "Call of Battlefield : Future Advance Corridor Shooter 4.

I hope it sells on well on release so the innovation is kept alive in this case
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
Indies can afford the risk most cases
That only goes as far as having the budget to do so. If an indie drops millions on a product and it happens to fail, they won't be in the same position as a company like Activision or Ubisoft.

I think I'd warn most independent developers not to risk their home over developing a game, but really its a personal decision. I hope this works out!
7Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (10)
Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 3 years ago
Sometimes borrowing money from a VC can be a great thing on far more fronts than just getting the necessary money. They might not know a lot about what you do, but they do generally know business and can - and often will - advise on pricing models and promotion to ensure they get their money back.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus3 years ago
I'm looking forward to this... but I know a case of a game getting too grand for its own good when I see one, and this has that "stretched too thin" look to it. I hope I'm wrong. So many games have been hurt by creative people becoming too creative.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises3 years ago
Wow, 677 puzzles. That's a lot of puzzles.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 3 years ago
Wake me up when an indie can get a budget of $10 million.

Happens all the time in film/tv. (Oh wait... we still insist we have nothing to learn from that biz...)
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
Slight Off-Topic, but
Happens all the time in film/tv. (Oh wait... we still insist we have nothing to learn from that biz...)
So many things from film/tv should be taken to heart in games - from knowing how to write (cliff-hangers especially), to releasing episodic games in a regular (timely) manner, to keeping budgets in check (and this is film we're measuring against). It's sad that some of the worst excesses of Hollywood are noted and used (hype! big budgets! marketing!) when things like camera-position, editing and art-direction are oft-ignored. Makes me a sad bunny.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios3 years ago
As long as you make your money back. Plus some extra, you'll be fine..
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Fazi Zsolt Game & Level Designer @Atypical Games 3 years ago
That shows people how much he believes in his vision of the game.
All or nothing, there is no middle road in this kinda situation.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.