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"
"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."