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Psychonauts 2 – Or: The Ever Mounting Ambitions of Tim Schafer

So Psychonauts was the 3D action-adventure/platformer game that mellowed the heart of anglo-ozzie fedora wearing hate-monger Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw so much so that anyone who has not played the game earned his finger crunching torture, and not without good reason. It’s a game that can reignite a childhood of true joy, and an accessible fantasy world filled with wonders, and it’s one of many classic games brought to life by the creative maniac and mogul Tim Schafer of Double Fine, and previously Lucas Arts.

As the young psychic acrobat Raz you learn how to navigate inside the subconscious minds of others, and in the process you uncover a terrible brain stealing plot. You explore rich and stylistically unique levels crafted by the minds of the NPCs whose innermost thoughts you intrude on, solving puzzles made unique by the impossibilities the playground of the mind make possible. The real world is far from mundane, filled with fascinating individuals, and not a cardboard cut-out amongst them.

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At the time of release in 2005 it was met with high praise, but not so high sales, mediocre at best, less than half a million over the course of five years. Then when Double Fine recovered the rights in 2011 and republished it for more platforms, they were astounded when they sold more than double the volume of copies, and interest in a sequel was high.

Kickstarter

Skip forward a little in time to 2012 and Tim Schafer starts a Kickstarter campaign, very generic, “A Point-&-Click Graphic Adventure Game” with a budget of $300,000 and a behind the scenes video budgeted at $100,000. Schafer and his team would be building the game of the feedback of the players, a truly interactive experience from start to finish.

Records were broken, destroyed in fact. The colossal 3.3 million dollars went on to fund Double Fine through many fantastic titles, like Hack ‘N’ Slash, Massive Chalice, and a sequel for Costume Quest, and more importantly it ultimately funded the focus title Broken Age. So Double Fine is now a big name in gaming like it always should have been, they’re a big time studio now, maybe bigger than Lucas Arts was at the time, but where was the one game everyone wanted?

So now Schafer is on a site called Fig, a site that he’s had a major hand in creating. Not only can backers support a project via the normal options, but can also invest to receive a slice of the profits at the other end. Currently Fig’s home page leads straight to Psychonauts 2, its only active project. At long last, right? Except that they’re asking for another 3.3 Million dollars?

Another $3.3M

Put into perspective, most major blockbusters have a budget well in excess of $30M, so we’re not talking Halo 5 here, but asking for that money from the customers before you even have a finished product is a bit much, and they still haven’t finished delivering rewards from 2012. So perhaps they’re not asking too much, and at least there’s the opportunity to make your money back. To be fair, they’re investing a fairly sizeable chunk of the money themselves, and have an investor for another portion.

I hope that the investor in question is Mojang, after all, they’ve been offering for some time. Now are Double Fine asking if Psychonauts is worth millions of dollars? Maybe, or are they asking if a hundred thousand people think it’s worth $30? With such a massive lump of the cash coming from big players, they maybe need half of what they’re asking for altogether, and there’s just shy of two million in the pot with thirty five days left to go (true at the time of writing).

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But is Schafer just trying to see if lightning can strike twice, or is he seeing if he can command lightning? This is a big ask for a crowdfunding campaign, and they’re putting a lot of money into promoting it, making something of a mockery of those companies who need the format to make a start in this world. To say that this is ambitious, or even arrogant would not be entirely inaccurate, and if this kind of thinking takes hold it will have three major fallouts:

  • The first is that big publishers will start to topple. The people will seize the market, controlling what projects live, and what projects die, not based on business projections or profit margins or “What the market is doing”, but instead based on what we want. Money will go straight to the studios that make the games that they want, and we will decide whether they live or die.
  • The second is that advertisers will soar to power. The funding will depend on the people who have the money and the desire actually hearing about the projects that they would want to support, and that will depend on what a marketing executive will say that we hear about. Smaller developers with the grit and determination to see a project through might vanish behind a media giant who want to make 3.3 Million dollars to mess around for a couple of years doing whatever they like.
  • And on that note, thirdly the traditional method of paying for products may slowly reverse. Traditionally, we the consumer don’t hand over the money until the product is at least finished, and we generally prefer to have it in our hands by then. In this scenario we would start giving the money first and then just keeping our fingers crossed that the project will actually happen.*

I’m still going to buy Psychonauts 2, I might even back it, but I have some very serious questions about what doing so might ultimately do to the gaming industry.


*As a side note, Tarol Hunt, author of the comic Goblins was recently let down by the company who were helping him create a card game with the backing of Kickstarter supporters, Evertide Games. He went through a nervous breakdown which seems to have been partially as a result of this company taking the money and vanishing, and only recently got the list of backers from Kickstarter and is now keeping up to date with all of us to make sure we get something to show for it. It was a dirty trick on their part that he suffered worst from. There is an intellectual property dispute underway, good luck Tarol.

 

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