If you spend any decent amount of time talking with videogame developers, it won't be long before you hear the age-old conundrum: There is an incredible surplus of great ideas and an unfortunate shortage of publishers willing to fund them. But for Tim Schafer, famed co-creator of the Monkey Island series, all he needed to do was go online and ask nicely for just shy of half a million dollars. Less than 8 hours later, the Internet delivered. Now Schafer is sitting atop more than $1 million in crowdfunded investment, and he's using it to do himself what no big publisher will let him do otherwise: Bring back the Adventure game as it was in the 1990's.
A noted auteur of the beloved point-and-click era, Schafer has been around the block in the videogame industry several times over. Since leaving Lucasarts in 2000, his studio Double Fine has slowly brought him round robin back into the indie development camp. But they needn't go back into the garage: The fans have spoken, and what was planned as an adventure game to be worked on by a team of 3 people and a documentary film crew for $400,000 has now raised over a million, breaking Kickstarter records for highest number of backers and most funds raised for a project in 24 hours.
The project will be a return-to-roots for the studio, whose last triple-A title, Brutal Legend, was published by videogames behemoth EA and budgeted to star comedian/musician Jack Black and include voice-over cameos from heavy metal legends like Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Halford. While successful, the game never seemed to attract the same kind of passionate fan base as Schafer's classic adventure titles like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Now, with publishers and PR departments out of his way, Schafer and his team aim only to please, and they're bringing in seasoned filmmakers from 2 Player Productions — the same team responsible for documenting the millions-selling indie hit, Minecraft — to capture the entire process from start to finish.
Like many of his peers familiar with the bureaucratic quagmire of modern game design, Schafer relishes the opportunity to cut the corporate middleman out of the picture. He applauded the Kickstarter method, citing how it "democratizes" demand for new games and products, rather than leaving it up to a board room full of executives. If the end product here truly delivers, it seems plausible that other established designers might follow his lead.
Indie crowdfunding still isn't the solution for every idea out there, however, and traditional publishing models aren't going to capsize overnight. "It's hard to know what it proves," Schafer said in an interview with IGN shortly after the project hit the $1 million mark. "Does it prove we have a lot of great loyal fans who want to make a statement about games in some way? Or is it adventure game fans? I don't know." But regardless of whether Schafer's experiment truly "proves" anything, it demonstrates that fans, not just big publishers, are now able to voice their support in a significant way for the games and projects they want to see get made. Isn't democracy beautiful?