David Simon and Eric Overmyer's television drama on New Orleans

The Implications of Double Fine’s Kickstarter Success

This is a re-post from my small community blog, and while the examples are of games, creative endeavors of all types overlap in their need for support. To the extent that there are artists in NOLA who are trying to “make an album”, for example, rather than a game, that is the extent to which I believe this is relevant here.

From between the time I fell asleep last night until waking up this morning, Double Fine, developer of Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and Stacking, Kickstarter-ed and received complete funding for their next game. In less than 8 hours, they raised over $500,000. (Editor’s note: they have now passed $1.7 mil.)

To be sure, Double Fine has a solid reputation for creating unique and polished games. Yet, they were also clever enough to offer several incentives for donation, including access to the “making of” videos, the beta, and a copy of the game via Steam once it is finished. In other words, from the perspective of many of the donators, they were simply commissioning Double Fine to make their next game.

But how can that work? If Double Fine is spending all their future sales money right now on developing, how are they going to “make any money” off the project when it is completed? And how can thousands of people share the commissioned product once it is finished?

Historically, artists and laborers of all trades were paid to perform and do work, not paid to do so and then retire for the rest of their lives. Some of the finest artistic creations in human history came from this time and of this model. So, in principle, the idea of paying Double Fine just enough money so that they can pay their bills and provide for their family until their project is finished, is not as outlandish or unreasonable as it may seem. At the very least, it isn’t without precedence. However, fear not. We got them covered. This is the digital era. When Double Fine finishes their product, it will cost them no more than pennies to literally duplicate it ad infinitum and distribute it via numerous digital sales platforms to whoever else might want it. The fact is, those who donated $15 or more have already secured their copy, but nothing will be stopping Double Fine from continuing to duplicate and sell their product for years – all at the negligible cost of the uploading services. In other words, even when mimicking the old commission model, because of the low cost of product duplication and distribution, these laborers and artist can still enjoy at least a temporary “retirement” of sorts. If their work is well done, one imagines they might be able to accrue quite a sizable nest egg for whatever purpose.

This is the era, and the venue, in which the sale of goods doesn’t mean that the seller’s shelves are now empty. In fact, ever single producer of digital products is like the widow in the desert blessed by Elijah. They all are holding vessels of oil and flour that never run empty.

If only for a brief moment, this event should send a twinge of terror up and down the spineless, bent-over-from-bean-counting backs of the major publishers. While innovation left their buildings long ago, one would think that this would be evidence that from here on out, those big companies might not even be able buy their next innovative product. Why sell your creative freedom and your rights to all future sales, when you can protect and keep them, experience security, and still make a boat load of cash?

Just yesterday I was wishing I were rich so that I could commission Steve Vai to perform classical music on his electric guitar a la his work in Crossroads. Maybe now I don’t even have to be rich. Maybe I just need to contact him, persuade him it is a worthy undertaking, determine the price, and then raise it via Kickstarter. First Indie Game:The Movie, now Double Fine Adventure. Kickstarter has certainly got my attention. It could be that we are living at the beginning of the Second Renaissance.

UPDATE: The latest Bonus Round has Tim Tim Schafer as guest from DICE (will be up next week). Also, Gamasutra covers this event here and here.

UPDATE2 Other Kickstarter examples: Making music in Baltimore, guerrilla cooks bringing Chicago fast food to NY and so on.

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