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A small rant about 'Double Fine is bad at...' type posts

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I'm fine with the idea that Double Fine are capable of screwing up. In fact, as a medium sized studio that communicates more of its inner working than pretty much any other medium sized studio, they're bound to screw up sometimes because a lot of what they are doing is a bit of an experiment. And besides, people screw up all the time and I've no reason to suspect Double Fine are immune.

What I have less patience for is the narratives and generalisations that are woven from this which strike me as ham-fisted attempts to simplify what happens in a multi-team studio into a superficially easy to swallow story, but one that doesn't really stand up when scrutinised.

It's frustrating as it's easy to paint the headline, but takes more energy to unpick it.

So here's a story we get a lit: Double Fine is Bad With Money and Managing Projects.

It's very easy to believe, especially if not following closely. After all there was that time they split that game in two parts because of money, and that other time they stopped working on that early access game before a lot of features people wanted were in, again because of money.

Of course, these stories ignore a lot of things. To understand Broken Age properly, for example, it's important to grasp the various other ways they self funded, the fact that by the time the split came, they managed to make the money they needed for act 2 within a month even though sales were modest (meaning that the decision must have been made using very conservative projections rather than the massive risk some people were talking about) and so on.

And of course one can question the wisdom of the experiment of hoping for enough sales of Spacebase to fund a longer development. In retrospect that is not an experiment I think they should repeat. But meanwhile nobody is talking about how they just released Hack 'n' Slash, also out of early access, and it's been received pretty well (I'm personally a fan).

People are altogether too happy to ignore the good examples l and then point to a couple of (and we really are talking about 2) rather different kinds of failures (one of which is highly debatable) in their narrative of a pattern of incompetence.

What about the critical acclaim of Broken Age and the vast majority of satisfied backers?

What about all the games they released in the last few years with no reported development hiccups? There's probably more than you remember. DF release a bunch of games you know.

What about Costume Quest 2 which is on for release next month and had a very definite deadline for coming out because, y'know Halloween.

What about Massive Chalice which has executed a basically flawless Kickstarter campaign and is now entering the development endgame with smiles all around and very favourable previews and PAX feedback? Sure there's still time for something to go wrong there. But not much!

What about Hack 'n' Slash that I mentioned earlier? The early access itself probably wasn't great for day 1 sales, but the project has been pretty smooth!

None of these things fit into a simplistic narrative that Double Fine is horrible at managing time and money.

I am all for critique, especially of things that I like. But this simplistic version of critique which boils down a couple of scraps being extrapolated to tell a tale about Double Fine as a whole does nobody any favours.

It makes the person doing the critiquing appear bullying and strident, and it means that there's less room to find points of agreement.

My plea is that I think that criticisms should be made, because even when I disagree with them I think the conversation can be enriching. But make the criticism 'situation specific', don't use it as an excuse to have a general rant in the direction of the company.

When you do you're adding little but a distraction from the issue as soon as you try to make it about Double Fine itself or the abilities of specific people within it. And it's just such an obviously inflammatory approach in a forum that is clearly going to be full of fans, that why would you even think it's a good tactic?

This doesn't mean that if you use the other kind of situation specific argument I won't disagree with you. I might, but at least we'll be talking about the issue, rather than a distraction, which should be what we both want.


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Yeah, it's annoying that people feel the need to distort the truth to express their anger, like in this post on the Steam forums:

Iron Brigade -- broken and abandoned. Spacebase DF-9 -- unfinished and abandoned. Broken Age -- unfinished and abandoned. Brutal Legend -- broken and abandoned.

Just nonsense. Okay yes, you might argue that finishing and abandoning are two sides of the same coin. Some poet said poems are never finished, only abandoned, but I don't think the commenter had this in mind.

Also, the next person who utters "Kotick was right" will be punched in the mouth. I will find you, and I will punch you. *sigh*

(I'm only kidding. Probably.)

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Just in case someone mistakes this for a tone argument, I'm not simply saying don't call Double Fine liars and incompetent and bad at stuff because it's mean, and meanness harms debate. There's something to that, I think. But my real point is that these types of arguments are a qualitatively different from ones about specific grievances or issues, and therefore a distraction from the very thing you'd like to see addressed.

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I think my favorite part about the narrative is watching people trot out the Broken Age example, because after it happened, many other prominent Kickstarters turned around and did the exact same thing (releasing an incomplete and/or partial game Early Access to the general public months and months before they reached completion, presumably to boost revenue while making the game). Of course, Broken Age still isn't done and many of the other ones are, so it's not like Double Fine's squeaky clean in that regard, but it's telling how the narrative sticks to Double Fine and not the others.

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I think the expectations on Doublefine is alot more higher than other Kickstarter or Early Access developers (as it should be). DF is already an established developer with a set track record and team that was fully formed. Other kickstarters were teams that are just being formed and has no structure in place. DF had such a headstart infront of other Kickstarter developers that caused all their presumed failures to be under much more scrutiny. This higher standard and scrutiny, however, i believe is justified. This is largely due to Doublefine trying to buck a trend of going past publishers and directly to consumers. What they don't realize is that consumers have similar or higher expectations than publishers do. Originally, DF despised Publishers for criticizing DF's work and questioned whether DF's games make financial sense, now DF are face to face with the Customers who are actually saying that DF's work is not worth their money.

To be honest, this is a bed that DF made for themselves. The situation that DoubleFine is in now is a place where they wanted to be originally; To be directly responsible to the Consumers. Whether the Consumers react negatively or postively in an extreme fashion should always be expected (as there was overwhelming positive feed back when it started). These things goes hand in hand. Tim already said from the start that this can either be super successful or be a complete failure. Now it seems it's both, they started out with the best intentions and the best start any kickstarter could dream for, but now, it's some of the worst PR a legit game developer could have.

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