Double Fine's Kickstarter revolution: Why it won't get our dream games made

Fan affection can easily turn into spite, warns John Dean

One of the most exciting things about gaming is watching how rapidly the industry evolves. Erratically adapting to new technology and ideas, it's this unpredictability that makes games so exciting - with another new shocker always just around the corner.

When you're surfing on the buzz of innovation, there's simply no time to dwell needlessly on the past. The juggernaut might have just crushed our old toys, but look - we've just been given some new ones. The thrill of the future can numb the pain of the past, but when things start to feel stagnant it's easier to look back.

One of the toughest things about gaming is watching how rapidly the industry evolves. Many of us grew up with gaming during a period of huge experimentation. There's a tendency for people to snub the suggestion that gaming was better before it became so mainstream, but it is fair to say that things felt more interesting.


Take away the huge potential market, and you don't have to worry about mainstream appeal. The budgets behind games were substantially smaller, but limited resources aren't always damaging: Working within tight parameters has a tendency to make people much more creative, and you don't have the same pressures from a marketing team. The more money a guy gives you to fund a project, the more time you can expect to have them looking over your shoulder.

When the guy giving out the money isn't get any back, heart-breaking things tend to happen quickly. In the past 20 years we've seen a number of once-popular genres almost disappear entirely, but one of the hardest things to say goodbye to was LucasArts' incredible Point and Click adventures.

When 3D gaming came into vogue, LucasArts didn't know how to adapt. After leading the PC market for years with their hand-drawn art and fun midi music, a brand new audience swooped in and changed everything. CD soundtracks and mind-blowing polygons saw their old-school approach steering dangerously towards irrelevance, until eventually the man with the money had to step forwards and tap them on the shoulder.

Their first 3D attempt was Grim Fandango, a skeletal film-noir critical gem that died as soon as it hit the shelves; a result too bitter to be enjoyed for the irony. Consoles crippled the PC market, and the Point and Click genre was indefinitely shelved. By the time we all realised how much we missed it, it seemed too late to do anything about it. The guys who'd been putting the cash on the table had found easier ways to make far more money, and saw no incentive to travel back in time. Gems like Time Gentlemen, Please! kept the spirit alive, but it seemed the days of glory were over.


Then suddenly last week, something remarkable happened. Rather than poking the publishers for money, LucasArts legend Tim Schafer decided to try a different approach. Using an online service called Kickstarter to crowdsource funds for a brand new project turned into an overnight success. By the time we woke up in the UK, the project had received the full $400,000 of required funding. In less than 24 hours of conception, the figure had stretched to over $1,000,000.

It was - quite simply - one of the most exciting gaming events of the decade. First of all, we were getting a brand new adventure game made by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. You know, the guys who made Monkey-f**king-Island. It might not mean anything to your average Call of Duty fan, but those guys are perfectly catered for already.

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