Tim Schafer Talks Unionization, Streaming, And The Future Of Double Fine

After cracking jokes on stage during the Game Developers Choice and IGF awards at GDC last night, Double Fine boss Tim Schafer had almost completely lost his voice, but he still croaked his way through his annual appearance on Kotaku Splitscreen.

Jason and I talked to him about the unionization joke he told at the awards show, as well as Double Fine’s newly announced game Rad, the much-anticipated Psychonauts 2, and the idea of a subscription service for games.

In the second half of the show, we talked to Gabe Amatangelo of QC Games about his former career at Bioware, where he worked on Shadow Realms, a role-playing game that pitted four cooperating players against one other super-powered player. It got canceled, and now QC Games has made a Shadow Realms inspired dungeon crawler called Breach, which launched in early access earlier this year.

Listen here:

Get an MP3 here, or read an excerpt below:

Jason: Something I heard from the Microsoft spheres is, they looked at Crackdown 3, and they knew that game wasn’t going to be fantastic. It wasn’t going to be critically acclaimed or anything. But because it was part of their Xbox Game Pass subscription program, they could get away with releasing this ok game, and people played it, because if you’re not buying this for $84, you can just put it in whatever.

I feel like the same thing could work for games that might be critically acclaimed but aren’t going to sell the types of numbers—because Double Fine’s games have traditionally been critically acclaimed, but don’t sell five million dollars...

Tim Schafer: [laughs] That was going to a really weird place. “I heard these people made this game they’re not really that proud of, and I thought of Double Fine!”

Jason: You guys make such terrible games.

Tim: “You guys make middling, half-assed things!”

Maddy: Yeah, do you have anything you’re just gonna poop out?

Jason: But it’s this idea of—we’ve been doing this for so long, making all these games that are critically acclaimed, but never break out. Never Apex Legends.

Tim: Can I put that another way? Thinking about each game, where you’re not make-or-break on every single game and chasing after the ultimate market share on every game, is appealing. That’s how I would say that. Because often it’s like, “OK, now we gotta try and do a battle royale game.” We’re not doing that.

Jason: That’s what Psychonauts 2 is, right? A battle royale game? That wold actually be pretty cool, a Psychonauts battle royale.

Maddy: Yeah! Could you make that, do you think?

Tim: Yeah, Psycho Battlefield! All we wanna do is follow our inspiration. Get a great idea for something we care about, like Lee [Perry] did with Rad, and just pursue it. And I think those kind of things would be able to find their audience in a place where everyone’s not doing this whole $US60 ($84) decision and you’re battling for space. There is an appeal there. There is also an appeal to being independent and being able to do whatever you want.

Jason: Something that comes to mind immediately is, every couple of years, you guys do something called Amnesia Fortnight. Is that coming up soon, by the way?

Tim: I’d like to do it after we ship Psychonauts.

Jason: Got it. So that’s where you all stop everything you’re doing for two weeks and you just work on prototypes, and you guys figure four different prototypes.

Tim: Yeah, and we used the word “fortnight” before anyone else did that. I’m hoping that people will find our thing by searching for—but we spell it correctly. So that messes it all up.

Jason: Wait, when did you guys start Amnesia Fortnight?

Tim: 2007.

Jason: Oh, ok. Because Fortnite was announced in 2011, so you beat them way to the punch.

Tim: We’re thinking about suing them. See what we get.

Jason: As you should. Everyone’s suing Epic these days.

Tim: They stole my dances!

Jason: But I could see something where you put out these prototypes—like you’d have a subscription service, this Double Fine library is on there.

Tim: We talked about that for a while. Especially after our Kickstarter we did for Broken Age. These people were like, “We love everything you do!” We had this really engaged community, and they were very supportive, and a lot of them were like, “As long as you think this game’s gonna be good, then I want it.” And we were like, “We should just offer a subscription.” But it gets into, how often are you shipping games? And are you shipping enough to make it feel like that? I mean, we could. But we’re lazy. It’s a lot of work.

Jason: You know, you just said the headline of the article. Tim Schafer: “We’re lazy.”

Tim: I mean, we’re busy making games. We don’t have time to think of these things!

Jason: “Game developers are lazy.” Quote, Tim Schafer.

Tim: [laughs] We thought of it. I couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. But sometimes you can be pushed to these things. When the Kickstarter happened, I was like, “I don’t know what that is. I don’t know how to do that.” And Greg and the 2 Player guys bullied me, frankly. Bullied me into it.

Maddy: And so if they all suddenly were like, “We need a Patreon for Double Fine.” You’d be like, ok.

Jason: The same thing happened with Fergus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian. He had to be bullied into it from his people. His people had to go up to him and basically be like, “We’re leaving if we don’t do this Kickstarter thing.”

Tim: Wow. Boy, are they forming a union now?

Jason: They were not. They should be.


    Remember to support your local unions!
    Seriously the game industry needs to unionize so badly, publishers treat devs and QA testers and everyone else that works in games like shit

    Unionizing is important

    Together we bargain, alone we beg

    Something I heard from the Microsoft spheres is, they looked at Crackdown 3, and they knew that game wasn’t going to be fantastic. It wasn’t going to be critically acclaimed or anything. But because it was part of their Xbox Game Pass subscription program, they could get away with releasing this ok game, and people played it, because if you’re not buying this for $84, you can just put it in whatever.

    While I kind of get it, I still find something about this statement incredibly depressing.

    Not to mention the implications for the rest of Microsoft's first party output, given that all of their games go straight on to game pass. It raises the question of if they'd bother going the extra mile to get a game completely right? Why spend the extra time, money and effort by delaying a game for a few months of extra polish when it's just going to game pass where the revenue is already assured anyway?

      Been a longtime playstation gamer, and now that I have a beefier video card, I've gone back to PC gaming. Got a game pass for $1.00 for a month, so got to sample some X-box/PC exclusive stuff.

      Man, it's mostly pretty average compared to the quality of PS4 exclusives without even including PS4/PC crossover exclusives like Nioh and Street Fighter 5. The Forza series and Halo are really the only things Xbox have going for them. I'd imagine those are the the ones they'd care about getting right, because fan backlash would be immense if they didn't.

      Honestly I'm not all that surprised but I agree it's not a very comforting revelation.

      I always found it a little weird the way MS framed Crackdown 3 in the first place, the first wasn't a massive success and the second was pretty lacklustre, it was really just an exclusive and little else.
      (I loved the first one, had a ball)
      So when they announced C3 like it was this long awaited sequel I was already questioning if they were actually going to raise the series to a jewel on its crown of just overselling what they had.
      Already knew the answer but doesn't mean I liked it...

    Before Schafer talks about this stuff, maybe he should focus Double Fine on actually producing a game that isn't merely passable.

    They haven't made much of note since Psychonauts, and have been pulling in money off his past glory alone.

      Maybe they can go back and finish Spacebase DF9, an incomplete prototype they abandoned despite taking all that money from customers through early access. I won't be touching another game they make after that debacle.

        I am still mad about that. I will never touch one of Mr. Shitface’s games as long as I live.
        I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers!

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