Tim Schafer on Double Fine publishing and not being told what to do

Double Fine Presents

Double Fine has, in the last five years, has gone through quite the transformation. The studio was treading water after Brutal Legend in 2009, but now it has complete control over its IPs, has successfully experimented with emerging business models – in many ways setting a trend – and is now assisting other developers with the Double Fine Presents label. 

Speaking with GamesIndustry International, Tim Schafer chalked the big shift up to not liking being told what to do. And now he wants to help new indie developers chart their own course. 

“Maybe the old publishing model was just hard for me, because I’m someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do,” Schafer explained. “That’s maybe a bit childish, but that’s the way I am. And I think that’s the way a lot of indies are. They’re independent. They don’t like anybody acting like their parents, claiming they know what to do. [Publishers] aren’t your parents. They’re a business and you’re a business, and when it comes down to it they’re going to do what’s right by them. That can be a dangerous thing for anyone just starting out.

“We wanted to share that and stop them from falling into that trap, because when you’re just starting out you have such a great advantage over everyone else. You don’t have a lot of bills to pay and employees to feed; you’re just two people making a game and it’s easy to be fooled by someone who comes along and says, ‘You don’t know what’s going on. You’re going to be taken advantage of by the industry, so comes to us, give us your rights, your copyrights, let us take care of you and make sure you’re okay’.”

Schafer wants to use his studio’s experiences from dealing with AAA publishers and marketing games to help developers navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of game development. But he wants to use a light touch to do it, ensuring that the developers remain independent.

Double Fine isn’t acting like a traditional publisher, but is lending resources and experience. Escape Goat 2 was released under Double Fine Presents, and recently Kickstarted noir adventure game Last Life was picked up a few months ago. Double Fine’s assistance will be tailored for each of the carefully selected games.

“We’re lending our notoriety and your experience to help out, but the main thing for us is it’s customisable to whoever we meet,” Schafer said. “Escape Goat 2 is done. We didn’t help them make that game, but we can promote it. Last Light is just starting out, so we can help with their Kickstarter. Everybody will have different ways that they need help. Maybe they want playtesting and feedback from that, maybe they don’t have any audio. We can be flexible and fit into whatever those needs are.”

Perhaps most importantly, unlike a publisher, Double Fine isn’t looking to profit financially. “If we want it to be something that’s supported by a paid staff on hand to deal with it, we’re going to need to be paid something. I think that would be something where, if a game is a huge hit, we’d be able to share in that in some way, but not have it be ticking a box upfront. We don’t get any of their Kickstarter money. We don’t take a chunk of their funding.”

Cheers, GamesIndustry International.