Some thoughts about Double Fine's Kickstarter campaign
Here’s my first little conundrum about Double Fine’s recently announced Kickstarter campaign to fund a new retro adventure game: should journalists support it?
It’s an interesting ethical question. Lots of folk got upset when Jessica Chobot was announced as a character in Mass Effect 3 mere weeks after she previewed the game for IGN. So the question is: is it ethical for journalists to financially back a project that they might one day be covering for their news site of choice?
While at first I was kind of horrified by the idea, it doesn’t seem so bad after I gave it a minute. There’s a difference between becoming physically involved in the development process of a game, benefiting if the game succeeds, and paying money to play a game. Sure, they say they’ll listen to feedback in the private discussion community, but I’ve heard stories about similar things happening all the time: people go to play previews of certain games, tell the developer something wasn’t working right, and the developer fixes it. It’s the same sort of idea.
But it opens up an even more interesting question: should developers be listening to their fans?
It’s generally accepted, least round these parts, that video games are art, even if sometimes lowbrow art, and it’s very hard to design good art by committee. The more voices you have trying to make the same piece of work, the harder it’s going to be, because those voices aren’t going to line up. Now take the retro adventure game. This is a genre where everyone who cares about it has very strong codified beliefs about how it should be done. Some people like death. Others hate death. Some people want puzzles that are arbitrary and funny, while others want logical puzzles in absurd situations. Some like more action than others. Nobody can agree on anything, in other words. With a small team of developers it’s very possible they have a mix of people with a relatively singular vision, but with fan input there’s the possibility too many cooks will come into the kitchen. My favorite quote about stories comes from Kurt Vonnegut: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” If you make a game to please the already thousand backers, the game is liable to catch something.
That said, I am nitpicking a brilliant idea here because that’s what we do. I love that Double Fine are making games, and more importantly that they are making the kind of games they want to make. That’s the most important thing to takeaway from this: some of game developments true good guys are putting themselves in a situation where they can make the sort of games they want to make. Because, honestly, it’s pretty much even odds that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and they’ll be over $400,000.