Double Fine has long been an enigma in the gaming world. Founded by former LucasArts employees, they are beloved for creating games such as “Psychonauts”, where gamers play as a psychic child at a camp for psychic children, and “Brutal Legend”, the rock-themed adventure game featuring Jack Black. But throughout its long history, what truly made Double Fine stand out was the ferocity with which it attempted to, and succeeded in, staying independent. Although they had made deals with publishers the world over, they were owned by themselves. Now, that independence has come to an end.
On June 9, 2019, the announcement was made that Double Fine would be bought by Xbox Game Studios. Change is always scary, but the “death” of one of the most beloved indie developers is actually a good thing. Getting games made and turning a profit has never been easy for Double Fine. Thanks to their independent status, most if not all of their funding had to be raised in house before they could pitch a game to a publisher, and hope for additional funding from there. This has led to games being canceled or abandoned, such as “Spacebase DF-9”. Others ended up leaving players with a bad taste in their mouth, such as “Massive Chalice” and “Broken Age”.
Not all of the blame can be placed on simple lack of money, of course, but game development is almost certainly multitudes easier when you don’t have to worry about paying your employees or keeping your lights on. Double Fine is, however, also one of the more successful game developers to use crowdfunding sites, such as Kickstarter for “Broken Age” and Fig for “Psychonauts 2”. Those are still instances were a hard budget is set, and going over that amount of money could be disastrous for the game and the employees involved.
Now, as part of Xbox Game Studios, some of those burdens will be lifted. Will this ensure that Double Fine will never again suffer from reported late deadlines, missed budgets and other issues? Of course not. Tim Schafer and the rest of the folks at Double Fine are human. Mistakes get made. Will the amount of mistakes they can make and fix before everything falls apart increase exponentially? Yes. The great thing about being independent was that Double Fine had complete authority and autonomy to do what they wanted. That also meant every failure was multitudes worse, and that they were in it all on their own.
That’s not the case anymore. Now someone else is in their corner; another powerful, rich company who has an incentive to help Double Fine succeed at every stage. Hopefully, this will be the safety net that Schafer and company need to really push the boundaries and take chances again. The types of chances that delivered games like “Psychonauts” and had the vision for titles such as “Spacebase DF-9”. Above everything else, though, Double Fine still exists. As Schafer said in his explanation video “Microsoft wants us for who we are and the kind of games that we are already making. So nothing about us is going to change at all.”
Whether that’s true or not is yet to be seen, but the “death” of this great indie developer isn’t a bad thing. The future is bright for Double Fine, and for all of their fans.
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com