Why Double Fine doesn’t keep secrets from its players

3 Posted by - January 9, 2013 - News

In the wake of its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, Double Fine Productions has shown that it isn’t fond of keeping secrets. Over the past year, Double Fine has given players a number of chances to get an inside look at the company’s creative process, and studio lead Tim Schafer says this open approach to development been a real boon for the Double Fine community.

Speaking with GamesBeat in a recent interview, Schafer explained that the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter — and its accompanying documentary — proved that studios don’t need to keep their game a secret until it’s ready to show off to the public. If your fans believe in your vision, they’ll want to be a part of the ride from the very beginning.

“The Kickstarter thing and the documentary that we’re doing with the Kickstarter has just taught me that there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Schafer said. “You release your stuff out. You show a piece of concept art that may or may not be in the game. It doesn’t matter. People are just like, ‘Oh, that’s cool!’

“People get on your side more, not get on your side less. The fear is that if it’s not perfect, you can’t show it to people because they’ll freak out. The fact is, they just feel more bought in. They feel like they’re part of the development team.”

The Double Fine Kickstarter excited the community so much that Double Fine recently launched a second community-driven experiment. For its latest “Amnesia Fortnight” game jam, the company let players vote for and play a number of game prototypes to help the studio decide which titles would turn into full-blown releases. Along the way, the studio live streamed the whole process and gave the community a chance to see how a game prototype evolves from inception to completion.


Thousands of viewers flocked to the studio’s live videos throughout the whole process, and Double Fine was able to build up some early excitement for its newest games — even though they haven’t yet started full development. Looking back, Schafer says this community-focused approach is far better than the traditional publisher model, which prevents studios from showing off anything until it’s nearly finished.

Reflecting on his early career at LucasArts, Schafer recalled, “It’s like Willy Wonka when the doors are closed… Lucas is a very secretive company because of all the crazed Star Wars fans out there. And the regular game development is like, ‘keep everything a secret and release it when you’re polished and ready.'”

At Double Fine, Schafer has found that players tend to be more engaged — and hopefully more loyal — if they’re kept in the loop as a game comes together. The studio’s live streaming events have generated lots of good will, and they’ve given community members a more personal look at a studio they care about.

Players seem to really appreciate it when developers take a moment to pull back the curtain on upcoming features or games, and recent data from Raptr suggests that it can actually have a tangible impact on a game’s performance. Earlier this year, the developers of the free-to-play shooter Blacklight: Retribution held a Q&A with the Raptr community, and Raptr’s data shows that the game’s playtime increased 19% in the following week. The studio went out of its way to serve the community and give them some inside information, and the community paid the developers back in kind.

This data and Double Fine’s newfound community focus indicate that studios can really benefit from keeping players in the loop. Players are always interested in learning more about their favorite studios or games, and when they get a chance to see how the sausage gets made, they’ll feel more invested in the project’s future, and that can only mean good things for the team in question.