When Tim Schafer founded Double Fine more than ten years ago, it was with the intent of breaking into the video game console market. The iconic developer made a name for himself with PC games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, but the success of Sony’s PlayStation at the turn of the century indicated that the real money would be in living room game development. So Double Fine focused on consoles and delivered two cultishly adored commercial failures, Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, before turning to downloadable games. Now, with game consoles shrinking in market influence and becoming increasingly PC-like, Double Fine is wondering if it’s going to stay in the console business at all.
“We’d still like to be active in that space, we care about consoles, but unless they open things up a lot more like what we have on Steam… if they opened things up more it would be a more friendly place from our perspective,” Schafer told Polygon, “We’ve talking to them about this stuff, and you know, they hear us. They’re big companies and they can’t make changes overnight, but I think they’re taking that stuff into consideration. We’ll have to see what happens.”
For a perfect example of how Double Fine has fared better on PCs than on consoles, look at Psychonauts. Microsoft funded the game for development on the original Xbox, but after multiple delays, the game was dropped. Majesco later picked up the game and released it in 2005, but even with a PlayStation 2 port released, the game languished in obscurity. More recently it was released on Steam. “We’ve looked at the numbers on stuff like Steam. We made more on Psychonauts this year than we ever have before,” said Schafer.
He thinks that games like Psychonauts may thrive better on the next round of consoles, though. “Our fear was that the next generation was going to be only big AAA games. It was only going to be a place for Call of Duty and Halo. But we’ve talked to [console makers], and told people what things would be hard for teams our size with regards to consoles.”
Schafer points to costs like patches and certification as the sort of console-specific expenses that hamper a small team like Double Fine. The high cost of Microsoft’s patch process on Xbox Live Arcade has forced some developers to forego fixing games altogether. Fez creator Phil Fish said earlier this year that no patch would be released for his game because Microsoft wanted thousands of dollars to release the patch via Xbox Live, an expense that would have been free had Fish released it himself for PCs.