Edit: Kickstarter was replaced with a better term of Early Access, as well as adding additional information about the firings on November 13th. Ambiguous language replaced with more straight forward terms.
Early Access games have a very bad rap lately. There’s been failures left and right with the model, and nothing has personified the problems with the system then Double Fine’s Spacebase DF-9. If you want a deeper history of the problems regarding the game and what happened with it, I’d suggest reading Stuart Burns opinion piece here: Opinion: Spacebase DF-9 Self-Destructs.
But that’s not why this article is being written. At the time of writing this article, the latest Humble Bundle, the Humble Bundle Simulators 3, is being offered with a variety of simulation games. Games like Lunar Flight, Zoo Park, and Post Master. Now like with other Humble Bundles, you can get additional games by donating more money. But what’s concerning is the top-tier unlockable game, which of course is Spacebase DF-9. To unlock the game, you’ve got to pay $10 or more. Now, while the game sells for $20.01 at the moment (the penny is just plain odd), the real question comes in the history of the game, and the decision to make it the top tier price. And specifically, the fact that development has been all but abandoned by the creators of the game.
Now, while the 1.0 patch for the game allowed for mod support, that was November 13th. And considering the recent 12 layoffs included lead developer JP LeBreton, that seems to give a strong suggestion that development on the game has halted. Now please note, it’s been indicated that the firings had to do with an unannounced project that was canceled. However, Double Fine has gone on recording saying that development of many of those hinted features in the early access statement would not be implemented. Basically, there was a lack of monetary resources to continue development. And yet, the game continues to be sold, and those profits could be spent on resources to continue development of the game in question. While programming schedule and project forecasts can be a hard thing to predict reliability, the question that should be answered is how to guarantee the projects continued lifespan, and how to deliver to the customer what they were promised. Sales and the humble bundle is a good way of doing this, to continue funds coming in to continue the development effort despite the problems that have been experienced up to that point.
And yet the game can continue to sell, with no mention on the main steam page that development has been discontinued (and despite the only curator that has recommended the game, is Double Fine themselves). A game that can continue to bring in finances for Double Fine, despite the misdirection about the final product originally. The assertion that they did not lie to the customer is true in a sense, as the nature of early access and its stated goals can not be reached under the guidelines of the project, as long as the customer wasn’t lied to. However, where does the line get drawn in terms of continuing making money of a project? It’s a hard question to answer, but there’s a bigger question to answer. On the Humble Bundle page, the ambiguity of the development state of the product could be considered misleading. It indicates that the project “may not receive future updates”, despite the statements made by Double Fine and Tim Schafer himself. While the source code has been released, the vagueness of the statement seems like misdirection. It’s up to community support for the project to continue on, if the community so chooses to do so.. The company itself has discontinued development, and in all likelihood, discontinued support of it entirely. The Humble Bundle team may want to consider clarifying the statement.
Now luckily, there is an ability to decide to where the funds go, to the developers, to charity, etc. The problem in question does have a solution that’s available, but are the people who are buying the bundle informed well enough to make an informed decision?