I’m one of the few people who believes that Tim Schafer deserves to be as rich as he is, which as you probably know is exceedingly so. He is an incredibly talented writer and games designer, possibly one of the best in the industry, and is the mind behind several groundbreaking games. This of course includes Psychonauts, a game which for 10 years has been begging for a sequel, and finally Schafer is giving the people what they want, as long as they are willing to invest.
I will say I was certainly intrigued by the prospect. This being Double Fine’s third crowd-funding experience they are certainly behaving a lot wiser and more mature, correcting many of the mistakes made with their first attempt, Broken Age. Instead of asking for a paltry $400,000, they are asking for the more reasonable figure of $3,3 million. This of course is nowhere near enough to make this game, but this time Double Fine are willing to put their own money on the line as well as pulling in an external investor. (Rumored to be Notch who previously offered to invest $10million in a Psychonauts sequel.) There are also far fewer physical rewards, and costly things like T-shirts are placed much higher at $150. They have given themselves a reasonable 2 1/2 year development cycle, and the planning and ideas for Psychonauts 2 as a sequel are clearly further along than they were for Broken Age. Consumers also have the choice not only to back the project but to invest, the idea that brought me to the crowdfunding page in the first place.
But investing your money in Psychonauts 2 is not a good idea.
It seems like a safe bet. Psychonauts sold 1.7 million copies and did extremely well. People have been begging for Psychonauts 2 since the first one was released. Psychonauts 2 is bound to be a success, and yet the investment through this crowdfunding platform is a bad one. In basic terms, when investing in Psychonauts 2 you will break even if it sells 700,000 units, and make a profit at sales after this. Double Fine compares this to the sales of the original Psychonauts to show that this is a good investment. However, Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2 are very different things.
For starters, Psychonauts wasn’t crowdfunded. We have to deal in a little guesswork here as the crowdfunding doesn’t end until January, but Psychonauts 2 is currently around 15,000 backers. If we compare this to Broken Age which had around 90,000 backers and Massive Chalice which saw over 30,000 backers, we can take a guess at how the campaign for Psychonauts 2 will turn out. It is a far more sought after game than their previous two new IPs, but gamers have begun to distrust Schafer after the complete overspend on Broken Age and Spacebase DF-9, which was sold as Early Access and then abandoned. Still, an estimate of 30,000 – 40,000 backers seems a reasonable one, and these make up Psychonauts’ key fan base, the first day purchasers. By the time Psychonauts 2 is released its 30,000 – 40,000 biggest fans would have already purchased it, and yet will not make up any of the 700,000 units sales investors need to break even.
While I don’t doubt that Psychonauts did sell 1.7 million units, we have to remember that this was over 10 years. 700,000 of these came from Humble Bundle sales, which come with a variable price and are often only implemented late into a games life. In the first 5 years of Psychonauts it sold just 500,000 units, and while it was admittedly an XBOX exclusive, and Psychonauts 2 will likely sell better, if the development cycle is to be believed (which they often aren’t), we are looking at approximately an 8 year wait for returns on investments.
Then of course there is the Broken Age comparison.
I reached out to both Double Fine and Greg Rice on Twitter asking for the number of units Broken Age sold, and while they are yet to get back to me and vague on their forums, we have to return to guesswork. Steamspy (which is admittedly not 100% reliable) puts Steam units at around 300,000—90,000 of these are presumably backers. Broken Age also sold on other platforms such as Android, iOS, PS4, PS Vita and physical copies but these are all no where near as lucrative as Steam—Android downloads stand at around 1,000, PS4 sales were just 4,000 at launch. Seeing as I don’t have all the figures at hand, and as Double Fine games tend to sell well throughout their lives, I am very generously willing to estimate Broken Age unit sales at around 250,000 – 300,000 post-backer. This is 2 years after the release of Act 1 and foreshadows a dim outlook for investors of Psychonauts 2.
While I may sound contrary, I actually want people to back Psychonauts 2. If you are a Double Fine or a Psychonauts fan, $39 is a fair price for both series titles, and I very much believe that Tim Schafer and Double Fine will deliver on their promises by 2018/2019. I love Double Fine, I love Psychonauts, but I love gamers more, and I don’t want any of them to be burnt by what should be a good investment but is in reality a very, very bad one. Unless of course you are the kind of person willing to wait a decade in order to see profits.