Tim Schafer's company Double Fine have only made two games, Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, but they've had four publishers. Both were cancelled once before finding a new home. At Schafer's Develop conference keynote, he explained how his company turned their turbulent game development process into a new beginning for the company.
Both Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were dumped by their original publishers well into the development process. Microsoft and Activision are to blame for Double Fine's “100% success rate in getting cancelled.” But the brutal business practices have helped Schafer reshape his studio into a multi-project company.
It began with the “amnesia fortnight project”. Whenever Double Fine are left facing an uncertain future because of a publisher decision, the company use the time to experiment. For two weeks, Double Fine split into four teams and made experimental games. “Four groups," Tim says, "each team made a game. Three groups had heads, one team didn't. Like an indie game festival in the company.”
After Brutal Legend 2 was cancelled (“When they said it's a done deal," says Tim, "they meant there's no deal and we're done.”) the team returned to those little projects. “We had these eight game prototypes, took four on a little roadshow to the publishers”
All four games were picked up, turning Double Fine into a multi-project studio. Tim's analogy is that instead of Double Fine being a cockroach to be squished, they're like a flatworm, being sliced into little pieces, but surviving.
As grim an image as that is, it's helped Double Fine survive and flourish. The team saved their own jobs by making games.