Last week, Double Fine announced that Spacebase DF-9 was approaching its final v1.0 release —with no new content planned after that milestone. This seemed unexpectedly early. Many of the game's planned features hadn't been—and now won't be—implemented. So why are Double Fine ending development? In a statement on Spacebase's Steam forum, studio head Tim Schafer explains what happened.
"We started Spacebase with an open ended-production plan," writes Schafer , "hoping that it would find similar success (and therefore funding) to the alpha-funded games that inspired it. Some of its early sales numbers indicated this might be the case, but slowly things changed, and it became clear that this was looking like a year and a half of production instead of five or so. With each Alpha release there was the hope that things would change, but they didn't."
Schafer explains that all money made from Spacebase went back into development of the game, but that, eventually the studio was spending more than they were making. "As much as we tried to put off the decision, we finally had to change gears and put Spacebase into finishing mode and plan for version 1.0."
To the claim that Double Fine are "silently pulling the plug," Schafer disagrees. "We are announcing our finishing features and v1.0 plan," he writes. "I know it's not a lot of advance notice, but we're still here telling you our plan instead of vanishing quietly in the night." Despite this, he does admit that communication was lacking. "One of the biggest lessons we have learned in this, our first early access title, is about communication. There should have been more communication to the players about the state of the game, and we apologize for that."
"I understand that the recent announcement was a disappointment," Schafer writes. "It was for you, and it was for us. We wanted to keep working on Spacebase for years. But Spacebase spends more money than it brings in, and that's just not something we can afford to do any more. Set up against the expectation of the game being in development as long as Prison Architect or Dwarf Fortress, it's hard not to find fault in the game by comparison. But we continued to sell the game, and will continue to sell the game, because we feel that based solely on its own merits, Spacebase DF9 is still a fun, clever, hilarious, beautiful and complete game."
This isn't the studio's first attempt at crowdfunding, but I'd argue it's been the least successful. By tying continued development to the success of early access, the Spacebase team needed constant and consistent sales. The problem with that plan, as others have pointed out , is that San Francisco is an expensive location to develop from. Here, it seems, the size of Double Fine made early access development untenable–especially for a game that, when it first launched, couldn't justify the price that it was asking.