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Tim Schafer says the Microsoft deal will let Double Fine stay 'experimental'

Tim Schafer offered a simple, to-the-point explanation for agreeing to Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Double Fine Productions: Money. He was joking, sort of (maybe?) but he took a more serious tone in an interview with Gamasutra in which he talked about the studio's long-term prospects under the Microsoft flag. 

Schafer said Microsoft has committed to "a new way of acquiring companies" that doesn't lead to everyone involved being merged into the big company by default. "They want us to retain our identity, our spirit," he explained. 

Interestingly, though, the advent of the Xbox Game Pass, which was announced for PC in May, was also a big factor. 

"GamePass was a lot of it. Seeing something like Game Pass and how it made sense to have a diversity of content," Schafer said. "I could see why having a company like us and a company that makes games like Forza—very different games—all being on one subscription service like that makes it more valuable. I could see how they would want to bring us in and not change us." 

Double Fine and Microsoft actually have some less-than-happy history from the original Psychonauts days. It was meant to be published by Microsoft as an Xbox exclusive, but the relationship was bumpy and fell apart completely shortly after the departure of Ed Fries, who was Microsoft's vice president of game publishing at the time and a proponent of weird stuff like Psychonauts. Schafer acknowledged that breakdown in the interview, and the legitimate worry that something similar could happen again, but said that Microsoft's commitment to letting individual studios operate unimpeded runs much deeper than it used to. 

"Matt Booty [head of Microsoft Studios] is really great, there's also [Xbox chief] Phil Spencer and there's so many people on their teams," Schafer said. "It's not just one person, it's these teams and a philosophy that permeates all of Xbox Studios, and I've never met [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella but according to them it goes all the way to the top of treating the acquired companies right, and I think that spirit would live on, although I hope nothing happens to the team we have there because they're great." 

Ultimately, he believes that the deal will let Double Fine be "experimental" without having to worry about things like negotiating publishing deals or whether the electricity bill was paid. "The great thing about the acquisition is it lets us refocus—it lets us focus at all—instead of making a game while worrying about all these other aspects," Schafer said. "For me, I'm going to be focusing on Psychonauts 2, Lee [Petty] is going to be focusing on Rad, and then we can think about new games and being able to develop them and being in a place where we can pursue strange new ideas."

Double Fine showed off some fresh Psychonauts 2 gameplay footage and screens earlier this month at E3. It's slated to come out later this year. 

Andy Chalk
Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.