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Double Fine's quest to be the dream publisher

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For a company with a history of outspokenness against video game publishers, it seems strange for Double Fine Productions to launch its own publishing arm.

But this could, in fact, be what makes it the ideal publisher. The company knows how it feels to be a game developer receiving the short end of the stick in a publishing deal. It knows how it feels to be screwed around and not have control over its intellectual property. It understands the frustrations that accompany the constraints of many publishing contracts. With this experience, it can endeavor to not repeat those mistakes.

Greg Rice is Double Fine's senior publishing manager. He's also a producer on Double Fine's crowd-funded adventure game, Broken Age. He says Double Fine never set out to be a publisher, at least, not in the traditional sense. The studio's developers thrive off this interaction with outside teams. It has collaborated with other developers, shared booths at game conventions and hosted its own game jams — its publishing services organically grew from that.

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"The cool thing about Double Fine Presents is it doesn't stem from any financial reason," Rice says. "Having other people around is stimulating for our dev team, so it really stemmed from a desire to keep working with other developers, and we decided to formalize it a bit."

According to Rice, when the studio first came up with Double Fine Presents, its team of developers didn't have a good idea what it was. They knew they wanted to help other developers. They knew they had a wealth of knowledge and experience that could benefit other developers. The services they could offer indies — feedback on game design, help with PR, marketing and distribution, guidance on when and how to launch games on multiple platforms, information on the best way to run a successful Kickstarter campaign — resembled that of a publisher. There were some decidedly un-publisher differences, though. Being an independent studio itself, Double Fine could not fund any projects. And, as advocates for developers maintaining the rights to their own IP, the studio had no interest in controlling another developer's IP.

The result is a kind of publishing service that is different for every developer who comes on board. Double Fine helps developers where they need help, and takes a step back where it's not needed. The developers retain full control over their IP.

"It's a totally piecemeal thing," Rice says. "That's the hard thing with a lot of publisher relationships — they're offering you a set package. For us, I feel like it's more about identifying games and teams that we're excited about and working with them to figure out how we can be helpful based on the things we've done, the things we have expertise in, and the things they need."

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Double Fine Presents has so far published titles like Escape Goat 2, Mountain and, most recently, Gang Beasts. In each of these publishing deals, the studio got involved at a different stage of the development process. For Escape Goat 2, Double Fine Presents came to the developer with a deal two weeks before the game launched.

"They were like, we don't want to be a publisher. We want to help you with what you need, and we want to assist with the people we have," says Ian Stoker, the creator of Escape Goat 2. "We were finishing the game and they offered a really good deal. They helped us with visibility, and we could leave at any time."

Double Fine Presents takes a 10 percent cut of a game's earnings, which Stoker describes as "very reasonable" compared to the 60-70 percent that some publishers take.

According to Rice, Double Fine Presents is an opportunity for Double Fine to share its knowledge while also feeding off the creativity and energy of other indies.

"Hopefully it'll just mean more and more people start doing these kinds of things and helping each other out," Rice says. "Ultimately, we want the power in the hands of developers so they can make the games they want to make."