Double Fine Productions is releasing a final version of Spacebase DF-9 next month, the studio announced last week. The decision brings an end to the studio's plan to continuously expand the game over a few years' time — and it left many of the project's backers unsatisfied and asking for refunds.
Spacebase DF-9 debuted on Steam Early Access in October 2013. The Dwarf Fortress-like simulation title, in which players build and maintain a base in outer space and try to keep its inhabitants happy, is available on Linux, Mac and Windows PC for $24.99. Double Fine hoped to gain an initial fan base with the Early Access release, and bring in enough money over time to allow the development team to add features mentioned in a lengthy wish list: hundreds of items such as multi-level base construction, teleporters and holodecks.
In an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun upon Spacebase DF-9's initial release, project lead J.P. LeBreton said Double Fine would keep working on the game for "however long we can keep going, based on how much people like it." Unfortunately for the game and its fans, that period of time amounts to about one year since launch, and a total of nearly two years for Double Fine.
The company announced last week that it will ship Spacebase DF-9 1.0 next month. That final version will bring a tutorial mode and goals to the game, along with numerous bug fixes. Double Fine will be "sticking around a bit for bug fixing and support," but will make no further additions to the game. At that time, the studio will release Spacebase DF-9's full Lua source code for fans to continue development.
As you might expect, the response hasn't been altogether positive. A seven-page thread in the forums on Spacebase DF-9's Steam Community page begins with a disgruntled backer asking for their money back because Double Fine decided to "pull the plug" rather than deliver a "full game." On Saturday, studio head Tim Schafer took to the forums himself to respond to the furor and explain his studio's decision.
Schafer wrote that Double Fine was inspired by other Early Access success stories and "started Spacebase with an open ended-production plan." While Spacebase DF-9 did well at the outset — Double Fine and its investment partners made back the game's $400,000 initial development cost within two weeks of launch — "slowly things changed, and it became clear that this was looking like a year and a half of production instead of five or so," said Schafer.
According to Schafer, Double Fine put all revenue from Spacebase DF-9 back into its development, and then began spending additional funds on it. But that's not a sustainable model for the studio.
"Obviously, spending more money than we were making isn't something we can afford to do forever. So, 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," he said.
Schafer also addressed backers who charged the studio with "pulling the plug" on Spacebase DF-9 with little advance notice. "There should have been more communication to the players about the state of the game, and we apologize for that," he said. "We always had hope we weren't going to end it, until the end."