Q&A: Tim Schafer psychs out digital distribution

Double Fine chief discusses new possibilities for Psychonauts, thoughts on future of online distribution.

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Designer Tim Schafer's name is known by loyal fans who have enjoyed the humorous and memorable games with his name on them, such as Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. Most recently, Schafer's San Francisco studio, Double Fine Productions, released the critically acclaimed Psychonauts for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC last year.

While the game may not have been the smash hit that Double Fine fans (and employees) might have hoped for, it will soon be available for download through Valve Software's Steam online distribution system. We sat down with Schafer to discuss what the new deal means for Psychonauts and for games in general.

GameSpot: How are things going at Double Fine?

Tim Schafer: Great! It's been an exciting couple of weeks. We announced our new publishing deal with Vivendi, we won a BAFTA award, and now Psychonauts is being rereleased online. Several evil schemes of ours are all coming together at once.

GS: Could you tell us a bit about the digital-distribution deal for Psychonauts, as well as how the deal came about?

TS: Majesco asked me a while back what I thought about digitally distributing Psychonauts, and I was like, "Sure, but you mean in the future, right? When we all have teleporters and robot butlers and Internet connections that can download something as big as the Excellent Game, Psychonauts?" And they said, "No, now." And I thought that sounded crazy. But then I was casually chatting with a friend at Valve, and he also suggested this sort of crazy, futuristic idea. And that's when I realized that the Internet was hungry for Psychonauts, and it would not be happy until it had taken it, and so I just had to get out of its way.

GS: At the risk of sounding crass, how well do you expect the downloadable version of the game to do?

TS: I think it's going to do really well! It's the full version of the game, but the price is much lower, and there has been time now for the reputation of the game to grow. So it's going to be monumentally huge, and probably destroy the Internet for a couple of days, if not forever. If you don't get any e-mail on the day Psychonauts comes out, just remember: It's for a good cause.

GS: If digital distribution does extremely well for Psychonauts, will that success pave the way for a full-fledged sequel?

TS: Hey, we're ready. We're pretty busy with the new game, sure. But we've been doing some cloning research, and if a publisher approaches us about making Psychonauts 2 then all we really have to do is go down to the basement and see if any of the clone baby programmers can type yet.

GS: If not a sequel, then any thoughts on using digital distribution as a platform for episodic Psychonauts follow-ups, like Sam & Max, Half-Life 2, and so on?

TS: That is a good idea. We could call it the "Brain of the Month Club!" (You know, in the old days--before digital distribution--a concept called the "Brain of the Month Club" would have been impossible, and kind of gross. But not anymore!)

GS: What are your thoughts on digital distribution as a delivery system? Is it a viable alternative to the traditional model of developer-and-publisher-put-boxed-games-on-retail-shelves yet? If not, what will get it there?

TS: It's a very exciting time for digital distribution. People have talked about it for years, and I always thought, yeah, sure, someday maybe that will happen. Now, all of a sudden, it's here! I mean, I'm actually doing it as a player: I'm downloading tons of games from Xbox Live Arcade, and soon I'll be doing the same on the Wii. Just the other day I downloaded a test version of Psychonauts from Steam. And I was thinking, holy crap, the future is here! Now where's my flying car?

GS: While we have you here, could you tell us about how things are going on Double Fine's next project? Will that game be digitally distributed as well? How far away do you think digital distribution of full-size next-gen console games is?

TS: Things are going great on the new game. It's definitely a full-sized, next-gen game and it's so big that it's hard to imagine it being feasible to download, but you know, I thought the same thing about Psychonauts, and I was very pleasantly surprised there! So who knows? At this point, nothing would surprise me. Well, the flying car thing would actually surprise me because people would crash all the time and the government would never allow it.

Discussion

116 comments
_CaptainHappy_
_CaptainHappy_

God I would kill for this game.....but and for a klondike bar.

dongwookuk
dongwookuk

PSychonauts is seriously THE BEST game EVER! And the ending of the game would have made a great start for a sequel. PLZ MAKE A SEQUEL!

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Psychonauts bombs on PC. Chance of another PC from Double Fine, I doubt it.

tobleronian
tobleronian

A sequel would be great :D I just recently downloaded it from steam, played and completed it and loved every bit! I'm also v. interested what Double Fine's 'next gen' project is. Hope it available for the PC.

Vyse86
Vyse86

They got to get Tim Schafer "On the Spot" again. Such a funny and ingenious developer. Wonder what that new game they are working on is.

phendogg
phendogg

i hope this means that you get to play it on the 360 sometime soon!!!!

cikame
cikame

i have psychonauts already but i bought the steam version anyway and its at 0% :( not going anywhere fast. been like it for 24 hours now.

Caliban360
Caliban360

I had no idea that Tim was like that... But now that i know, i can't think of any other way for him to be. Little excentric, but hey, most geniuses are! and btw, I WANT that sequel!

Carrie
Carrie gamerep

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure Tim Schafer is the funniest person alive.

johndoh4
johndoh4

Its good to see that they haven't given up on Psyconauts.

Reetesh
Reetesh

Tim Schafer FTW! Just cant wait for the Next game:D

AquaMantor
AquaMantor

He sounds suitably eccentric:) I hope that Psychonauts finally gets the success it deserves.

Cypher_VR
Cypher_VR

very unique experience - loved it!, it reminded me of the quirky game Earthbound for SNES

MasterAsh42
MasterAsh42

bamf03 said: "The game also got frustrating at times especially the circus level near the end. I don't know how they make games for young kids and expect them to play it because that game is quite difficult in some places." The meat circus makes all shudder in fear. . .Wha, wait. . .Psychonauts meant for young kids? I looked at its overall presentation and tone and felt it worked more like how John K. believes all animation should: Funny to all ages, but not always for the same reasons.

_Sam_
_Sam_

I prefer having the disks

schaferforever
schaferforever

sob... i love tim schafer..... i already have psychonauts,,,, but the guy is just so funny and great

drbob
drbob

We'll have to wait and see what the game sells for on steam, but I predict that it will be significantly more than the price for which you can currently pick up a boxed copy of Psychonauts. Sure it may be cheaper than the current reccommened list price, but who sells games at that? A new boxed copy is currently $9.97 at amazon. Digital distribution usually means you're only able to get the game from one site, so no competition exists and the price is accordingly high. Give me boxed copies that sell in a proper marketplace for a reasonable price over a digital monopoly any day.

phoenixan_akrau
phoenixan_akrau

I hope Psychonauts does well! I already have my set of CD's though, bought at Media Play complete with dust that needed to be romoved from such a fabulous game.

bamf03
bamf03

I ended up playing Psychonauts because my 7 year old nephew struggled to play it and he wanted me to help in. It got to the point when every time he visited he would want me to play it while he watched. It wasn't long before I got sick of playing it, for me it didn't have the same level of enjoyment that I got from games like Ratchet or Jak, but I carried on playing for my nephew's sake. The game also got frustrating at times especially the circus level near the end. I don't know how they make games for young kids and expect them to play it because that game is quite difficult in some places. I actually fininshed it today, I am so glad. This wekend he wants me to play Neopets, hope its good

SEEDman_X
SEEDman_X

Tim Schafer is so bad ass! I'll get any game with his name on it :-D

teknicz
teknicz

I suppose I have no excuse not to get this game now. Been hearing so much about it, definitely willing to give it a whirl.

jedihamtaro
jedihamtaro

hehehe he gives good answers....best of luck to him :)

SoralinkGS
SoralinkGS

its almost 2015! Back to the Future shows that we will have flying cars then! in all seriousiness, I like digital distrubution of games for the sheer fact of lazyiness. you never have to put a disk in! the game is already in the PC!

Juthan
Juthan

I love Tim. Grim Fandango is my favorite game of all time. I hope he does well with the Steam distribution of Psychonauts.

Are_Ya_Ready
Are_Ya_Ready

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

alcarazo9
alcarazo9

:lol: great interview, phyconauts owns

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

I didn't know that Tim is so funny. Now let's leave Psychonauts in peace and hope that their next game won't have the same destiny.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

As a 'second chance' for great games, digital downloading - yes. As a way to sell all games great and crap with no retail sales - will destory the hobby. I see the more success of titles likes Psychonauts through digital distribution, the more we'll get option 2 and so the death of the hobby. It would be nice to think the games industry has more sense - but it obviously doesn't. So I see digital distributon as another temptation to take the wrong track to insolvency, Just like the temptation of episodic gaming and micro transactions. Anything that gives us less game for the same dollar or the same game for more dollars is not good, so a Half Life 3 broken into 4 episodes and costing $90+ with less than 30 hours gameplay is not the answer - how ever good any individual game is. And getting a core game for $20 but then spending another $60 on 'micro trnasactions' to end up with a full game will also not work. So all the new methods of selling that the industry is talking about are all very dodgy with regard the turn around of the PC games business, and by extension, the video game business as a whole.

man_alive
man_alive

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

usedtype
usedtype

Tim is a truly funny guy. I remember an issue of PC Gamer when they talked to him. They asked what the greatest moment in gaming history was. He responded that it was when Deer Hunter became a huge success as it caused everyone at LucasArts to dance around saying, 'Yeah! Games don't have to be good anymore!" Too bad that "game" (to use the word loosely) did so much better than Psychonauts.

Jah_Glow
Jah_Glow

Yeah, some of the best games out there are barely known. Tim Schafer is the funniest guy in game development. Gamespot should give him his own weekly column, or even show! I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, with a name like Tim the world should be bowing at his knees and cowering in fear of his shadow! *flies off in his handy neat-o-keen auto-gyro* *crashes into a billboard*

klactose
klactose

There are a lot of good games that don't sell, it's a lot of good movies that aren't blockbusters, it's a lot of good music that doesn't go platinum or make the billboard top 20. Those who understand the reality of the marketplace realize that there are other forces, besides quality, at play that dictate the success of entertainment media. If it wasn't, how would you explain Britney Spears?

MasterAsh42
MasterAsh42

Yeah, where are our flying cars?! Bloody Jetson utopia. . . Timmy Tim makes some bold, but I feel soon to be accurate, predictions. The (sad) story of Psychonauts market failure has given it more exposure than the publisher ever did prior to its initial release. I definately see Psychonauts pulling a phoenix here. . .

ax23000
ax23000

"If it was so great a game it would have sold." Yes, because in a world where a game like Big Mutha Trucker can sell copies up the ass of course all the good games sell and all the bad games fail. Seriously, I wish I lived in this magical fantasy land of yours 'cause the real world kind of sucks. Good stuff gets passed by, and crap sells millions of freaking copies. Have you played Psychonauts or do you always let the market make your mind up for you? Seriously, if I did everything by popularity...well, I'd never do everything by popularity, but if I did (and really...wouldn't, 'cause gross) my life would be really f--d up. Make your own choices why don't you? Give the game a shot. Unless you hate platformers, high-larious dialouge, and crushing a city full of fish people, there is no reason for you to not like this game.

Monstromo
Monstromo

If it was so great a game it would have sold. This game has gotten a ton of free marketing and failed. Now its trying to recoup losses through yet another pipeline. So forgive me for not get all that excited. I think a lot of people want to talk about this game but few really want to actually play it. Double Fine just needs to move on and make another game.

qiwihead
qiwihead

Tim Schafer is the funniest guy in game development. Gamespot should give him his own weekly column, or even show!

SpazH3d
SpazH3d

I can´t wait for the new game and i really hope they consider making a new psychonauts in the future!

BigC43
BigC43

Psychonauts is such a great game. I sure hope a sequel is in the works...

makemeweak
makemeweak

Allright! I'll have to check it out.