Interviews

Double Fine under Microsoft: “Limited integration,” says Tim Schafer

Double Fine’s Tim Schafer explained what the day-to-day of the company is like now that it has been acquired by Microsoft as a member of Xbox Game Studios.

In his words — or rather, in Microsoft’s — it’s a matter of “limited integration”.

“Well, I mean, nothing is really harder. We were very careful ’cause it wasn’t our goal to get acquired; we’re very fiercely independent,” Schafer told Stevivor as part of a larger conversation.

“But the way that Xbox has been acquiring studios is what they call ‘limited integration’,” he continued. “I was asking, it seems, like dumb questions, but they were important. Like, ‘do we have to change our email accounts to be at Tim at Microsoft or not?’ – not that I would ever get that – or ‘do we have to put a logo in our lobby, like a big Windows logo?’

“And they were like, ‘no. No, you keep everything about your company, you still run it the way you ran it all these years. But we provide the money instead of you going out and beating the bushes to find it.'”

The freedom to stop worrying about what Schafer jokingly called “all the terrifying financial matters” meant he could better spend his time elsewhere.

“You know that that’s there and checking that big thing off your list is like, ‘[now] what do I do with 50% of my mental time now?’ and then the answer is, think about the game,” he said. “Think about creative things instead of thinking about how you’re gonna run out of money in three months.”

In the case of Psychonauts 2, which began life after crowdfunding on Fig, Schafer and Double Fine were able to use Microsoft’s resources to better the game.

“[Microsoft] asked us what we would do if we weren’t constrained by things like finances and stuff, and one of those like, well, we just finish the game properly with the right amount of polish and also take the time to add back in things that we had to cut, like our boss fights and things like that,” Schafer said.

Double Fine also took advantage of the knowledge and experience of other Xbox Game Studios as part of development.

“And then also, our tech was pretty set, using Unreal [Engine],” he said. “So we had access to a sort of knowledge base where we can have our programmers meet programmers from other studios and talk about how they’re using the engine. We can have all our disciplines meet and kind of be part of the combined knowledge of all these different studios. Even though we’re independent, it’s nice to get together with different disciplines and talk [with] someone who does your job at another company.

“We also have resources that we didn’t have before, like getting Microsoft for all the rigorous and thorough playtesting they can do,” he continued. “Not just for bugs, but for usability, diversity, inclusion, mental health and all the different things that they – accessibility — they can test, and give us notes and make us help us make changes that make the game more accessible to more people.”

Ultimately, “limited integration” means Double Fine gets to make the games it wants to, with the backing and trust of Microsoft.

“I think what Microsoft and Xbox wanted when they were looking at us is like, ‘well, this studio can create worlds, and create characters, and create IP,'” Schafer said. “So we’re just going to keep doing that.

“They weren’t looking for a port house to, you know, convert or do DLC for Halo. That’s why I made that joke — at the announcement where we announced that we were acquired — I made a joke about how we were going to work on Excel and stuff, but it’s the opposite. They want us for what we were already doing. They knew what we’re doing. They knew the games that we released, and they’re like ‘yeah, come and do that for Xbox.’

“They’ve lived up to what they promised, which is that we run our own ship. They vetted us before – they were like, ‘we like the games you’re making and… they would be a great addition to Game Pass’ and we see how we fit into Game Pass really well.

“We get to do, if anything, just more creative, more Double Fine games because we don’t have to think, ‘well, could we get a publisher to sign this before our money runs out?’ which is what we usually would think about.”

Psychonauts 2 heads to Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PS4 and PS5 on 25 August 2021, part of the Xbox Game Pass program.

Psychonauts 2

25 August 2021
PC PS4 Xbox One Xbox Series S & X
 

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.