While independent developers can have more creative and platform freedom than publisher owned studios, they are generally just one poor selling game away from bankruptcy. When Brutal Legend failed to set the charts on fire and its sequel wasn’t greenlit, Double Fine faced financial difficulties, but their ‘Amnesia Fortnights’ saved them.
‘Amnesia Fortnights’ was the name given to events were a small team of developers would make quick game prototypes. Studio head Tim Schafer told Edge:
We had done one Amnesia Fortnight in the middle of Brutal Legend, and one at the end, so we had eight prototypes. I thought eventually we’d start working on smaller games with the extra money that we got from these huge games, and then we found out that Brutal Legend 2 wasn’t happening. We had nothing else for the team to do and no money coming in, but we had those prototypes so we said, ‘Well, let’s get the best four signed’. The thing I like about it is that we had a catastrophic event and the company saved itself purely based on the creativity of the team. Lee, Tasha, Brad, and Nathan – their ideas. The team came together just to make great prototypes to show them off – it wasn’t like someone swooped in with a bunch of money, it was just that we could say, ‘Oh, you don’t like that game? What about these four?’
The idea came from film director Wong Kar-Wai who did a similar thing while he was working on Ashes of Time. The director flew to Hong Kong with his cinematographer, and two stars to “shoot some stuff”, this eventually turned into his two most famous films Chungking Express and Fallen Angels.
Schafer explained how the developer needed a break from Brutal Legend:
We spent five years in the world of Brutal Legend, and that game has one vision of the world, which is ‘Heavy Metal is fucking awesome.’ I’m into that, and some of the team was into that, but I know it must be a drag for some people to be stuck in the world of Eddie Riggs for that long.
Therefore, he started having Amnesia Fortnights at the company:
So, I thought, let’s take a little break from it and do [Amnesia Fortnight], two of the games from which would eventually become Trenched and Once Upon A Monster. It was just a way of doing a creative break for the team, not to make games to make per se, but I always knew that if we got a great idea for a small game that we could make it. Ever since Geometry Wars came out, I thought, ‘Wow, there is a way on a console to make a tiny game and have it be cool and sell a lot and get out to a lot of people.’ I always wanted to make one of those, to make a game that size. We were just fooling around with it and then it turned out to be the thing that saved us, and that’s why we’re still here as a company.
It’s great to see that companies like Double Fine can survive unsuccessful games by using this method, and is a clear example of how important digital platforms are for the industry.