REVIEW: Doublefine’s review embargo for Broken Age

The first thing to say is that the graphics for this review embargo are just super. Why, it was almost like a REAL LIFE EMAIL.


Here’s the short version: Double Fine, the developers best known for Tim Schafer, have finished the first part of Kickstarter-funded game Broken Age and sent it out to backers. These backers may include members of the press or even people with blogs. Any ‘reviews’ were not allowed until 24th January. EMBARGOED.

I’m sorry, what?

This minor saga annoyed me, and the discussion around it annoyed me, and when I tweeted about it people seemed to think I was just sniping at Double Fine. I don’t think anyone has this dog by the right leg.

Embargoes are a simple transaction. A developer or publisher agrees to show you what they’re working on, and in return you agree to keep the secret until a mutually-agreed date that works for both parties. Embargoes are not a one-way deal; you agree to them in exchange for access or information that is not available to the public.


What we have in the case of Broken Age is something different. The promise of Kickstarter, as I see it, is to remove the middlemen. To take away the publishers and restore a direct link between the creators of a product and its audience.

This is especially important when it comes to a company like Double Fine. Let’s be under no illusion about why it went to Kickstarter to fund Broken Age; it was the only way to get the project off the ground. Publishers wouldn’t back an adventure game, but nostalgia-fuelled fans would.

And they did back Double Fine Adventure, as it was then known – not to the tune of $400,000, the original target, but to a whopping $3.45 million. Not bad, and even better when you consider that Double Fine subsequently said that wasn’t enough and split the game in two.

Point is that Broken Age was crowdfunded, which is another way of saying it was paid for by individuals. That’s awesome. And upon the game’s release to these individuals, Double Fine tried to tell them they can’t write about it.


To be clear about this; I don’t think Double Fine is evil. Not in the slightest. But this is fucked up yo, because the implication is that Double Fine regards the people who funded Broken Age as customers rather than backers. One of the reasons Kickstarter is attractive is that it slightly changes that power dynamic between creator and audience – yes I’ll fund your thing, but I get some kind of acknowledgement for that, whether it’s a tweet or a t-shirt.

Attempting to force an embargo on the people who’d paid for this game to be made shows that Double Fine disagrees. It shows that Double Fine regards Kickstarter backers as customers who pre-ordered, and perhaps even a slight inconvenience, rather than the whole reason Broken Age exists at all.


I once met Tim Schafer, in EA’s UK offices around the time of Brutal Legend’s launch. I’d played the game and hadn’t enjoyed it, so I didn’t really want to make small talk with the creative mastermind, and I imagine Schafer was just thinking about when he could possibly get away from this awful place. We both sat in a small airless room for a few minutes and exchanged about ten words total, avoiding eye contact, waiting to be called forth by the PR machine and play our parts.

Pretty awful. And when I saw Double Fine Adventure’s Kickstarter that memory bubbled back up in its grey entirety, and I thought ‘at least he doesn’t have to go through that misery again.’ The schedules, the embargos, and those meeting rooms with windows looking onto buildings.

But maybe I misread the situation. Maybe Schafer really really likes that shit.

At the time of writing Double Fine has decided this was all a terrible mistake, and withdrawn its attempted embargo. Which obviously will affect the final score.



Pre-empts potential dissent

Looks just like real life!

Gives the marketing department something to do


Is Stupid

Didn’t work

Smells like bacon and oppression, man.

Double Fine’s Broken Age review embargo receives 3 out of 18.