Tim Schafer took to the stage at the Develop Conference today to offer a wake-up call for the packed room of developers sitting in attendance.
"You have to deal with the reality that publishers are unstable, and these big companies aren’t going to go away," he said.
Shafer, the president of Double Fine and a 20 year industry veteran, said that developers need to be prepared for the chaotic business in which publishers operate in.
"Publishers have these changes in the groups" he said, "there’s basically shenanigans going on that – for an independent developer – is hard to weather."
He added: "Sometimes, if you stay with a publisher long enough, you get into a weird parent-child relationship, and you forget that they aren’t always going to look after you."
In what was a lively speaker session that generated frequent laughs, Schafer revealed a personal incident where his studio had to deal with publisher instability.
"We got a phone call, where the publisher told me they didn’t want to do Brutal Legend 2. It was odd because I thought they said it was a done deal."
Said Schafer: "I had not prepared for that news. And suddenly we were running out of cash with a big team.
"And we had to think about what to do.
"Do we have to lay off people?"
The rescue mission, he said, came from eight small and unique games that had been intermittently in development at Double Fine.
"That was the fortunate thing," he said. "We had eight game prototypes – really small games – and we chose the best four and pitched them to numerous studios on a kind of road show."
Those four projects, which have yet to be revealed, now have publisher deals in place.
Schafer went on to discuss the benefits of working on small projects, saying that they put developers "in a better position, because you’re asking for less money. You have a great chance of keeping your own IP with small projects."