Brian Fargo: "Never have I been at a better place to make games I love"
The longtime RPG publisher opens up in this exclusive interview
Brian Fargo, CEO of InXile Entertainment and longtime RPG publisher, has been a very busy man since putting Wasteland 2 up on Kickstarter. The game, which passed $1 million in under two days and now stands at $1.4 million, is planned as a sequel to the award-winning Wasteland RPG from the 1980s.
Full disclosure: I worked with Brian when I was a product marketing manager at Electronic Arts back in the '80's, when EA was publishing RPGs like Wasteland, and I've known designers Mike Stackpole, Liz Danforth and Ken St. Andre for nigh on 30 years now.
Brian was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about Wasteland 2.
Q: Was Double Fine's Kickstarter the inspiration for putting Wasteland 2 on Kickstarter?
Brian Fargo: Most certainly I was inspired by what Tim [Schafer] accomplished, both by the number he achieved and the way he approached the video. His humorous approach was wonderful, and it set the quality bar for this kind of presentation. I was equally as inspired by the fans who immediately started to tweet me and send messages via Facebook that Wasteland 2 would be perfect for Kickstarter. I agreed, and sprang into gear.
Q: How long have you been pitching Wasteland 2 to publishers? What sort of budget were you looking for from them?
Brian Fargo: I started to pitch Wasteland as far back as 2003, and then I really turned up the heat in 2009 when Jason Anderson joined the team. The sad part about pitching is that we didn't even discuss budgets at all. The interest was so low that it never got to the money requirements. Often I would ask what the reasoning for passing on the project was and it was just generic responses about "looking at other things" or "going in another direction." I still have some of these wonderful little emails.
"One large cost with making games these days are all of the cinematics that publishers spend on games, with costs that hit as much as $1.6 million per minute"
Q: Was it tough getting the various creators involved (like Alan Pavlish and Mike Stackpole)? Will Ken St. Andre and Liz Danforth be contributing to the content as well, like they did for the first game?
Brian Fargo: It was not a problem at all getting the band back together, and as you probably know by now we have already roped both Ken and Liz in. We all had a lot of passion for the game and they are all pleasantly surprised to be able to work on the sequel. When I first told Mike and Alan what I was proposing to do with Kickstarter I think they thought I was being a bit too optimistic. The feedback from the RPG crowd has really been over the top.
Q: Do you think Kickstarter will become an important publishing alternative path? Will this only be an option for games that build on well-known IP or creators?
Brian Fargo: There is no reason why the less known developers cannot find funding for smaller budgets if they present it well. I have seen several pitches that have funded so we know it works for unknown developers. Some of these groups will do a fantastic job on the game and be able to come back to the well for a bigger drink next time. I certainly put my time in working up the food chain, and I know others will too.
Q: What platforms are you targeting? Might this change depending on the level of funding?
Brian Fargo: This is a PC RPG first and foremost so our decisions about interface, graphics, and players will all derive from that starting point. That said, we look to be achieving our goal of $1.5 million, which means we can add Mac and Linux, which is perfectly fine since those are fairly straightforward conversions and won't affect the lead format nor should those experiences suffer.
Tablet is a consideration due to its size and interface, but we just have not decided conclusively on this. We are unlikely to support console for fear it would not be a good enough experience and take away any of our mindshare from what is primarily a PC experience. There are other variables like distance from the screen that affects the conversion to console that developers have to consider.
Q: At $1 million, your budget is a small fraction of the cost of typical console or PC game development. What corners will you cut to be able to bring the game in at this price? Will the game be a much shorter experience, or the graphics less detailed, in order to keep costs down?
Brian Fargo: We have a series of advantages in making this game for a reasonable budget. One large cost with making games these days are all of the cinematics that publishers spend on games, with costs that hit as much as $1.6 million per minute. Not only are they expensive, but they can cut down the options a player has in gameplay depending on design. We are also having a tremendous amount of pre-production done, such that all variables are nailed down at the start so that no cycles are wasted by designing on the fly.
We also save 20% plus in not having to prove to a publisher we know what we are doing or prepping for endless tradeshows. This sounds like a small thing, but developers have to halt production countless times for these things. Additionally, we will job out much of the art to keep our fixed overhead low. Wasteland 2 will be as big or bigger than Wasteland 1.
Q: What about the upside? if the game sells very well will the some of the creative talent be rewarded beyond their initial budget allocation? Granting a share in potential future profits is one way movie studios can attract big talent at a low up-front cost... is this something you're planning for this project, or perhaps for a future project?
"I am overwhelmed by the response and the faith and support from the fans makes me happy to be in the games business again. Never have I been at a better place to just make the games I love to make"
Brian Fargo: I am certain we will work out a bonus for people who contributed; in fact, several of them are working for very little to nothing in order to make this happen. And for myself, I'm not taking a salary from the Kickstarter funds to help keep the costs down.
Q: As I write these questions, you've already brought in more than the target amount in just a few days. Does the response surprise you?
Brian Fargo: At this point we have hit our minimum funding level and are closing in on the $1.5 million, so I am very pleasantly surprised. The overall response has been so much stronger than I had anticipated and the desire for this style of RPG is red hot.
Q: Any other projects you're considering putting on Kickstarter?
Brian Fargo: Not yet... I'm focused on Wasteland 2 and nothing else.
Q: Any other thoughts about the project so far?
Brian Fargo: Just to repeat that I am overwhelmed by the response and the faith and support from the fans makes me happy to be in the games business again. Never have I been at a better place to just make the games I love to make and this whole fan funding has provided.
Q: Thanks for your answers, Brian! I'm looking forward to seeing Wasteland 2 go into production.