Fargo: "Without corporate interruption, we're kicking ass"

Brian Fargo on Wasteland 2's rapid progress due to financial independence and the Unity Asset Store

InXile's Brian Fargo used his keynote address at this year's Unite conference to put the value of creative autonomy for Wasteland 2 in the frankest possible terms.

"We've been working on Wasteland 2 for about 100 days, with no distractions from any kind of corporate overlord," he said. "We have hundreds of pages of design done, we have our first music in, we have our basic UI up-and-running, and we've taken our first screenshots.

"The bottom line is that, without any interruption, we're kicking ass."

Fargo detailed the way the industry has "come full circle" since he began his career 30 years ago, shifting away from the console model that has dominated since the late Nineties and back towards "two and three man teams" empowered by new platforms, new distribution methods, robust tool-sets like Unity, and financing secured through crowd-funding.

"The best creative work we're seeing is from creative people who have the power, or the financing, to control their destinies... They can keep the craziness at bay"

InXile raised more than $3 million for its long gestating Wasteland 2 project through Kickstarter. Along with Double Fine's Kickstarter Adventure, InXile's success helped to drive the current enthusiasm for crowd-funding in game development, but Fargo believes the implications of crowd-sourcing will reach further than simply raising finance.

"I'm slow to the party on this one, but we're really utilising it in a big way. People ask why we chose Unity, and it has a lot of technical positives, but really, for me, it came down to the store, the communication and the sharing of knowledge. That's the real power of Unity; it's not the technical aspects. You can't beat the crowd."

The current build of Wasteland 2 uses 49 different assets from Unity's Asset Store, and Fargo expects that number to reach 500 by the time the game ships. This sharing of expertise has allowed InXile to make rapid progress, and get the most out of its budget.

With systems like Kickstarter and Unity in place, more and more developers will be able to build financial security without sacrificing creative control - a rarity even five years ago. This combination of factors, Fargo said, leads to the very best work the industry produces, even in the commercial sector.

"Corporations don't have artistic integrity; people do. This sort of integrity impacts on production and how a property is exploited... There are employees of these organisations that have this integrity, but they don't have the power to do anything about it.

"The best creative work we're seeing is from creative people who have the power, or the financing, to control their destinies... These visionaries can be within an organisation: Rockstar would not achieve the level of quality it does if Sam Houser wasn't running that place with an iron fist. He's not a corporation; he's a person."

"If one Minecraft comes along, that's going to put $2m or $3m back into the ecosystem to for other people, and it's going to help find the next one"

Fargo listed several other examples to support his thesis, all of which have either total creative control or financial independence to take their time and pursue their ideas: Shigeru Miyamoto, Yu Suzuki, Hideo Kojima, Ken Levine, Valve, Blizzard, Epic Games.

"They can keep the craziness at bay," he said.

In the independent sector, designers like Jonathan Blow and Edmund McMillen have illustrated what can be accomplished with autonomous creativity, and Kickstarter gives these people even simpler access to the fans and funding that can make it happen.

Fargo also noted the philanthropic nature of successful developers, pointing to other indie designers as the source of Wasteland 2's largest Kickstarter pledges.

"Look at Notch. He's invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Kickstarter projects. You don't see that coming from publishers. As we do well, we tend to help each other out. Once there are more developers that control their destiny through IP ownership or otherwise, it will allow the wealth in our business to be distributed more evenly.

"Good things always come from that. When so much of the money is consolidated in a few publishers, it's no good for any of us."

Since InXile's success with crowd-funding, Fargo has started an initiative called Kicking It Forward: the group's members will pledge 5 per cent of any profits from their crowd-funded projects back into the Kickstarter ecosystem. So far, 100 projects have committed to the idea.

"If one Minecraft comes along, that's going to put $2 million or $3 million back into the ecosystem to for other people, and it's going to help find the next one."

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Latest comments (11)

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent9 years ago
This is fantastic.

But I wonder what will happen when successful crowd-funded development starts 'helping out' other start-ups and, you know, 'publishes' them just to, you know, 'help them out'. What happens when somebody sees an opportunity to 'expand the remit of the business' for the benefit of their 'partners' and...

... and so the wheel turns, entropy reforming the very best-intended configuration back to its natural and most simple state: the pyramid.

Or perhaps I need to lighten up.

One of the two.

Excellent article Mr. Mandrill-hands.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Then they hit the V word. Visibility.
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Spencer Franklin Concept Artist 9 years ago
I think this will depend solely on how the kicking it forward idea is setup. I would hope that the monies being contributed are not also controlled by the contributors, any of them. It would have to be a fair way of making sure that money itself is used to help an already started kickstarter idea...perhaps used in some way to close any shortfalls in a kickstarters goal perhaps.... time will tell, but I am excited by what I'm seeing happening in this space.
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Show all comments (11)
Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 9 years ago
Creative control does not come from ownership.

(If it did, then anybody who bought a Picasso or a Van Gough could paint over top of it as they wished. After all, they own it...)

Creative control is a contractual element. A moral element. You *can* sell your IP and retain creative control over it.

(Imagine that. You now don't have to divide your time between being a corporate manager and a creator. You can just focus on what you're good at - creative.)

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 23rd August 2012 7:44pm

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Mario Tommadich Software QA Analyst, Indie Game Developer 9 years ago
Something like that had been started in Germany and been called the GEMA. They were collecting money to give royalties back to musicians. By now 5% of the GEMA Members earn 90% of the royalties... talk about fairness and helping the startups. I do have to agree with Dan on this. This kind of system can turn very sour and unfair if, here we go Bruce, it is not transparent enough and money starts to be given out based on preferentialism.
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Thiago Vignoli Creative Director, Fan Studios9 years ago
Fargo is doing a great job. I love the idea of Kicking It Forward.

I wanna play Wastelands 2, and see how "great" is this game, how "strong and beatiful" is a project founded with money of so many fans.

The name Fargo is famous now, and Wastelands is a desired game, when this come out, will have so many sales.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
Tim, I don't know where you're finding your silent investors, but you're darn lucky to have them. Every investor I've ever seen has wanted to push the company in which they'd invested in one direction or another.

When you accept money from someone, almost invariably there's more that goes along with it.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
@ Tim I'm not sure what your'e describing exists. When publishers drop millions of dollars on a game they don't do that and say "have at it." They do that and maintain TONS of oversight and creative control.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 9 years ago
The publisher need for over site and control is why we have a gazillion FPS' and only indies dare do original ideas anymore. The publisher as they stood has entered the dinosaur stage of their existence.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 9 years ago
@ Tim. I'm pretty sure you *can* paint over a Picasso if you own it.
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Greg Knight Freelance Developer 9 years ago
Good to see the talent in control and not the management.
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