Garry Newman's eponymous Garry's Mod is quite the phenomenon. Less of a game than a tool, GMod allows users to muck about in Valve's Source engine to create machinima, physics experiments or giant meme explosions - if you own Garry's Mod and at least one Source Engine game, you're good to go.
GMod started as a fun diversion, a project Newman took on whilst learning how to code along the way, but to date it's shifted over 3.5 million copies, booking over $22 million in revenues and establishing itself as an accessible tool for budding developers, animators and scripters. Or those who just want to shoot headcrabs out of a trebuchet.
Newman has capitalised on the ever-growing popularity of Garry's Mod impressively, ramping up development over nine years to turn a pet project into a valid commercial concern which employs several people and is working on a number of simultaneous projects: Facepunch Studios.
There are other bits of magic in the works, but for now it's Rust which is taking centre stage at Facepunch, selling over a quarter of a million copies via Steam's early access program and building the sort of online community engagement which many 'higher-profile' games can only dream of. We caught up with Newman to find out how development of the vicious multiplayer survive 'em up was progressing, how nice he thinks his players are and whether or not he thinks it'll ever be finished.
Q:You've had very impressive sales numbers so far: nearly a quarter of a million people have ignored you when you told them not to buy the game yet... How serious was that plea?
"I did some rough maths this morning: in terms of profits, from sales and royalties, in a month Rust has made about 40 per cent of what GMod has made in about nine years"
Garry Newman:Well, people like doing the opposite of what you ask them, don't they? We never exactly wanted people to not buy the game, as such, but at the same time it serves as a warning - if they buy it then it crashes we can say 'we told you so'!
Still, it's surprising how many people did buy it.
Q:Even after the success of Garry's Mod?
Garry Newman:Yeah - we never, ever expected anything to dwarf GMod's success. I did some rough maths this morning: in terms of profits, from sales and royalties, in a month Rust has made about 40 per cent of what GMod has made in about nine years. We can't really believe it.
Q:How big is your team now? You must have scaled up...
Garry Newman:Yeah, we've hired in the last year - we've got about fifteen people working for us now.
Q:With great power etc - how is it being a serious MD?
Garry Newman:We run it kind of like Valve - we just let people get on with it. It's sort of self-managing - we don't have any actual managers, really. People are good at their jobs, so they should be able to just get on with what they're doing.
Q:Anyone from the GMod community?
Garry Newman:A couple, yeah. GMod's good for that because those people know who we are, they know that they're not just working for a company that's just existed for a month - they know their jobs are secure.
Q:GMod's success has obviously given you a bit more room to manoeuvre, and some room to fail and experiment, to take your time over getting it right. Would you have been able to make Rust without having done GMod first?
Garry Newman:It's a good point, but yeah, I do. If we didn't have the money from GMod, I think we'd be doing it for free. We'd be coming home from work every night and working on the game. That money has given us a bit of security, and we've not been in a rush to release a game, until it's something we're kind of proud of, that we think is going somewhere.
Q:Early access is an interesting model, still in it's infancy. Essentially you're having people pay you to test your game for you, which is an obvious boon for an indie. Do you think a major publisher could get away with that?
Garry Newman:I don't know - there are AAA studios who do stuff like that, plenty of them have offers where if you pre-order something you can get into the beta and play it early. It's obviously further down the line than most early access games are, but you're paying more, too. It's not that different.
Q:Rust is fairly brutal, like many PvP games, but there's also some genuine friendliness, too. I've had my fair share of being pick-axed in the face, but also people helping me out or letting me hang out. That seems like a fairly self-governing thing.
Garry Newman:The first thing people do is run around and try and bash people's heads in with a rock! They want to try and get items and build a camp. Then, after a while they simmer down and realise that they kind of need to work with other people, that if they help someone out they'll help them back. It goes back and forth like that.
I suppose when someone's kind to you in the game it stands out a lot more than when someone tries to kill you, because it doesn't happen as often. It's a lot harder to be kind to people than to just kill them and take all their stuff. You can get a lot of satisfaction from giving someone trust and not having it thrown back in your face.
Q:There's a healthy clan structure, too - a lot of the bigger projects are only possible with a lot of co-operation.
Garry Newman:Yeah, the clan stuff is kind of huge. What we really want to do is have community servers, private or listed, which you can only access if you're part of a Steam group. If you're in that sort of community already, there's likely to be a lot less killing each other.
"I don't think there's ever going to be a server where everyone is being friendly and nice"
Q:Any plans for having the AI adapt to how much PvP is happening? Obviously if you're all collaborating there soon stops being anything to do unless the AI starts attacking in force.
Garry Newman:In a way I think the players will balance it themselves - I don't think there's ever going to be a server where everyone is being friendly and nice. We have talked about things like disasters and events, though - we have the airdrops, which are positive events, and we'd like to have some that are negative, too, that people have to work together to overcome.
The natural disaster actually partly comes about because we can only have so many buildings within the engine. We thought we could use them to destroy things if a server gets too full - things like tornadoes or earthquakes or volcanoes. People on the forums really want a flood of dinosaurs.
Q:You're getting rid of the zombies, aren't you?
Garry Newman:Yeah, we really wanted to get rid of them before we launched on Steam, but kind of failed, because we didn't want people reviewing it as just another zombie survival game. We want to remove them, though - we'll probably end up removing them and replacing them with nothing, first, then working something else in eventually. We don't want to rush and end up replacing zombies with mutants or something.
Q:Any plans to develop a backstory to Rust at all?
Garry Newman:We've got our theories about why this island exists, and why these people are there, that is kind of playing to the event thing that we're thinking about too. We don't really want to tell anyone about it just yet, though, because if we talk about it before we do it they'll get angry at us!
Q:That's a big risk with being so tightly involved with your community - every developer wants feedback, but it's not always sensible. You can also end up with design by committee, how do you avoid that?
Garry Newman:Most of the time when we're looking at the forums, we've got an idea of the problems that we're facing, it's usually obvious that some people have a good idea of what those problems and some don't. Sometimes you'll look at someone's suggestion and think 'that's a perfect solution'.
Most of the time it's pretty much the opposite: people who think you should turn red after killing a certain number of people or something, people who obviously have no idea of what we're trying to achieve with the game.
Q:Any plans to change the price as it goes on?
Garry Newman:None at the moment, no. I'd feel kind of cheeky asking any more for it, really. Maybe that will change a year or so down the line, but for now it's not changing. Right now it seems like a good price to stick at.
Q:How is it having having DayZ standalone developing in early access alongside you?
Garry Newman:We're kind of flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as DayZ, to be honest, because it was kind of our inspiration, it's why we started Rust in the first place. I think it being out at the same time is probably doing us more good than if it wasn't, though. Everyone who's playing Day Z now is probably hearing about Rust and a lot of them are ending up playing Rust too.
I don't think people are going to decide on just one.
Q:GMod has been technically in development for over nine years now, do you have any restrictions on how long you'll work on Rust for, when you'll start a new project?
Garry Newman:To be honest, we've got about four or five other projects on the go right now! As long as Rust pays our wages we're going to keep working on it. Even when it's 'finished', it's not finished, it'll still be updated, in the same way that Garry's mod did. I suppose it's the way with big games, there's never an end point, it just evolves.
People have kind of started modding the servers already, but in a way...this is something we're focussing on. We kind of want to make the game we want to make right now, we don't want to give lots of people tools because we know that what they'll do is make people turn red if you kill someone and stuff like that. It kind of compromises it.
We don't mind what people do on the modded servers, but we don't want to confuse new players about what the game's about, in a way. It'll probably happen eventually, but it's not as much of a priority as things like stopping the cheaters at the moment.