Brian Fargo is "swinging for the fences" with Torment
We talked with inXile's CEO at Gamescom 2016 about their upcoming RPG, the culture of crowdfunding and all things InXile.
Torment: Tides of Numenera has been in development for a while now, with a backer beta previously giving us a first taste of the game (currently available in Early Access), and at Gamescom 2016 we caught up with CEO of inXile Entertainment Brian Fargo.
We asked him about what developing Torment has been like, and Fargo said "every project for me at the studio I think of in terms of would I launch my company with this game, is it good enough, is it quality enough, is it something we could be so proud of that we could start an entire company around it? Now unless we can answer yes, then I don't think we should be doing it and so this one's no different. We want it to be something we can be proud of. With RPGs people play them for a decade after they're out, even two decades, and so we typically go big on these things, sometimes too big and make our own lives very difficult, and this one's no different, but [...] all the RPGs we've been involved with we tend to swing for the fences and this one creatively is amongst the deepest and it's among the biggest in terms of narrative. There's over a million words and 60 to 70 hours. It's more content than all the Star Wars films added up together - it's massive."
We asked more specifically about the count of a million words and what this means for the game, especially in relation to their previous projects.
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"It's a certain barometer. You never know what content's on critical path versus what's not so you can't exactly go on a word-for-word ratio of how big the game is but when you're stepping up into those kinds of words there's going to be a lot of reactivity, and the thing about a good roleplaying game is the cause and effect and the things that you can do in the world that affect things in a meaningful way and unless you're willing to commit to putting in a ton of content that they're not going to see on a first-time passthrough, then you're not really doing real cause and effect [...] it really just speaks to our commitment to make a certain type of roleplaying game."
Fargo went on to talk a little bit more about inXile as a company especially after the release of Wasteland 2 using crowdfunding. "It's been a complete rebirth of the company because of crowdfunding. We wouldn't be making these kinds of games, we wouldn't have the kind of talent that we have working for us now, we wouldn't have the growth that we're having so it was a game-changer for us [...] with inXile we started in 2002 and the industry was in upheaval. Back then you either got a contract with a publisher or maybe did a flash game, there wasn't a lot of choice. Then Steam came along around 2005, then the iPhone was in 2006 or so, then that flipped to free-to-play, then Facebook games came along and they were very popular, huge for a year or two."
"So we were trying to find our feet, to find a business model that allowed us to make the games we wanted and survive, so it was not easy trying to find that. We tried to publisher route, didn't really like that. Before Kickstarter we were wondering what we were going to do and as soon as I saw Tim Schafer I said that's it and so I dropped everything. We saw Tim Schafer's campaign and we launched a month later. We stopped everything to make that happen and so it's been a godsend for sure ever since. We love working with the fans directly. It's been great for us not just from a money perspective but from a feedback perspective and a support perspective. If we make them proud for backing us and make a great product they're the first ones to shout from the rooftops how great it is and we need that support too."
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With crowdfunding, there also comes a tendency to reveal more about the game during the development process, something that doesn't bother Fargo too much. "I don't mind talking about what we're doing and I'd rather get the feedback before I launch the game rather than after I launch the game where I can't do anything about it, that's a big part of it. In general I like to manage development in a certain way and so with crowdfunding I can do whatever I want, nobody's telling me exactly how to do things. We all have our own style and so we get to bring in people that we really like, that we think makes sense, we could try to hit the iteration cycle fast and all the things that I think make for a healthy product development psychology."
These changes to the industry, Fargo explained, also mean a change in the relationships between developers and publishers. "The relationships couldn't be any more different. If you go to a publisher, pitch them a concept and they're going to finance the entire game, you're going to get a certain type of deal and a certain kind of relationship. If I go to a publisher and I say 'hey listen, I'm going to pay for half the title because of crowdfunding, us investing our own money and we've already proven there's awareness there' [...] it's a very different conversation for how the deal looks and how you're treated and everything else and Techland's a great example. They've been wonderful. It's more like a partnership rather than a partnership of indentured servitude."
With this also comes the change that publishers are now coming to developers rather than the other way around. "They're watching the excitement out there," Fargo said, "and you look at, for 60,000 or 70,000 people to step up and give you their money and backing to make it, there must be something there they really want and I think it becomes a Litmus test. That's why when people say 'you always do crowdfunding' I say yeah because I like that Litmus test. I'd much rather work on a game that people are excited about and want to buy ultimately than I would something that just doesn't resonate with them and so for me I always wanted to be part of it."
He did say, however, that he thinks "that crowdfunding's going to change. We're working with Fig and equity crowdfunding, so that's different because we're going to see how good this time, if the game does well we're going to share some of the profits with you. That's good because it's more sustainable, because if I'm making money for my backers at the same time then I can do this for the rest of my life, because straight-up crowdfunding, Kickstarter, becomes difficult because it's hard to get people enthused to back games all the time, especially because in many cases they haven't even had a chance to play the last two they backed because they're busy. 40% of games on Steam get bought and never get played so you could surmise it [that] 40% of Kickstarter games backed don't get played [...] if I'm making them money - that's a different conversation."
On the topic of crowdfunding, The Bard's Tale IV was crowdfunded last year and we asked where that is now. "We're going to be showing some stuff coming up pretty soon," Fargo responded. "Visually I think all this isometric stuff is great, I love what they're doing, Torment's a beautiful product, but this is coming down more first or third person and visually we're going to show off what we can do when we start entering that realm and it just looks outstanding."
In terms of developing that and Torment, he said "we're always working on one and a half or one and three quarter titles at a time because people start to peel off of a product, writers, artists, whatever, so I'm always trying to keep the train rolling and keep the titles coming and keep everybody busy and so that's why we're always juggling, keeping one product alive while we're wrapping up another one."
"The good thing is that Torment is in the home stretch here. I was talking to the writers and within a month most of them will be done, there will be really nothing for them to do and our effort now is really just on bug fixing and localisation."
When we asked whether any older franchises may get revisited in the future, Fargo was hesitant. "I'm more interested in doing something new also. I think having a mixture of existing titles with new ideas is good for us and interesting. We're kind of finally starting to get to a point where we can start entertaining that, but you have to get your library built, you have to get the momentum, get the trust that you know what you're doing and have followers that buy what you do, and they're willing to take a chance, because if they've had a couple of great experiences with our roleplaying games it's a lot easier to get them to buy a new title or a new concept that they've never heard of before. So we're building our way towards that."
Torment is due for release in 2017 for Linux, Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox One.