Tag Archives: kickstarter

American Interview: inXile’s Brian Fargo

While we’re running a Kickstarter campaign for OZombie I’ll be interviewing others who have had experience on the platform. Today, I’m starting with Brian Fargo, leader of inXile, the developers behind Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera.

AJM: You’ve had a long and amazing career in the industry, made awesome games, built companies and managed great teams. Can you give me your “Top 2” lessons learned – and a little detail on the mistakes or trials that lead to understanding those lessons?

BF: It is difficult to boil my thoughts on building teams and games into THE top 2 lessons but I will take a stab at two very important ones for sure. I find that people spend a lot of time designing a game but not much time designing the company itself and ultimately it is great people that make the games and having the proper dynamic in a team or company is paramount. I get plenty of credit for my role in these games but we all know that these larger products are always about a team of people pitching in ideas and talent, no one person can take credit for it all. Every game I have worked on has become bigger than any one human can do so that leaves it to me to make sure I create the right environment for this kind of magic to flourish. The personalities and talents and morale of the group all need to work if you want to make something special. My mistake in this regard was to spend too many hours trying to get an individual to buy off on the vision when it just wasn’t going to happen. It’s important to get that dynamic in place as soon as possible and protect it fiercely.

And I guess the second part of building a great game is to make sure everyone clearly understands the goals and sensibilities you are trying to achieve. This part is along the same lines as the point above except is more product focused and makes it so that the healthy group you have established can soar. When everyone on the team understands the sensibilities it gives more energy to the production and it allows for more of the team to contribute towards it. And defining things in a set of ideals allows for maximum creativity without getting too attached to a narrow set of ideas. Most often I have seen games go sideways because of a contractually tight payment structure that doesn’t allow for enough of a constant tinkering or if there isn’t enough time in the back end of development for the iteration. I really don’t have a true feel of a game until it is well along and playable and only then can I start to address pacing, balance, sign posting, satisfying effects, areas of boredom and excitement etc.

AJM: “DRM-free” is committed to with both your Kickstarter campaigns. Can you talk a bit about the math behind this commitment? Is there any chance the games will generate meaningful revenue after release (outside of the money raised via Kickstarter)? Do they need to in order for you to be “successful” with them? And what’s the definition of success in this context?

I’m not sure of the math but putting DRM on a game ends up pissing off the legitimate users of the game for an impossible battle against pirating. What’s the point? In general I believe that people who were going to buy your game will most likely do so if you get it in front of them somehow. During my days at Interplay we used to do a fair amount of business with the hardware manufacturers bundling our games with a hard drive or a PC in which they paid us only a few dollars for our games and then they could advertise “Comes with $150 of free games.” Well they would sell hundreds of thousands of units with our games and no matter how much volume they did our retail sales never dipped. There are just audiences of people who are buyers and others that won’t pay or weren’t going to buy it anyway. And beyond that we have been pre-paid to make this game so it would be doubly outrageous to then add DRM to the very people who made it possible. I’m not entirely certain what is possible from a sales perspective outside our backers but I feel pretty strongly that when we deliver the
epic, moody and reactive game that we promised that its sales will match that of other games of scope, scale and excellence.

AJM: What non-gaming topic has you most intrigued these days and why? Just curious if there’s something you’re following in the news that you’d like to share your thoughts on.

I’ve been in the gaming business for 30 years and when I speak to folks outside the field there are generally very few follow up questions when I tell them what I do. But now with crowd funding I have more interest in my business activities and ideas than ever before which further cements how important and powerful this new concept is. I’ve always felt that money in the hands of individuals has a greater chance of doing good and being used to help others over what corporations do with it. Removing the gatekeepers will allow more profit and rights to be held by people who are not beholden to shareholders or feel the need to crush all competition. I like to do my part in helping progress this movement which has come in the form of Kicking it Forward, tweeting about interesting projects, supporting projects financially and giving advice to my crowd funded “competitors” where I can. We need to help make it so more of the money goes into the hands of the people who are actually doing the creation and I know most every creative industry feels the same way.

OZombie Kickstarter Launch

After several months of planning, negotiating and teasing we’ve announced our next Kickstarter campaign and it’s OZombie. The campaign page describes the game concept as:

OZombie is a narrative-driven action-adventure game set within an alternate version of the Oz universe created by L. Frank Baum. The game’s themes and characters are inspired by Baum’s deeply imaginative books (all 14 of them!) then filtered through the story and art treatment you’ve seen applied to our other games like Alice: Madness Returns and Akaneiro: Demon Hunters.

We’ve set our target at $950kUSD and a campaign length of 42 days. Why 42? Because that’s the number of Oz books in the official canon – plus it’s the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. Anyway, it seemed like a good number.

I’m obviously pretty excited about the campaign and the prospect of returning to the Land of Oz. Years ago I made an attempt at developing a game based on Oz only to have it canceled half-way through by Atari. They claimed to be running out of money, something they seem to do every couple of years. The rights to that project have been tied up ever since – which meant that this new Oz needed to be as different from the old one as possible. Pretty sure with the inclusion of “zombies” in the title we’ve made the difference insanely clear.

Yeah, I know there are too many zombie games in the world today. Couldn’t agree more! Just keep in mind that when we talk about “zombies” in the world of Oz we’re referring not to the traditional brain-hungry zombies made so famous by the Romero films, but of conformist zombies… the ones like you and me that occupy a world controlled by powerful people who manipulate us through fear and deception. That’s the thematic core I’m planning to explore with the game – and one that featured heavily in the original Baum books.

So far the reaction to the announcement in the game media has been positive. Though it’s difficult to say the same about the comments from core gamers on those sites. Seriously guys, if you can’t come up with anything better than “he sucks, he made Bad Day LA” then I don’t think I’m the one you should be calling unoriginal.

On a more positive note, for those of you interested in this new take on Oz, we’ve put together some really awesome backer rewards including hand-made steampunk goggles, printed art, physical toys and a wide variety of digital items. All the details can be found on the official Kickstarter page. A page for PayPal backers is being created and should be live soon as well.

You Can’t Escape

While engaged in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit, to promote our Akaneiro Kickstarter, I was asked about my experience working with UK-based Shy the Sun on the trailers for “Alice: Madness Returns”. You can see a compilation of the three trailers in question via YouTube. My Reddit post follows:

They are fantastic in terms of creativity and capability. If you check out the trailers they did for A:MR, all you can say is “Wow!” What was frustrating was how EA Marketing interfered – telling STS from the start that ALL creative direction and final say would come from them, not from us (the developer/creator of the story/tone). That resulted in trailers that were much darker and gorier than the game … and that was a calculated disconnect created by EA. They wanted to “trick” gamers into believing A:MR was a hard-core horror title, even though we refused to develop it in that tone. Their thinking is, even if the game isn’t a hard-core horror title, you can market it as one and trick those customers into buying it (while driving away more casual customers, like female gamers, who might be turned off by really dark trailers). It’s all a part of the race to the bottom EA, Activision and the other big pubs are engaged in. Expect to see it get worse before it gets better.

To my surprise, this ignited a firestorm of press coverage from the game media. It attracted a few pissed messages from EA. Some readers have even suggested this has killed any possibility of my ever being employed by a game publisher again.

Allow me to expand on my original post while at the same time making a correction (call it a retraction if you like). “Tricked” is the wrong word. I take that back. Apologies to EA and anyone else whose feelings were hurt. Electronic Arts doesn’t trick customers into buying things. They carefully apply proven marketing techniques to achieve the desired customer response. If they were bad at this sort of thing they’d have been crushed by their competitors long ago and you’d be playing Madden Football from Activision or Atari or something.

We live in a world full of marketing. Marketing tells us the “2013 Land Yacht” is more stylish, powerful and awesome than last year’s model. Or that a certain toothpaste is going to get us laid more often. That a wrist watch will finally force the world to understand just how adventurous and manly we are. Or that a game contains lots of blood and guts – even when the creators don’t think that’s the primary selling point. “Alice: Madness Returns” does contain a lot of the stuff you see in those trailers, but my concern was that the main character was being portrayed in a way I felt didn’t align with her character as I understand it.

Beyond that, there has always been and likely always will be tension between publishers and developers over stuff like this. Truth is, publishers are giving audiences what they want – again, if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business very long. Maybe I don’t agree with where gaming content seems to be going – but isn’t that the prerogative of aging creators? To complain that things are too loud, too bright or too fleshy?

At the end of the day, I’ve got (well, had) a good relationship with EA. They helped put my name on the map. They funded two of my favorite creations. And they helped me bring strikingly original content to a gaming world that often seems dominated by bullets and boobs. I can’t and don’t fully fault them or their marketing for whatever the “Alice” games might or might not have done sales-wise. As a developer, do I grumble into my beer about how it could have been different if only… ? Sure do! But I also recognize my own faults, and actions which are to blame for things not being 100%… or for inadvertently igniting firestorms.

Call this a mea culpa, an apology, a clarification or a cop-out if you like. My feelings around these topics are nuanced and complicated enough that I myself barely understand them most of the time.

The firestorm, for your reading enjoyment:

American McGee: EA tried to “trick” gamers into believing Alice: Madness Returns was a horror title

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-01-21-american-mcgee-ea-tricked-alice-customers

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/american-mcgee-says-ea-tried-to-trick-gamers-with-alice-the-madness-returns-marketing/0109592

American McGee: “Marketing of Alice by EA Showed a Calculated Discount”

http://www.gameplanet.co.nz/pc/news/1020691.20130122.EA-tried-to-trick-gamers-regarding-the-tone-of-Alice-American-McGee/

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/01/mcgee-ea-misrepresented-madness-returns/

http://www.examiner.com/article/dragon-age-3-publisher-tricked-gamers-says-mcgee

http://www.gamepolitics.com/2013/01/21/spicy-horse-founder-offers-tough-criticism-eas-marketing-over-alice-sequel#.UP3hZSdBCSo

http://www.cvgworld.com/2013/01/21/american-mcgee-ea-wanted-to-trick-gamers-with-alicemr-marketing/

http://www.explosion.com/18638/american-mcgee-claims-ea-tricked-alice-customers/

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/121620-American-McGee-Blasts-EA-Marketing

http://www.gameplanet.com.au/pc/news/1023412.20130122.EA-tried-to-trick-gamers-regarding-the-tone-of-Alice-American-McGee/

http://www.i4u.com/2013/01/customers-alice-ea-american-tricked-mcgee

http://ewallstreeter.com/american-mcgee-ea-quot-wanted-to-trick-gamers-quot-with-disingenuous-marketing-7378/

http://www.dealspwn.com/american-mcgee-ea-wanted-trick-gamers-disingenuous-marketing-127090

http://www.onlinewelten.com/games/alice-madness-returns/news/absichtliche-taeuschung-american-mcgee-kritisiert-werbekampagne-electronic-arts-118902/

http://www.gamesblog.it/post/89829/american-mcgee-critica-ea-per-i-condizionamenti-subiti-nello-sviluppo-di-alice-madness-returns

http://www.gram.pl/news/2013/01/21/american-mcgee-narzeka-na-wspolprace-z-ea-przy-produkcji-alice-madness-returns.shtml

http://blogocio.net/american-mcgee-arremete-contra-ea-por-publicidad-enganosa-en-alice-madness-returns-no-62142/

http://www.eurogamer.pt/articles/2013-01-21-ea-tentou-enganar-os-consumidores-com-alice-madness-returns

Akaneiro Kickstarter Campaign

Akaneiro Art by Joey

Just launched a Kickstarter Campaign for Akaneiro. We’ve been working on Akaneiro since early 2011 and are nearing our scheduled completion date – looking to launch Open Beta in early January 2013. This campaign is intended to help support expansion on our current development – namely to bring things like tablet support, multiplayer and addition content and features to the game. If we manage to go beyond our initial goal, we’ll also add stretch goals for things like a Linux port.

Any and all support you might lend would be helpful. Even if you cannot contribute financially, you can help us by spreading the word. The more people are aware the better the campaign will do.