Brad Jones discusses crowdfunding and the development of Wasteland 2 with director Brian Fargo.
Crowdfunded projects by the biggest names in gaming have now become commonplace, but when Brian Fargo and inXile Entertainment began their Kickstarter campaign to fund Wasteland 2 back in 2012, it was something of an outlier. Keeping on the cutting edge of the industry seems to have paid off for Fargo, as nearly three million dollars that the Kickstarter raised has produced a game that is wowing fans, and critics alike.
“I feel fortunate to be on the forefront of such an important games development movement,” says Brian when asked about the campaign. “Partnering with our audience via crowdfunding allows us to greater control our destiny, and make the games we want in the fashion that works for us.” The crowdfunding model dominated videogames headlines in 2013, and as discussed in a feature two weeks ago, this years games, that have already been paid for by fans, will start being released into the wild.
Buying a game two years in advance of its release bears a greater risk of disappointment for audiences, so inXile opted to release it via Steam Early Access to gauge response from fans. “Having more players meant more feedback, and we can’t get enough of that. This interaction is going to provide us with the assistance to create an RPG that could not have possibly have had the nuance and smoothed- out edges had it been developed with a more closed approach,” Brian says. “The beta testers get to have fun with the game early and watch it get shaped by their comments and the buyers of the final game get an experience that is far better than it would have been without. It’s a win-win situation to me.”
“We were going to release a beta version of the game into the wild regardless of early access, and we were looking forward to that moment,” says Brian describing inXile’s plans for the release of Wasteland 2. Brian’s confidence in his product flies in the face of some of the negativity surrounding crowdfunded video games. Having customers pay up front for a product that could be years off being ready has its risks, especially when you’re making a sequel to a cult classic from 25 years ago—rose-tinted glasses can make even the best sequel disappoint some fans. However, having played the game myself, I can see why Brian was looking forward to getting it in the hands of the players, as it really is rather good.
A similar approach to making sure backers can play the game as soon as possible, has been taken by the fellow Kickstarter funded project, Broken Age, this week (see Screen Robot’s review of the game here). Its developers, Double Fine, have satiated their backers by releasing the first half of the game, with the second to follow later. I asked Brian what he thought of this strategy.
“I have not had a chance to play Broken Age but I have been reading the reviews and watching YouTube videos of folks’ coverage. What matters most is that the backers of that game are happy, and that is consideration number one to me.” Clearly, the desire to keep backers happy is something that has profoundly impacted the way that Wasteland 2 is being developed and released. With more campaigns cropping up by the day after those early successes, like Wasteland 2 and Broken Age, the fear was that should those initial games disappoint when they were eventually released, it could cause a market crash in the years to follow.
However, Broken Age and Wasteland 2 look like two compelling rebuttals to this naysaying. “Naturally there have been sceptics of Kickstarter as it is such a radical new idea, and it creates a much greater transparency for people to observe us in our natural habitat,” says Brian when asked about early criticism of the crowdfunding model. “Thankfully Tim [Schafer, director of Broken Age] has delivered and our audience is quite happy with Wasteland 2 so far. That will build confidence, and hopefully make it easier for the next round of games that people will be looking to fund.” Will crowdfunding have a big impact on the way that videogames are made going forward? “Yes, I see a major long term impact, and we will have to be less concerned about the mainstream.”
Brian’s suggestion that the ‘mainstream’ is not as relevant as it once was, especially in a market where a videogame can be directly funded by a niche audience, is perhaps key to the success of Wasteland 2. Without chasing a particular key demographic, developers can concentrate on appealing to an audience that is all their own, and one that has already committed themselves to buying the product. Brian’s focus was simply on making Wasteland 2 a great game, in every aspect. When asked about the way the game came together, he says “I think that a great RPG needs to have every element working in unison to become immersive and that covers the gameplay, story, art, music, ambient sounds and tone.”
Wasteland 2 has its roots in the past, but it’s also a game that appeals to the here and now. Brian’s thoughts on crowdfunding and early access suggest that despite his experience, he is fully aware of the importance of staying current in a fast-moving industry such as this one, “I love great entertainment no matter what the form comes in and I am both learning and relearning techniques to make worlds better,” he says. “I’m a lucky guy to be able to create something I’m passionate about.”
Images: Kickstarter, GameXpect via Flickr, Double Fine.