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  • Breaking News

    SURVIVING THE WASTELAND

    It seemed like aeons ago, but it was just late 2011 that I was giving a speech at the Shanghai GDC about the seemingly hopeless future of the classic single-player CRPG.

    The industry seemed to offer little hope for a mid-size development company, much less one that could work on the kind of games I like to build. Facebook games, free-to-play and multiplayer was where all the heat was. I still yearned for the immersive experience that the top RPGs offered, hours of losing yourself in another world. The industry was re-inventing itself at a rate that made the Nineties look like child’s play. On one end of the spectrum you had the number of triple-A developers diminishing quickly due to the cost of development exploding. Then on the other end you had smaller groups with no barrier to entry and better tools than ever releasing games on a near minute-by-minute basis. Discoverability became the key factor and without it your game doesn't exist. What to do?


    And then along comes the concept of crowd-funding. In the past we had the dual gatekeepers of retail and publishers who would decide what got on the shelf or in some cases whether we could even get on digital sites like Xbox Live. I knew there was an audience for the ambitious CRPG but I was unable to get traction in the traditional ways.

    InXile was at a crossroads in its future when I read about Double Fine’s success on Kickstarter. I knew instantly that this would be the last and only chance to make these games.

    Often in business you will hear about the need for the ‘pivot’. This usually entails a quick and meaningful adjustment to the approach of your strategy in light of new market conditions. Crowd-funding exemplified a new approach and I knew we needed to move quickly.

    In a short time we put a campaign together that both channelled my frustration dealing with the traditional means of finance and helped to communicate the type of game we wanted to build. I knew that launching a campaign would be tantamount to flogging myself in the public square. A failure would be seen by my friends, my peers and my family. The pressure was intense. We launched our Kickstarter on 13 March and the response was quick and successful with us having achieved our funding goal of $900,000 in 43 hours. We were back in the RPG business!

    However our interaction with our audience was only beginning as they were now going to be part of the development process.

    We had a strong vision for what the game needed to be and defined core elements, but it was time to bring more voices into the process. I have always sought out different opinions during development of my games, be it from my QA department or from my peers, but now I could broaden that concept. Part of me felt like it was risky and alien to show things at an earlier stage than normal, but getting that feel for general ideas and opinion trends in comments provided so much value. Iteration
    in games has always been the most important part of the process for me and having thousands of folks looking at it from different perspectives protected us from any surprise issues at launch. I’ve always said you aren't making a game until you are playing the game.

    As part of our Kickstarter rewards we promised an early copy of the game, in part to solicit more meaningful feedback. But then, some months after our campaign closed, Early Access was created and we decided to offer the beta version of the game to people who missed out on the Kickstarter. I felt there was some risk in providing an early version of a narrative-based game but I knew the feedback would be invaluable. Sure enough it was, as our audience helped us shape the UI, the economy, address compatibility issues and remind us what was important. Wherever our final reviews end up, I know that getting the audience in early on made the game better.

    When you solicit feedback internally it is always tricky for folks to be 100 per cent honest since they don’t want to hurt other’s feelings, or have the sense that something is too late to fix. The fans playing the game certainly have no fear of hurt feelings with their feedback and it’s important for us to hear it during the phase we can actually do something about it. I’ve looked at the beta program as a way to move the feedback that you would normally get post-launch into the development process, when we can do something about it.

    Beyond all the development changes and new financing I’ve had other positive effects from all of this. Crowd funding has created a tighter relationship with my fellow developers like Obsidian, Larian, Double Fine, and numerous smaller outfits. A new kind of camaraderie for which we support each other with little eye towards the competitive angle that normally exists.

    And I feel more connected with the audience in a way that was previously possible in the Nineties. There was no social media during the Interplay heyday and the energy I receive from the fans pushes us all harder to deliver something special.

    So here I sit on the precipice of the release of  Wasteland 2, a game I’ve been trying to make happen for 26 years. I’m not sure whether I’m more nervous prior to the actual launch of the game or the Kickstarter campaign. The feedback from our fans, the reviews and the sales at launch can help set a future that allows us to continue making the RPGs we love for many years.

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