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Leon Boyarsky - Thoughts on RPG development
Editorial - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Tue 3 December 2002, 19:02:09Tags: Leonard Boyarsky; Troika Games
When I sat down to write about RPG development, I went through the list of things I like to see in an RPG. Depth of characterization and plot. Reactivity of the world. Believable NPCs. Feeling like you're playing a 'role'. Then I tried to decide which is the most important in RPG development - and the answer is none of them.
The hardest thing to accomplish when creating an RPG is to make an in-depth RPG that sells. Now I know all you purists out there think that what's important is the quality of the game and not how much it sells, but try finding a new contract when your last game sells less than 400,000 units. The ultimate challenge for an RPG developer is to find some kind of hook that will convince the marketing dept at your prospective publisher that this really isn't a "hardcore RPG" they're going to have to sell, it's an action RPG! (My skin is already crawling.) So not only do you, as an RPG designer, have to create a compelling RPG (which is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult genres to do right) you also have to find a way to sell it as something else - or, at the very least, an RPG hybrid of some sort. But never state it's a hardcore RPG to the marketing people - it tends to give them seizures.
All of this would be a lot easier for us if all of you hardcore RPG players out there would recruit, oh, I don't know, say twenty five friends each to buy the latest, greatest RPG. And no pirating, dammit! I personally would like nothing better than to be able to make my in depth, hardcore, 100 hour RPGs that the fifty guys who post online would rave about, but I'm not fond of bankruptcy. So this is all your fault! (That was a joke).
Now, because I know how witty RPG fans are, I'll head you off at the pass and state that this is not me complaining about the sales on Arcanum, or blaming the ignorant masses for not appreciating/buying my game (as some other developers have done). I'll take the blame for the success/failure of Arcanum myself. On second thought, I'll take credit for the success part, and blame Anderson for the failure part (that would be Jason Anderson, artist/designer/scapegoat extraordinaire). I'm making a more general argument here, about a hypothetical "great" RPG. Hell, let's get out of the realm of hypothetical and talk hard facts - I don't believe either of the Fallouts have sold over 500,000 units. I see people clamoring on the boards all the time for more "Fallouts", but which do you think a publisher is more interested in, a Fallout (app 300,000 - 400,000 worldwide over its lifetime) or a Diablo 2 (1 million units in a week)? (Highly un-authoritative numbers, by the way). And to add insult to injury, the most difficult elements to add to a game (reactivity, in depth dialogs, multiple paths) are the things that define a great RPG (for me, at least). Take out those time consuming, stressful-to-get-right elements from an RPG and it is easier to sell. In other words, the things RPG fans clamor for are what keep RPGs from becoming best sellers.
Faced with this reality, most people throw up their hands and just decide to go for the Diablos (which are easier to make than a hardcore RPG, by the way). But I'm stupid - I mean stubborn. My solution is to somehow take the hardcore RPG to the masses. But to do that, I believe the hardcore base needs to grow, because a game won't get a chance to break out to the mainstream if a publisher won't fund/publish it because they can't foresee it selling over 100,000 units. Publishers always look to the past for their numbers - if you're making a Fallout style game, expect Fallout style numbers. And they're not swayed by the passion the fans display on the boards, either.
If we want to continue to see the style of RPGs we like (real ones), we're going to have to find a way to enlarge the core community.
Well, not really "we" - I'm too busy trying to make RPGs that sell.