Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Interview Brian Fargo Interview Roundup: On hustling around and rising development costs

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Nov 1, 2017.

  1. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
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    Tags: Brian Fargo; InXile Entertainment

    inXile celebrated their 15th anniversary this weekend. To mark the occasion, their entire catalog has been available at a 50% discount on Steam this week, Torment had a free weekend, and they even released a new enhanced version of their 2004 Bard's Tale action-RPG. Today the folks at PCGamesN, who are always up for an RPG interview, published an interview with Brian Fargo about the history of his studio, with a focus on its hardscrabble pre-Kickstarter years. Here's an excerpt:

    Game development teams are often thrown together hurriedly around a new contract, but inXile started slowly. Fargo picked staffers he knew and trusted. Findley was one. Another was Maxx Kauffman, who he had seen do great work on Redneck Rampage.

    “I brought them together,” Fargo says. “But then it became, ‘OK, what are we going to do here?’. And this struggle to find a business model took nearly a decade.”

    That jokey card title was proving prophetic. In 2002, the ground was shifting beneath the feet of RPG developers. There was very little publisher interest in PC games. With Steam still years off, the digital sales business did not exist. And those contracts that did exist were mostly reserved for studios that were already well-established.

    Fargo kept the lights on by “hustling around.” He attempted, without success, to win the Baldur’s Gate 3 license from Infogrames. He sold the Wizardry franchise off to Japan, where it continues to this day. For a short while, Fargo and a friend co-owned half the rights to GTA for Game Boy.

    “We both did very well by selling it back to Take-Two,” he says.

    [...] Fargo was itching to get back to making games - the impetus that had caused him to leave Interplay in the first place - and found out that the trademark had expired on The Bard’s Tale, the very name that had made a success of his first company. It felt serendipitous. Fargo did not own the copyright to the classic RPG series, however, so could not work on a straight-up sequel. Instead, he decided to create a genre parody.

    inXile’s The Bard’s Tale, released in 2004, is very much a snapshot of the market at that time: a console-focused action-RPG and broad comedy, a world away from Tides of Numenera. It was as if there was no space for an RPG that took itself seriously. inXile licensed the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance engine from Snowblind, and made publishing deals with Vivendi in the US and Acclaim in Europe.

    “It was kinda funny,” Fargo says, though he is not laughing. “Right as we were launching, Vivendi sells the company and Acclaim goes out of business.”

    [...] Sometimes, inXile would get close to making the games they wanted to make. For a while they worked on a game for Codemasters called Hei$t, which Fargo describes as a single-player version of Payday.

    “It was all Quentin Tarantino dialogue, and they really wouldn’t let us finish it,” he says. “Christian Slater and Clancy Brown were in it. We had a great cast. That was a product I wish we could have finished properly and come out with.”

    Even Hunted, a fantasy take on Gears of War that inXile saw through to the end, came with a dramatic comedown. At the peak of development, the company swelled to 70 people, and afterwards shrank right down to 13.​

    The PCGamesN article's description of inXile's current situation is rosy, to say the least. Yet just three weeks ago Brian was interviewed at GamesIndustry.biz about the rising costs of developing mid-tier "AA" games, where he sounded considerably less optimistic. It's not hard to figure out that he's concerned with how Larian and Obsidian have outstripped his studio in terms of budget and production quality.

    Ambition is a wonderful thing, and most developers have ambitious visions for their games, but then they meet the reality of what ambition costs. The double-A space is now having to invest more than is reasonable for small or mid-sized studios.

    "The industry continues to get more binary between the haves and have nots," Fargo continues. "When I see something like salaries going to as high as $20,000 per man-month in San Francisco, that really only affects the smaller to mid-size companies. The big companies - take Blizzard, for example - they can drop $70 million on a project, kill it and then start all over again. Rockstar can spend five years on a game.

    "The extra salaries really don't affect them, in my opinion, as much as it does the smaller to the mid-size companies. So yeah, it definitely puts pressure on us.

    "Also, what I'm seeing recently is that there was the single-A and double-A indie space that was sort of ripe for opportunity for a while - us included, and we've been doing well - but that's getting more competitive. And the budgets of the double-A products are starting to approach triple-A budgets of 10 years ago."

    Citing Ninja Theory's Hellblade and Larian's Divinity: Original Sin 2 as recent examples, Fargo laments that expectations for games coming out of the double-A space are rising too rapidly.

    "All of a sudden double-A developers are spending in excess of $10 million," he says. "And it's only a matter of time before this rises to $20 million. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some at those values already. So now what you've got is the triple-A people who are unaffected by the salaries and they're going to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars between production and marketing, and then you've got the double-A companies now starting to spend significant money. What that's going to do is to create an expectation from a user's perspective of what the visuals should look like.

    "It creates a harder dynamic for even the smaller companies, because some product is at $39 or $44.95 that doesn't have a multi-million dollar marketing budget. It's still going to have production values that are incredible, and so what will people expect out of a smaller developer? That's the cascading effect of all these different things, and of course you layer on top of that the discoverability issue we've all got with an un-curated platform and it makes it very tricky."

    [...] Fargo offers, "It feels like the budgets for the double-A products have doubled to tripled just in the last five years. Back in 2012 when Broken Age and Pillars [of Eternity] came out, I know what our budgets were then [for Wasteland 2] and I know what the budgets are going to now. I have a sense of what Larian and Obsidian are spending, and I know these numbers have gone up significantly.

    "Curation has always been a hot topic. One might argue there's a greater risk of a game being lost in a sea of products, than that of a great game not making it through the quality bar to be in the store. The stats of more and more and more games hitting Steam have not been favorable for any of us... You've got kind of a one, two, three-punch against the smaller publishers/developers."

    [...] "It depends on the genre you're in, but the scope and scale of the thing is what you really need to keep an eye on," Fargo advises. "The visual and audio expectations are rising as the budgets for the double-A games has risen... I would tell developers to keep a really close eye on the scope of the product; better to have something that's very small and tight and polished than something that's overly large... and hits a lot of different things but don't quite visually hold up to the others."
    Of course, this wouldn't have been a problem if Torment hadn't bombed! I guess hustling up a new budget to replace that loss so his studio can develop a decent Wasteland 3 will be Brian Fargo's final challenge before retirement.
     
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  2. Crescent Hawkgender: ⚧ Savant

    Crescent Hawk
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    Nobody asking for triple A graphics Fargo man. Larian and Obsidian are not the only middle market right now with an opportunity to make good games. Turn off you business mindset, which I know you wont, and just make fucking games.
     
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  3. Graukengender: ⚧ Prophet Patron

    Grauken
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    Wait, what now

    Fargo sold the Wizardry franchise to Japan ???
     
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  4. Ismaulgender: ⚧ Arcane Patron

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    Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign
    Fargoth is a dirty faggot.
    Has no cash, he says, but hides his stash.
    Lost his ring 'cause a real man took it from him.
    Small sized, getting picked on is his prize.


    My takeaway from Morrowind. Is it a reference to the man?
    Was he blocking Bethesda from getting the Fallout license?
    Is the lost ring a reference to his rotating wives?
    His small size, a reference to him being the reject of the Fargo family, or his small company vs Bethesda's Imperial?


    :philosoraptor:
     
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  5. aratukgender: ⚧ Savant

    aratuk
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    I guess it's much easier to blame an externality like not being able to afford better graphix, than it would be to point to the overall quality of the product that your team produced.

    :ehue: "It's not your fault, team!"

    Still can't speak to that product quality myself, though, since I still haven't yet played the Numenera Torment. I did back it. Are they finished tweaking it yet?

    I wonder to what extent, if at all, Fargo might now be propping the company up with his pectorals personal money, which he will take with him when he retires, so as not to diminish his quality of life in old age by indulging in an expensive hobby risk-laden business. I've no idea as to the state of his personal finances, though. Does anyone?
     
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  6. Mengskgender: ⚧ Learned

    Mengsk
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    This does not bode well for InXile and Fargo.

    Torment was a big flop and that hurt. I hope Wasteland 3 will be everything they wanted.
     
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  7. Ruzengender: ⚧ Learned

    Ruzen
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    I am getting bummed every time after reading about inxile or Fargo. I think they should stop doing interviews before making a success story with one of their games.
     
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  8. Bumvelcrowgender: ⚧ Bellator Sempervirens Patron

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    Good. Fuck 'em.

    I'd rather it were everything we wanted. Fuck 'em.
     
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  9. CryptRatgender: ⚧ Arcane

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    I just want to play Bard's Tale 4.
     
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  10. Graukengender: ⚧ Prophet Patron

    Grauken
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    Yeah, but do you really think the dungeon design will be good
     
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  11. CryptRatgender: ⚧ Arcane

    CryptRat
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    Sure it'll probably be straightforward. I hope that at least there'll be a couple of navigation spells to unlock and that you may face a monster you're not meant to face yet or enter an area you're not meant to enter yet.
     
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  12. screeggender: ⚧ Iron Tower Studio Developer

    screeg
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    Gee, maybe they should try to focus their efforts on emergent gameplay instead of the never ending pursuit of graphics......? (haha)

    That aside, I hate devs (or anyone else in management) bitching about salaries. If there's anyone overpaid in the games industry, it's not the people doing the actual work, it's the mouthpieces and flacks at the top.
     
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  13. Immortalgender: ⚧ Arcane

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    TL;DR - Larian are assholes for making good games and it's too hard to compete.
     
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  14. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
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  15. thesheeepgender: ⚧ Arcane

    thesheeep
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    I bought it recently on sale. There hasn't been a patch in ages. The performance of the game is... surprisingly bad, still.
    Especially in the starting sequence - for obvious reasons when you've seen it.

    The writing is as needlessly wordy as most say it is.
    The combat - I don't think I've had any combat yet. It seems intelligence/social focused characters can just talk their way out of anything :lol:
    But the game isn't bad. It's just not very good.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2017
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  16. Gecosgender: ⚧ Educated

    Gecos
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    First piece of news in 2 weeks and it's Fargo's babbling. Stop talking and deliver. Just one good game out of you before you retire, just one good game. Please!
     
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  17. aratukgender: ⚧ Savant

    aratuk
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    I notice that even a 56% discount on Torment has only produced another maaaybe 10,000 sales. Dat revenue, she ain't gon get here soon as we need her.

    :dontbelievehislies:

    HE'S GOT SO MUCH HEART, GODDAMN IT, BUT IT"S STILL NOT ENOUGH!!!

    Honestly, though it pains me to say it, Fargo is the type of guy who cracks up at all the funny gags in South Park, but misses a lot of the satire (due to disinterest, or otherwise…). I'm sure he has a heavy hand in how resources are allocated in developing inXile's games, and I think that emphasis might sometimes be misplaced. He may have allowed the writers' room too much leeway on Torment, because he might not have understood the product. More words ≠ more money.
    By retiring, it's too bad he'll miss his chance to prove me wrong, since it was his turn to produce the next South Park RPG — Cartman: Enough of The Gay Jokes… Cum On Guys!
     
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  18. Graukengender: ⚧ Prophet Patron

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  19. Bohraingender: ⚧ Learned

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    I don't remember seeing anything in T:ToN that was flawed because of budget constraints. What I saw was purple prose in need of heavy editing, uninteresting characters, artstyle I wasn't a fan of and horrible pacing between combat and other activites. Maybe his studio is just bad at designing games.
     
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  20. luj1gender: ⚧ Savant

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    Burry it.
     
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  21. luj1gender: ⚧ Savant

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    :bravo:
     
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  22. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    It's not Torment that he's worried about, it's his future games.
     
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  23. Jaesungender: ⚧ Fabulous Moderator Patron

    Jaesun
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    Torment: Tides of Numenera Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech
    Their main problem is they haven't struck it yet with a "Hit" game.
     
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  24. Xeongender: ⚧ Arbiter

    Xeon
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    If they are planning on having voice acting then they should probably cut that up since I heard voice acting is expensive and its unneeded for an isometric game.

    I still hope Wasteland 3 will be more of a Fallout game more than a Wasteland even tho some people probably want a Wasteland game.
     
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  25. Immortalgender: ⚧ Arcane

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    There was some Japanese MMO based on Wizardry a while ago.

     
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