Wasteland 2: Brian Fargo’s Kickstarter triumph
Brian Fargo's InXile Entertainment sought $900,000 in Kickstarter funding for a sequel to 1988 post-apocalyptic PC RPG Wasteland. It was a lot to ask – more than double the $400,000 Tim Schafer's Double Fine studio asked for – but in the end it made more than three times its goal, closing on over $2.9 million. He's since set up Kicking It Forward, an initiative asking successful Kickstarter projects to commit to reinvesting five per cent of their eventual profits in other projects. For Fargo, who has been in the business for 30 years, Kickstarter has provided not just a route to market for Wasteland 2, a game he never thought he'd get to make, but an unprecedented level of communication with the people that play his games – and, as we find out, he's also rather happy to be working without a publisher.
At what point did you decide Kickstarter was the way to go?
The Double Fine success was absolutely the chrysalis for starting this thing. I'd heard of Kickstarter before, but it had never seemed applicable because I know what it costs to make a game – it just didn’t seem like something we could use. Then Tim [Schafer]'s thing took off, and within 48 hours fans started sending me tweets and Facebook messages saying, 'Hey! Wasteland! It'd be perfect!' Once that happened I thought, you know what? This is probably the last opportunity to do it. So I went to everybody in my office and said, okay, we're going to drop everything we're doing and focus on this. I spent about three weeks getting everything ready.
Does Kickstarter help you through that process at all?
You don't really get any direction. As with a lot of sites these days, it's rare that you ever get in touch with a human being. What they really do is review your video. I think they just want to make sure that it seems reasonable, that there's nothing objectionable there; I don't think their standards are super-tight. All we could really do was observe what other people were doing and give our own spin on it.
You asked for $900,000 – an ambitious target even after Double Fine's success.
I have the distinct record, currently, for asking for the most anyone's asked for on a Kickstarter project. There was a lot of debate, because Tim asked for $400,000 but had done a million in a day or two, so they said I should do the same – that seemed to be a formula that works. But there's no way I could make a Wasteland sequel for that money. A lot of people said I was asking for too much, but I couldn't do the game for less so I was stuck.
Ryan Payton told us that people said he should ask for less than he needed for Republique, so the buzz would help him reach his actual goal.
I think it's totally wrong for anybody to ask for less money than they think they need. I don't think some people are really mentally going through the deductions you face; no matter what you're going to have somewhere between eight and 10 per cent disappear of the top to KickStarter and Amazon. I hope people are really taking that into consideration.
Those early '90s PC RPGs – Fallout, UFO, System Shock and so on – had so much promise, it felt like technology was the only thing holding them back. Now that side of things has caught up, do you think games have lived up to that promise?
I would argue to some degree no, because it became such a console world, and there was an oversimplification of things at points. I think part of the frustration we've tapped into by doing an old-school RPG is that a lot of people feel like games have been dumbed down, that the audience has been treated like they're not intelligent. Those games had a million words, there was a literary vibe to them.
They've become a little more shooter-oriented, and tutorials treat you are as if you've never played a game before. On console there's no keyboard, which removes a lot – being able to type in something as simple as a noun can really open up dialogue and choice. So I think they've become different, but by getting off the PC, things changed quite a bit.
Most press attention on Kickstarter focuses on big names and big games. Was that the thinking behind Kicking It Forward, ensuring that those that get the attention don't get all the backing?
Yes. This is a wonderful thing that's going on, and I don't want it to end. I want it to perpetuate itself, and the only way something's going to perpetuate itself is through money. There's no better source of income, no cheaper source of funds. People talk about disruptive business models, and this is more disruptive for the venture capital world than it is for publishers. Look at the Pebble E-Paper Watch: how much of his company would he have needed to give away for $10 million? So we've got this wonderful source of funds and it only seems right to share that with other people. Think about Notch. If Minecraft was done through Kickstarter, he'd be putting two, three, four million dollars back into the infrastructure for the next guy – the next Notch – to come along.
You're right that a lot of the money is going to guys like me or Tim, but that's for a natural reason: you can trust us. We've been doing this for 30 years. We're not going anywhere, and people know we know how to finish a product; finishing a videogame is not easy. So I understand why it happens, but I can't wait until Wasteland 2 ships and I have a big bag of money, until I'm handing out $100,000 or something, it'll be a blast.