By Meelad Sadat
The classic role-playing game Planescape: Torment revolved around the philosophical conundrum, “What can change the nature of a man?” inXile posed a different question for the sequel Torment: Tides of Numenera, introducing a Kickstarter campaign to get it off the ground by asking, “What can change the nature of a game?”
Whatever answer they intended, what’s going to change the nature of this game is how it shattered its Kickstarter goal in the first day. inXile asked for $900,000. Their Kickstarter became the fastest to raise $1 million, doing so in just over seven hours. Within a few days it had raised $2 million.
Even with inXile’s first success on Kickstarter with Wasteland 2, another classic RPG the studio is now reprising, studio founder Brian Fargo claims he didn’t see the quick outcome of this one coming.
“We never dreamed about beating the Kickstarter record,” Fargo told us in an email. In a follow up interview, he added, “The stars really lined up for this one.”
The momentum has naturally cooled off. As of this writing the ticker is at about $2.7 million, but that’s with 17 days to go, and Kickstarters usually see a surge in their final stretch. When it’s over, inXile will have enough dough in the can to significantly up the scope of what they pitched. There is a chart on their Kickstarter page tracking just how much game play they intend to add with each stretch goal reached. Somewhere out there, their backers must be getting the coffee shakes just thinking about it.
Torment fans were probably shaking with excitement before they made it down the game’s Kickstarter page the day it launched. Fargo was at Interplay when they published Black Isle’s original Planescape: Torment, a critically lauded game and considered one of the deepest story-driven RPGs ever made. Fargo calls it one of the games he’s most proud of from his time at Interplay. For the sequel, he has two key people from the original on board, developer Colin McComb and designer Monte Cook. In a somewhat unconventional way, Cook developed the setting for the new game. He created Numenera as an original IP for a table top game. And he did it on Kickstarter, where last fall he shattered his own crowd funding goal by raising more than $500,000 on an original ask of $20,000.
Whether by circumstance or grand design, the way Torment: Tides of Numenera has come together already has a legend about it. The truth might be that a sequel under Fargo and inXile’s stewardship was inevitable. In fact, Fargo makes you think they pitched it to publishers in the past based on a humorous skit in their Kickstarter video. He also hints that his days of pitching publishers might be over.
We talked with him about the Torment Kickstarter and his views on crowd funding games after this second big success for his studio.
[a]list: Do you have the IP rights to the original Torment or is branching it into Numenera a way to reprise it as a new property?
Brian Fargo: The original Torment game was based in the Planescape universe from TSR. That particular game represented a certain style and verve that we all wanted to recreate, and we didn’t feel that it was necessarily tied to that one universe. Of course it just seemed perfect that Monte Cook, who was one of the co-creators of Planescape - along with Zeb Cook and Colin McComb while at TSR - created a new setting called Numenera that fit perfect within the vision of what we wanted to do. The stars really lined up for this one.
[a]list: What are your views on Kickstarter as not just a funding platform for games, but one where game makers can test the waters for what players want?
Brian Fargo: People have often talked about Kickstarter fatigue but instead I saw that as crowd funding doing its job. In conversation, people will often tell you how excited they are about a concept or how badly they want a sequel, but the rubber meets the road when it comes down to people voting with their money. And the process has a secondary effect of having the gamers more invested - financially and emotionally - such that we have a strong dialogue about what the game becomes. This is the paradigm for future development as far as I’m concerned.
[a]list: What about as a marketing platform, do you think getting visibility during a successful Kickstarter campaign can translate into broader interest and sales momentum when the game ships?
Brian Fargo: And yes another benefit of having all these great people behind a game is the word of mouth that spreads purely on the game itself. No marketing jargon or false hype but pure organic and viral communication. Once again I see a shift away from the old days when people ran marketing campaigns to trick people into buying bad games for a few weeks. With crowd funding you have a large body of people who were part of its creation from day one.
[a]list: Based on what you’ve seen on Kickstarter, is it a setback for creators who don’t get funded the first time or is it ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again’?
Brian Fargo: I believe a creator can take another go at Kickstarter so long as they were 100 percent honest and transparent when they tried the first time. It may well have been that they only failed because concept was not strong enough. I had a friend of mine launch an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign based on a concept that was not really in his wheelhouse. I told him it that it was like going to a concert for my favorite band only to have them play all new material. You need to focus on delivering what the audience would like to see.
Torment statuette prize for $2,000 tier on Kickstarter
[a]list: Will inXile ramp up staff now that your second Kickstarter is successful?
Brian Fargo: We only need to ramp up slightly on the producing side since we have to manage a writing and concept art team now. The key part of our messaging was we did not want to start a second production team but instead wanted to make sure our core group would roll onto a second game once Wasteland 2 was complete. And this means you need to have the pre-production fully complete if you want to be working efficiently and on a design that has been thoroughly pored over.
[a]list: The prizing tiers are fantastic, both in terms of the thought and effort put into them and the presentation. Do you think prizing is a driver to get backers on board or is it the equivalent of a point of sale tactic, getting them to give more once they believe in a project?
Brian Fargo: No tier reward system will work unless there is genuine excitement and demand for the game. We take our communication with the gamers very serious and a major part of the reason why the tiers are so good is because we crowd sourced that aspect of our campaign also. Why guess when you can reach out and hear directly what they want from a campaign?
[a]list: Are publisher pitches really as painful as you portray in your Kickstarter video with the kid in the limo?
Brian Fargo: It was difficult for me to figure out the green light process of the publishers no doubt. Normally you would just never hear back which we safely assumed was a no. But often I would follow up as to why there was no interest so as to learn from the process, but this too was met with silence. It really got absurd at the end when we would have publishers come to us with a specific idea they wanted created. We would spend months working with their producer to basically communicate their vision with concept art etc. only to have their own idea shot down in committee. That was when I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands.