Why InXile, Wasteland 2 are better off without a publisher

InXile CEO and Interplay veteran Brian Fargo reflects on his ongoing Kickstarter for Wasteland 2, and explains why sidestepping publishers has allowed him to create games that aren't built for a "mythical mass market."
The wildly successful Kickstarter campaign for Wasteland 2 has changed things quite a bit for developer InXile Entertainment. The sudden popularity of fan-funded projects has given the team the chance to break away from industry standards, and make games that aren't about reaching the largest possible audience. As of press time, role-playing game sequel Wasteland 2's Kickstarter campaign stood at $2.2 million, more than double its $900,000 goal, and it still has a week left. InXile CEO and Interplay veteran Brian Fargo told Gamasutra he's happy to be able to sidestep traditional publishers and raise the money for a throwback RPG that isn't built for what he calls the "mythical mass market." "The great part about this game being funded by the fans is that I don't need to figure out how to get to a different audience," Fargo said. "I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Well, what will you do for the console crowd?' But it doesn't matter!" The basic premise of a Kickstarter campaign is that if a project reaches its funding goal within the set time frame, the project owner receives that money and it develops the project. If the project misses the goal, the project owner receives none of the funds. Now that Fargo has a chance to make games for a niche audience, he believes he can satisfy players that have been somewhat ignored by today's latest and greatest titles. The original Wasteland RPG, developed by Interplay, released in 1988 and was published by EA. Wasteland's successor, the Fallout series, might still be going strong, but Fargo noted even that classic franchise has changed quite a bit to suit a broader audience. "For Wasteland 2, the PC is the root of the product. The Fallout series, at least for now, is focused more at a console group, and for me, there's a major difference. There's a lot of people that loved Fallout 1 and 2, and Fallout 3 just isn't what they want. To me, Wasteland 2 is for those people," he said. And since those nostalgic players are providing the funding for the game, Fargo said he's doing everything he can to ensure that their voices are heard. Fargo pointed out that Kickstarter backers won't have a final say on the game's content, but InXile wants to keep communication channels open so the team doesn't miss any key feedback. InXile has already taken some cursory surveys about Wasteland 2, and Fargo said he's been surprised by what his backers are looking for. "As an example, we asked fans what they'd like to see once we hit a certain funding level. More audio? A bigger world? And almost universally, people said, 'Please don't waste my money on audio.'" Instead, players wanted InXile to include more text, giving the game a more robust, branching narrative. Adding voice-overs would only limit the game's scope, as dialogue trees would be bound by the game's audio budget. "It was an interesting thing to hear from [the fans], and I'm glad I heard that," Fargo said. He was quick to note, however, that InXile can't put complete faith in this fan feedback. Fargo said that while the backers have effectively taken the place of a traditional publisher, InXile isn't willing to give up any creative control. "When I get feedback from the users, I know a good idea when I hear it, and I know a consensus when I hear it. I'll make that decision myself. Now, if I'm working with a publisher, they can tell me what to do, I can disagree, and they'll say, 'we don't care.' There's a huge difference," he said. While he chose not to delve into specifics, Fargo said he's had some rough experiences working with publishers, and he's glad to be moving away from that model. "I don't want to come across as negative, but my experiences with publishers were 100 times worse than what you might have seen in our Kickstarter video," he said. Sustaining post-publisher success Fargo said that given his past experiences with publishers, he hopes to continue working independently as long as he can. The fan-funding model has worked out well for him so far, and he plans to stick with Kickstarter for the foreseeable future. In order to ensure that's a possibility, Fargo said he's doing everything he can to maintain the service's momentum. That's why he recently introduced the Kicking It Forward initiative, which encourages successful projects to invest 5 percent of their profits into future Kickstarter campaigns. He said, "I think this Kickstarter thing has so much potential to be powerful... But how do we keep this economy going? I thought, why don't we agree -- all of us, if possible -- to throw back 5 percent of our profits to give those other projects a better chance." Fargo believes that as long as the successful projects throw some money back into the system, Kickstarter can remain a viable funding model. Even if some projects falter, Fargo said that Kickstarter will be here for the long haul if developers support the ecosystem at large. "If we keep this up, someone will eventually come along that blows me and Tim Schafer out of the water sales-wise, and then I want that guy to put something back too. That will ensure the independence of development that we're all trying to seek." Shafer, founder of Psychonauts studio Double Fine, launched a Kickstarter campaign in March this year that raised $3.3 million -- substantially ahead of its $400,000 goal -- for an adventure game. It's now the highest-funded Kickstarter project ever. Fargo said he's already enjoying much of that independence, as cutting publishers from the mix has allowed him to dedicate his time to making games, rather than worrying about the minutiae of lining up future business deals. "The good thing about this whole process is that I can wholly focus on the game. Even if we worked something out with a publisher, I'd still have to spend a good chunk of my time lining up the next product so when the team finishes, they can keep working," he said. "With this, when we ship the product, our revenues don't go to zero the next day. We'll still have sales. Now I get to wholly focus on the product, and it's wonderful. I haven't gotten to do this in decades. I couldn't be happier."

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