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Around The Block With Brian Fargo
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Around The Block With Brian Fargo

January 14, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Now, Hunted is a packaged product. It's based on new IP. It's been in development for about two years as I understand.

BF: Correct.

It looks to be one of these higher-budget triple-A products. So, some people would say that's a pretty big risk these days.

How do you think that you mitigate the risk of this not being a commercial success? Obviously, you concern yourself with that as a designer / business-savvy guy.

BF: Sure. Well, there's a certain part of me that is driven by emotion. I won't disagree there. There's something about making those big titles, which is a lot of fun for us. The "big production."

We want to make stuff that people walking down the street are talking about. We want to make our Avatar. There's a part of that that gets us charged up and excited to go to work in the morning, so I won't deny that.

But that said, the risk... I mean, the bigger risk, frankly, is on the publisher, right? I mean, these days, to put out a title, by the time they spend production, manufacturing, marketing, they're between $80 million to $100 million. Huge risk. So, in this particular case, I'm on the development side now.

As developers doing a triple-A game, the upside is you get your costs covered. There's not a lot of money to be made as a developer getting straight-up advances. Publishers are not going to allow you to get rich off of just straight-up advances. You're having to count on the recoup. On the upside, you have your downside covered.

But it's hard to recoup [on big-budget games] because of the cost. On the other hand, we love the PSN model or XBLA model. It costs much less for development and you can actually recoup, which is why we try to have a mixture of those two models.

And the other part of it, and to look at it from a business strategy perspective, is that a lot of these guys who work on these kind of big titles, that's what they want to do. These are very expensive artists, they might be from film or television, and they come in and they help us make these games look phenomenal.

Well, using them to come work on a little XBLA game with a budget of a fraction of [a big-budget game] is not always a slam-dunk to get [external] guys like that. But it's really easy for me to walk down the hall and go, "Guys, this doesn't look right. Can you help?" And they come in and they make it look better than it would have otherwise. So there are some benefits to having the people in one house.

Today you've got social network gaming emerging, you've got cloud gaming and DLC, the packaged business... What are some of the most prominent changes you see today in the video games industry from both a design standpoint and from a business standpoint?

BF: Well, I guess maybe the first thing is it's amazing how quickly the business is changing in terms of how you need to think about it. I mean, social gaming feels like it was out of nowhere. To me, the big changes with that and free-to-play [are interesting] -- wow, what a change.

The guys at Turbine had spent $40 or $50 million dollars on Lord of the Rings Online. Now it's free, and players can buy things when they want them. That's a major, major change in the way of thinking. We did a game called Fantastic Contraption a little over a year ago. We did the first one, and you could sell it for $9.95. And we sold, I don't know, 60 or 70,000 pieces. One year later, we have a sequel, better, and that [pricing] model's done. It's completely gone. You can't charge $9.95 anymore. People don't expect that.

The hardest part is just how quickly things change. And the iPad came along, too. So, there are these big game changers in the last 12, 18, 24 months, and it drives you a little crazy just trying to stay on top of how fast it all changes. And nobody predicts it. Nobody predicted the iPad would do what it did in such a short period of time. And then comes Angry Birds out of nowhere, and now these guys are making a fortune. I'm sort of watching all these different things.

What do you think is the most interesting of those developments, or the most relevant to InXile?

BF: I think the most interesting is the social gaming part of it. It changes the business model, and people are now making money from advertising or selling goods on a free-to-play basis. And the people who are playing these things are doing it in sort of bite-sized chunks.

We are dabbling in that space, nothing really announced right now, but we are playing in that space because you have to know a little bit about it. And the good news is you can jump in and experiment without spending a ton of money. Now, if you want to have huge success, it's difficult to go against the Zynga guys, but that's not something rational people would try to approach from a head-on perspective.

I imagine that you've seen this kind of weird debate between the social game companies and proponents of "traditional" game makers. Maybe you put yourself under the label of one of the more "traditional" game makers. It's morphed into this ethical debate. People in social games at GDC Online argued whether Zynga was actually a "game company" or just trying to make "digital crack cocaine."

BF: Is it the Skinner box and the rat hitting the pedal, right? [laughs] I'm fascinated by all the debates. I mean, look, it depends on how pessimistic you want to be. You could argue that any game is a big Skinner box, rewarding you with maybe better graphics or good dialogue or payoffs, versus something that allows your farm to grow faster.

So, the truth is, people, as usual, they're going to demand more over time. These little applications that people are getting away with that are pretty superficial and more like the rat and the pedal, that's all fine and dandy. What it's done is created a new kind of way of playing. People will start to demand more, more and more, and pretty soon, I think you will start to see the marrying of more traditional game elements for the purists with that sort of mechanism.

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