The men who believed in, and risked their careers for, a new Torment title
The Kickstarter campaign for Torment: Tides of Numenera, a spiritual successor of Planescape: Torment, has been a massive success, raising over $2.5 million to date. It's been one of the best designed Kickstarter campaigns in recent memory as well, with a large amount of work already being done in terms of the game's world, design, and planning.
I wanted to answer a simple question: How the hell do you sink that many hours and that much effort into a game that may not be funded? I called Colin McComb, the creative lead for the game, and Kevin Saunders, the project director, to find out.
The short answer is that it takes a lot of faith, and a good head for risk. This is the long answer.
Hoping for the best
“I started with inXile in November, I was referred here by Chris Avellone, who is working on Wasteland 2, he knew they were looking for a producer for the next project. I talked to Brian [Fargo], and learned it was Torment, and I was interested. I was hired to lead this pre- pre-production and to lead the Kickstarter effort,” Kevin Saunders explained.
It wasn’t hard to find people willing to provide the early labor. “The power of Planescape: Torment is such that there are so many people who worked on it, or loved it, that when we let it be known that we were exploring it they offered a lot of help,” he explained. “People that we worked with in the industry, people with full-time jobs asked if there was anything they could do to help out. We had good support from the beginning.”Saunders was a contractor whose job was to get the project off the ground. During that time he received another job offer, and brought it to Fargo to see if inXile could match it. He was told it was dependent on the success of the Kickstarter. The worst case scenario is that he could continue on through the month for health insurance. The best case scenario was that the Kickstarter was funded and he’d get the chance to work on the spiritual successor to one of the best-loved role-playing games of all time. He decided to stay on.
One of the pleasant surprises that allowed this to happen was that Bard’s Tale on Android was a success, allowing some leeway in terms of the budget leading up to the Kickstarter. Even so, this was a leap of faith for many involved; McComb hadn’t been taking a salary until the Kickstarter, he was in the project because he wanted to make the game.
If the Kickstarter wasn’t funded, the project would have gone away, and the work would have been done for free. “It would have been a sunk cost. We’ve been designing this on a shoe-string at this point,” McComb explained. “We don’t want to impact the development budget of Wasteland 2, because that’s money backers devoted specifically to Wasteland 2. Brian promised he wouldn’t be using that money for Torment.” They launched the Kickstarter hoping for the best. The rest is history.
So what do you do with the money?
All respect to the guys at BioWare… but I think that people are looking for a really reactive, really involved storyline that they have some control over, rather than just an interactive movie with player-controllable combat.The original goal for the Kickstarter was $900,000, and that amount was raised quickly. They broke $1 million in a matter of hours. The total now sits at over $2.5 million, with over two weeks left in the Kickstarter. At what point do you run out of things to spend the money on?
Saunders waved away the idea of holding some money back to keep the studio going. “Everything we raise is going to be going into Torment, our design and plans for the game are very modular. We didn’t know at what level we’d succeed, or if we would succeed, so our minimum target was to make sure we could fulfill the vision that we’re presenting to the backers,” he said.
The game was designed to scale depending on the budget. They can increase the depth, and make things more reactive. There’s also the fact that, out of a possible $3 million raised, about a third will go to fees and backer rewards, leaving them with $2 million to spend on the game. That’s not a large budget for this sort of project.
“We’ve got our main storyline, and that is set, but the stuff that we’re doing additionally, we have a lot of ideas for that. If we raised $30 million I would be like, I don’t know what to do, but I think we’re good for right now.” said McComb. The trick is to expand the game in ways that make sense, and not add things just to add them. Multiplayer, for instance, is something people don’t necessarily want out of a Torment game. They joked about microtransactions for a moment, laughing at the idea of their inclusion in the game.
I would like to take a moment, dear reader, and meditate on the fact that Kickstarter has allowed the funding of a new Torment game, and allows the men behind it to literally laugh at the idea of microtransactions being needed to fund the game. It’s truly a wonderful thing.The success of the Kickstarter showed that there’s a hunger for this sort of role-playing game, and I asked if that was an itch that wasn’t being scratched by games like Dragon Age.
“I don’t know, they sold a lot of units.” McComb said, laughing. “We have a different audience. I don’t want to make generalizations about the target metric and age for Dragon Age, but ours is hearkening back to a more philosophical, story-driven thing. All respect to the guys at Bioware, because I mean no disrespect, but I think that people are looking for a really reactive, really involved storyline that they have some control over, rather than just an interactive movie with player-controllable combat.”
“Our market, people who are passionate about this type of game, is smaller than is of interest to big publishers. In the scope of things you compare the budget we’re looking at with like a Dragon Age budget,” Saunders said, agreeing. “There’s no comparison. There’s been a demand for this type of cerebral, deep and personal role-playing game, but there hasn’t been enough of a demand for a big company to make it, and a small company can’t. Now crowdfunding allows a mid-sized company like inXile to deliver this sort of experience.”
Despite the team’s success on Kickstarter, keep in mind only 50,000 people or so have backed the project. That’s not a huge audience. “When you compare our budget and sales figures to what a Dragon Age or Mass Effect does, we’ve said it before, our costs are basically a rounding error for them,” Saunders said. “We don’t want the mass market, we want to make a game for our players. Anyone who wants to come along with us are more than welcome to join us.”