Eurogamer.net spoke with Brian Fargo, the founder and CEO of inXile about the purchase of his studio by Microsoft. An interview that tends to reassure fans and other observers of the industry about the situation of inXile and its relationship with its owner.
We learn that the studio is not only working on Wasteland 3 and Bard's Tale 4. inXile is also developing another game that is not yet announced. We imagine it will be an exclusive Xbox when it will be presented for the first time.
Eurogamer: How long has this story been in the pipes?
Brian Fargo: I would have to think about exactly when it started to happen. But, the discussions started in April and, as you can imagine with Microsoft, you have to be able to show off both as a person and as a company. That takes time.
My goal is to always bring my company to port so that we can spend as much time as possible working on our games and perfecting the way we do them.
Eurogamer: Who approached who? What was the reason behind this decision?
Brian Fargo: I have known Noah Musler for a long time (a Commercial Attaché at Microsoft who also has long-standing connections with Furgus Urquhart and Obsidian). He left me a message one day saying 'Hey, I have a crazy idea, would you like to come talk to Seattle?' I said 'Yeah, let's go!'
For me, it's always … my goal is to always bring my company to port so that we can spend as much time working on our games as possible and perfect the way we do them. It's feasible if you sell 2 million copies. It's a great way to do it – at least that's what everyone hopes for. Or, via a deal like this. But, in the end, that's all that matters to me.
- Wasteland 3, currently under development
Eurogamer: What is the situation of the studio? How much are you at inXile right now?
Brian Fargo: There are about 70 full-time and probably 15 other freelancers that we keep busy all the time. So, we are good in terms of numbers.
It's interesting if you think back to 2012 during the crowdfunding revolution. There was myself, Double Fine then Obsidian soon after and even Larian (Studios, Ndla). Budgets were around $ 5 million or $ 6 million at that time. So, we raised $ 3 million on Kickstarter, add to that about 2 million more thanks to the early access then put some of our money in the pile and it was roughly enough to allow us to live.
But since then, what we consider today as the double A class has gone from a budget of 15 to 20 million dollars. The landscape has changed greatly since then.
Eurogamer: In what state was the studio before the sale? Were you in good financial health? Could you have continued to operate independently of Microsoft indefinitely? Because Bard's Tale 4 did not make much noise, Torment: Tides of Numenara did not sell well, it seems, and Wasteland 3 is not released until next year. Did you walk on eggs?
Brian Fargo: Well listen, I'm smart and a survivor so I always have a plan B, C or D just in case. Some companies have shown interest in signing large contracts with us. So, I still had this option there and some of these projects were really interesting. I would have had to continue to find ways to adjust my business model. For the moment, we continue to exclusively use crowdfunding. We are our own publisher too. So, maybe I would have had to go down that road for projects like Wasteland 3 with, maybe, a custom game at the same time.
I realize that with inXile, I have constantly had to optimize our workforce and our business strategy. So, I would have continued in this way.
Eurogamer: It changes the game and I wondered how to become a Microsoft studio. I know in the press release, it was said that you "will still be autonomous" but … Well, let's take the example of Bard's Tale 4 on console. It will not come out on PS4, I guess?
Brian Fargo: Well, not necessarily. We are always seeing what can be problematic and what we are committed to. We want to honor these commitments. In the short term, I doubt that there is much that changes. People are naturally skeptical but we will keep the same email addresses, the same mutual and the same pension. My employees would hardly realize that we were bought back. Everything, absolutely everything, will be the same. Some case studies show that the companies that are being bought out are suffering … I have seen companies get bought and demolished shortly after, and I can not say who is responsible for it. You never know what's going on internally, right?
I tell you what has not changed: the need for us to make good games to survive. Either the public will close your studio by not buying your game, or, in theory, the company that buys you if you do not make good games. But now I have more ways to prevent that from happening to me. We never had so many cards in our hands today.
Eurogamer: So, to clarify, The Bard's Tale 4 will still be released on PS4?
Brian Fargo: I … I believe. I think so, yes. I hesitate, because I can not remember what we promised. I know we said it would come out on console, in this case, there is a small asterisk because we had not thought too much at the time. If we said that it will be released on PS4 then this will be the case (inXile has made it clear that The Bard's Tale 4 will be released on PS4, ndla). I am not trying to elude your question. I just can not remember what we promised. Microsoft has already said: what we say, we do it and it is absolutely the case.
Eurogamer: The question around Wasteland 3 also arises since you said that Wasteland 3 is "unaffected" (by the takeover by Microsoft, ndla).
Brian Fargo: That's right. Wasteland 3 will be released on PS4, absolutely.
One of the reasons Microsoft values us is that we put the bar high
Eurogamer: Ok. Is there really no effect on the project, on the staff or resources involved? Nothing of that ?
Brian Fargo: Yes, that's the goal in the end. We will have more resources and potentially more time depending on the project. If you look at most developers, be it Blizzard or Rockstar, the thing that everyone can get in this kind of situation is time. Because, it's the most valuable thing a developer can have. Now, I do not expect to work on production cycles spread over 5 years or whatever. We do not reason that way. One of the reasons Microsoft values us is that we are setting the bar high. Take Bard's Tale 4 as an example, you had 50 hours of gameplay, 350 voices, 100 minutes of music. And I did that with a team of 35 people. It's quite unique. Then, you start to think and say 'Thin! If I had 15 more people and 3 more months … '. Most developers know that time is very important especially towards the end of development. I know it does not look like that but it does.
When you finally put together all the pieces of the puzzle, you feel it. After, you can focus on how to refine it. Is the rhythm good? Is there no error message? Is the difficulty well balanced? Thin ! If I was 3 months older, I could edit all that. A company as small as ours is very difficult to do that. That's what selling brings us. I founded Interplay in 1983 and it will be the first time in my career that I will be able to focus entirely on game production.
Eurogamer: It was a year before I was born.
Brian Fargo: (laughs) Thank you for reminding me.
We want to position ourselves between double and triple A
Brian Fargo: So I've been in the front line of raising money by negotiating contracts, finding contacts, applying for crowdfunding, increasing the company's capital, and so on. bills and ensure that everyone can continue to work. And all of this, without my employees knowing how difficult it was to get money back. From now on, I will be able to project myself and obtain the resources we need. We have always known, as a small developer, what are our goals. But, our budget is not unlimited. And I'm not talking about moving to a triple A budget. But we want to position ourselves between double and triple A. We could release a game like Bard's Tale 4 and we could say 'Hey, we did it at 35 and it sells only $ 35. But, people are like, "Nah, I do not care. Only The Witcher 3 counts. "We do not have the opportunity to explain to players. We just need to bridge the gap between them and us. The other thing is that, especially with RPGs, you can not afford to say 'we're going to play a game in the 8 o'clock corridor.' It's just out of the question. We must rake wide hence the difficulty of producing this kind of games.
Eurogamer: So, just to clarify again, Wasteland 3 is scheduled for next year. Is this still the case ?
Brian Fargo: Yes.
Eurogamer: You also had the idea to retire after the launch of Wasteland 3. Is it still relevant?
Brian Fargo: No, I went back to that. I'm not going anywhere. You will have to put up with me a little longer.
Eurogamer: How does this (the buyout by Microsoft, ndla) affect your involvement in Fig (a crowdfunding company, ndla) as well as that of inXile?
Brian Fargo: Well, (…) we will probably not use crowdfunding anymore. This remains to do with Fig, but now we meet every quarter and they evaluate the different candidates and I guide them through my experience and my knowledge. So, I do not think it stops. We have not discussed it yet. I think I explained that it will not be a big investment in terms of time but I'm not sure how it will be playable.
Eurogamer: Because I was looking at Fig's numbers and it does not look like … it looks like the debts are piling up. The future does not look rosy. But, maybe I do not really realize the situation.
Brian Fargo: I'm not part of management. I'm not on the board. I have never seen a financial report of this company. I am only a simple advisor. I sit down and evaluate games. People have often misunderstood the involvement that I and Feargus Urquhart (CEO of Obsidian) have in relation to this business.
We have been working on a project for some time now that we have not announced. We are really excited and we will see what we can do with time and extra resources
Eurogamer: You mentioned that inXile will probably no longer use crowdfunding. I think you underestimate yourself. It's pretty certain you will not do it anymore, right?
Brian Fargo: Yes, I should probably … there will be no crowdfunding, yes.
Eurogamer: You mentioned that you would like to go from double A to triple A …
Brian Fargo: Wait, no. It would be somewhere in between.
Eurogamer: Yes, sorry. I do not mean like a Rockstar game. In short, apart from Wasteland 3, are you getting ready for a new game for Microsoft?
Brian Fargo: Yeah, one day.
Eurogamer: Are you working on something new?
Brian Fargo: Well, we've been working on a project for some time now that we have not announced. We are really excited and we will see what we can do with additional time and resources. We will see how to improve it.
Eurogamer: Was this game part of the contract? Or did Microsoft start looking at what you are working on after buying back?
Brian Fargo: They certainly took a look at our projects under development to see where we are going. We interested them because we are an independent company that knows how to fend for itself and make good games. They saw that with a little more resources, it could still go up a notch. It really motivated them to see what we have going on right now (…).
Eurogamer: So, how would you like to increase your staff?
Brian Fargo: In the short term, we're looking to increase them by about 30%. Our goal is not to end up in the hundreds, but just to fill the gaps that we have desperately tried to fill: a full-time person in charge of the sound, a full-time light person and a person responsible for the cutscenes. . All of these things that could help us improve what we do.
Eurogamer: In recent years, you've produced isometric 3D games, but maybe Microsoft wants you to do something a little more flashy? I always thought that The Bard's Tale 4 is a good indicator of where you want to go and what you could do in 3D on Unreal Engine. Is this the direction you will take? Are isometric 3D games stored in the closet?
Brian Fargo: In the end, we have the opportunity to choose what we want to work on. They (Microsoft, Ndla) have been very clear on this. They never said, 'We'd like you to work more on that and me on that.' That's out of the question. It will really be up to us to decide and talk with our fans about what they would like to see. We will not necessarily abandon the isometric. There are still plenty of great things to do with it.
Eurogamer: Does this mean that the scope of future projects will be greater?
Brian Fargo: Our games are already very big in terms of lifetime. Wasteland 2 lasted between 80 and 100 hours for most people so I do not think we need to go further in this direction. But we want to improve our visual style and also make our launches better. Microsoft offers a lot of things. For example, if we want to make The Bard's Tale 4 compatible with the controller, they have a whole group of users. We just have to compare the compatibility with the controller to a group of psychologists and hardcore players to see what they think. We can fine-tune it before it comes out. These kinds of things allow us to improve our know-how.
Eurogamer: Just to clarify, and I think Microsoft has made some statements about it, but inXile being quite similar to Obsidian Entertainment does not mean you're going to become one studio, is that it?
Brian Fargo: There is no plan to merge or work in the same building or whatever. However, what can happen, of course, is that we are going to have closer relationships. We will be less competitive and more like brothers. Then, as we compare our ideas, I hope there will be some form of synergy so that we can help each other. A lot of things could happen but it will be up to Feargus (Urquhart, ndla) and myself to discuss it (…). But, no, we're not going to merge.