Brian Fargo on why crowdfunding trumps the traditional publishing model

With two successful Kickstarter campaigns and dozens of releases under his belt, inXile Entertainment’s Brian Fargo knows a thing or two about the video game industry. Speaking at the Gaming Insiders Summit on Thursday, Fargo talked about the origins of Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, inXile’s efforts to constantly involve their fans, and how crowdsourcing looks to become permanent fixture in the industry, if it’s utilized well.

Together, Wasteland 2 and Torment both raised over $7 million. Fargo explained that the crowdfunding industry (combining all sites and projects, not just Kickstarter and games) is projected to bring in $3 billion this year. Fans of games and other projects are obviously demanding content and products that publishers aren’t willing to support. As Fargo discussed, the only way to satisfy the desires of that crowd is to build something without the backing of a publisher. While he didn’t directly condemn publishers, he did provide a good argument as to why crowdsourcing is the best route for developers, regardless of their history or affiliations.


Brian Fargo on stage at the Gaming Insiders Summit, San Francisco 2013

Fargo came out with ten key benefits to utilize crowdsourcing as a developer. One of the recurring themes among these points was the benefits of the freedom obtained by functioning as an independent game. Fargo explained that working with a publisher means that every few weeks, he and his team needed to show progress and defend their product. This process takes time away from the actual development. He also explained how crowdsourcing lets the team treat the game as it should be: A passion project. Without a publisher able to push the team in a certain direction, developers have a broader range of creativity.

Of course, the other big benefit to crowdsourcing is the crowd. Running a campaign on Kickstarter (or a similar service) is an excellent way to generate buzz and excitement for a product, even long before it launches. More important than that, the simple act of running a crowdfunding campaign will provide feedback when it matters most. One of the points Fargo kept returning to was that if the crowd wanted something, they’d support it, regardless of how publishers and other entities feel. This was proven by inXile’s wildly successful Wasteland 2 campaign, which began a whole new strategy of development for the company.


Wasteland 2 earned $2.9 million on Kickstarter in early 2012

Fargo’s journey in crowdfunding Wasteland 2 started long before the actual Kickstarter campaign began. Fargo looked at the usual approach of “If you build it, they will come” and twisted it to “They will come and help us build it.” The team began reaching out to fans on forums and other social channels, going over the ideas behind the crowdfunding campaign. They asked the fans if they would back the project and what they should offer as rewards. Fargo’s team took the feedback to heart, learning about their fanbase at the same time. Fargo mentioned how the team wanted a special power-up only available to backers, but the fans were insistent that the game should be the same for everyone, regardless of backing.

Fargo told the crowd, “Success is based on how well we listen.” Listening is what inXile has done best since closing the successful Wasteland 2 campaign. Fargo explained the team’s decision to use the Unity engine. It wasn’t because the team enjoyed the engine, but because of the resource shop. By utilizing the resources, inXile was able to quickly make something to show their backers in order to receive feedback as soon as possible.

These resources don’t just stop with feedback. Fargo and his crew are continuously reaching out to their backers and supporters in unique ways. One example Fargo used was with screenshots. Opposed to releasing images when the game is near completion, they showed off their progress in visual form and listened to the opinions of the crowd. In doing so, some supporters created design and layout changes. The team didn’t just utilize these changes, they paid the individuals to officially make them. inXile has been constantly reaching out in this manner, from visuals, to animations, to voice acting. Their approach to building the game has been as crowd-centric as funding it was.


Torment: Tides of Numenera earned $4.1 million on Kickstarter earlier this year

The support doesn’t just come from fans. Fargo mentioned how some of their biggest backers were other developers and industry members. Fargo has implemented a “Kicking it forward” campaign, promising to put five percent of each games’ profits into the campaigns of other crowdfunding developers. He’s also encouraged others to do the same. Fargo doesn’t necessarily see other developers from a competitive point of view and he wants to help them get a hold of the same opportunities he’s had.

Much of Fargo’s presentation was based on good will. He sees himself in the “good will” business just as much as the gaming industry and listening to the fans is representative of that. Fargo has no problem leaving money on the table in favor of building good will, because it will make players happier and likely result in more profits down the road. He made the point that gamers are smart and they typically have a good reason to ask for something.

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