We saw a great interview with Max Schaefer about Torchlight 2 and Diablo III last week, and today we’ve got another one. It covers a lot of the same ground as the previous interview, with plenty of questions about Torchlight 2 and Runic Games, as well as Max’s reactions to Diablo III, marketing differences between the games, the current generation of ARPGs, changing business models for online games, and much more.
With the unfortunate collapse of 38 Studios, the decreasing number of subscribers for the Knights of the Old Republic and even World of Warcraft, I’m curious if the state of the market changes Runic’s marketing and design model for a Torchlight MMO?
Max: Oh yeah! You have to look at the trends and project out a few years because of the development time. You don’t want to get into a dying genre, put all that work into it and then have to do a massive redesign at the end. I think it’s definitely going Free-To-Play. All the successful ones are going that way. It’s something we’re fine with too, you just have to design for it.
It’s something that’s harder to do than a subscription based model because of the potential of screwing it up with all the weird item sales. You don’t want people to pay to win. You have to design it. You have to think about the additional content you put in, and each new item you put on sale has the potential to anger people and unbalance the game as opposed to a subscription model where you’re only goal is to make cool stuff every month. It takes a lot more design, but I think it’s the future and we just have to embrace it.
Speaking broadly, I think Free-To-Play is going to be a model for more than just traditional MMOs too.
You pioneered the Point-n-Click ARPG genre back in 1996 with the original Diablo, and I’m curious just how much your design philosophy has change up to now? Have your overall goals changed?
Max: I think we look at the basics of the genre — the controls and visceral feel of combat -— and realize we’re just better at it now than back in the day. You know, the way we put together and make games has changed quite radically. We’re so much more tool driven now. Everything use to go through your lead programmer, and the few tools you had to put stuff together were clunky and not very powerful.
We went into this with the specific intent to beat people and be competitive in the industry through being more efficient and faster. To be able to do things with less money than the competition. The way you do that is you get the most out of your people by giving them really good tools. You make the process by which you get content into the game smoothly and as streamlined as possible. Just the day-to-day work of putting the game together and adding content is so different than the old Diablo days. Today we’re able to do more, much more quickly. That’s where the big change has taken place.
Like you said in regards to the unfortunate demise of some studios out there — and with our own demise with Flagship Studios prior to Runic Games — yes that stuff is what keeps us up at night. I mean, this is the reason why Runic first did a single-player game with the original Torchlight. Just to get a game out quickly and get some revenues coming into the company, to get us more stable. It’s worked for us so far, and that’s still our motto—to do things more efficiently and faster than anyone else.
As Max says, the market for PC games is really evolving. It’s generally-accepted in the industry that WoW will be the last successful monthly subscription MMORPG, and that future MMORPGs (including Blizzard’s own Project Titan) will have to survive with various F2P financial models. Even non-MMORPGs, such as Torchlight 2, have had to adapt with smaller, faster, more efficient dev teams, that allow them to hit lower price points.
Blizzard may be the dinosaur in this changing industry, with the last big monthly fee game, and the last PC-only games that can sell enough copies to make a profit, and even then Blizzard is looking into new models, as we see in Diablo III’s real money auction house.
Are you guys happy with the changing face of gaming and the new financial models? Do you like the idea of free games that mix in item shops and RMAH, or would you prefer a return to the 00s, when you bought your game for full price, maybe paid a monthly fee as well, and played it without having to worry about a real money item sales, other people were paying to win, etc?