Max Schaefer Interview @ EatGames

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 DiabloWikiTitan) 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?

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56 thoughts on “Max Schaefer Interview @ EatGames

  1. I hate the free to play – pay to win model. Never seen it being done decently in any game.

    Got no issue with subscriptions, as long as there the content offered is worth the price.

    • Check out League of Legends and Path of Exile. They’re both vehemently opposed to the pay2win concept (i.e. cosmetics and conveniences), and I think they steer clear of it.

      However, I do have to agree that true pay2win doesn’t work out in the end, and both the customers and the businesses lose.

    • Except so far only Diablo3 use pay 2 win model + b2p (buy to play) to even start, a game.

      Usually f2p games use micro-transaction – they just sell skins/extra bag/bank space etc. – esentially nothing what gives you any real power in game – now just look on RMAH in D3 and start thinking about pvp…

      Captcha : “no way” – indeed, no way pvp can work in such game 😉

      • Except it doesn’t. You can aquire items yourself by drops, trading, crafting gold AH. It is also player based trading. Nothing to compare to lets say Maplestory.

        You could perhaps arque you pay for a advantage or so but its not the same as “those” other pay or suck games.

  2. Ya i like games that i can buy once and play forever. With maybe some optional gear you can buy with real money that only effects looks like wings or mounts or dyes or more stash space. (Diablo 3 needs more stash space!)

    I dislike pay to play, but i dislike pay to win even more…

  3. Love the RMAH model! I can choose to not participate where Blizz might be making enough money off it, business-wise to cover expenses without me spending additional money on the game. Or I can choose participate by buying if I so desire, or by participating by getting proceeds from sales. Such a move forward where other companies who sell in game gold take all the proceeds for themselves! Blizz is evolving to let players get in on the action!

    I don’t forsee myself playing other games anymore with any seriousness (even WoW) unless there is a RMAH model. Even if I don’t sell a lot in D3’s RMAH, I feel I have the option to, and that my time in game is now worth $ potentially. It’s hard for me in my mind to go back and play WoW for “free”, not getting to sell anything (legally).

    • RMAH sucks man. Obviously you’ve never played D2. Please go back to WoW. And no I am not one of those people that wanted D2.5, I love D3 in every other aspect, but the RMAH is a big no no.

    • and so from having fun you have slowly transformed into thinking how you can make money off this…that is the real danger of involving real-money in games.

  4. No cash shops except visual items for me. But that’s not even my issue with gaming right now. I’m at war against DRM and unfinished games (like D3 despite Blizzard’s famous quote).

    • I don’t understand this “I’m against DRM.”

      What are you against exactly? Developers trying to prevent piracy and make money off their product? That’s like saying “I’m against supermarkets having surveillance cameras and security guards at exits.”

      The only difference I see between my analogy and software DRM is that software DRM is typically invasive (D3 being one of the prime examples with online-only, though there are actually quite a few legit reasons for their decision to go online-only besides DRM – that’s another debate). Forcing the CD to be in the drive is a great example of a failed, oldschool DRM that only hurt the players who bought the game (pirates didn’t have to deal with this shenanigans).

      tl dr: “This is why we can’t have nice things.” Pirates steal games, developers lose money (and close their doors in some cases). Developers (and publishers, which are a dying breed, thankfully) are forced to implement methods to prevent the theft of their games. Pirates 9/10 times find work-arounds. Repeat.

      The good news about WoW/Diablo 3 is that because of their online-only play system, the only way pirates get around it is by creating 3rd party servers. This is largely not fun to the mainstream gaming community, so they fork over the cash. In the end, this kind of DRM “works” well enough that publishers love it.

      Hate DRM? Tell your friends to stop pirating and buy games. Fix the real problem.

      • Dbh.

        Don’t try to argue against these guys. Even a 10 year old understands you can’t have an in game economy and trading game … Off line.

        Off line D3 would mean: a hacked, cracked game … 3 weeks BEFORE launch. And 3 days after launch ALL important gear would have been duped, copied and the game would have been … Dead a week later.

        THOUSANDS of games and programs ONLY run on the internet these days. THOUSANDS of them, from.webbrowser games to Dota like games, to MMO’s to 50% of all IPad games.

        I can only see ONE reason these guys complain about an on line Diablo game and that’s pure and simple: cracked copies so they don’t need to buy.

        Simple as that.

        • > I can only see ONE reason these guys complain about an on line Diablo game
          > and that’s pure and simple: cracked copies so they don’t need to buy.

          Really? You don’t count unstable servers as well as poor or nonexistent internet connections as other reasons?

          • Unstable servers for the first few days. Now the servers are up and running, stop using the same o’ excuses that don’t apply anymore.

          • Just consider the lag-issue. Never had to lose a hc-character due to lag while playing single-player in D2.

            D3 on the other hand… oh man…

        • Did you ever stop to think maybe you could have an offline part of the game that is completly seperated from the online part…. sort of like D2 where you have solo heroes and online heroes seperated.

          • Duh.

            Keeping offline and online separate is not the issue. Giving the server code to players is. In D2 players could freely investigate how the client and server interact with each other, and then use the knowledge to attack and manipulate bnet (hacked items, countless dupe methods etc).

          • No. But there is obviously less hacks/dupes now, and Blizzard is actually able to do something about them under this more tightly controlled environment.

            Bots are still a problem though, because all of that can be done at client.

        • I have one word for you : MODS

          The right to write modifications for your favorite game has always been the strong point of gaming on PC. Counterstrike anyone?
          Of course DRM is not completely incompatible with modding, but from what I’ve seen, the more DRM-heavy a game is, the less mod-friendly it tends to be. The most extreme example being of course Diablo 3, where modding is explicitly forbidden!

          Some people might consider that this is a worthwhile sacrifice to keep cheaters out of the MP economy, but since that economy seems to be tailored for the top 1%-5% of the people that actually play in Inferno, I don’t see why the rest 95-99% of the players would have to deal with that…

  5. i like the old way much more. i have paid monthly for 5 games and bought 2 games that had a monthly fee but i quit before my “free” month was up. in each of those 5 games i felt i was given enough content to easily make the monthly fee worth while. i really hate games that allow you to spend real money on in game items (from the devs) or skills as i feel they are needed to be worth anything. i tend to quit these games really fast and is most cases never even start them. to enjoy the game the way i would like to i would have to spend more on the “free” game than the one with the monthly

    • Yeah, I agree. Maybe it’s just because now I’m an adult, with a job, and a better appreciation for the fact that if you want quality products, you need to support the people who create those products, but I have no problem paying for games. I think it’s a mistake for game companies to target the masses of teenagers who grew up never paying for content and hope they’ll decide to throw some of their allowance your way for a sparklepony.

      I think there’s plenty of room for other game companies to design solid, mature (and “ultra-violent =/= mature”) games for adult consumers to enjoy. Games with deep and involving stories, complex relationships, stuff that really blurs the lines between books, movies, and games. (Mass Effect being the commonly cited but not only example).

      I wouldn’t even be averse to a monthly subscription game, it’s just that one hasn’t come along yet that really appealed to me (WoW was always too cartoonish for me, not into superheroes or Star Wars, etc.).

  6. Blizzard will launch a subscription based BattleNet system fee when Titan will launch.

    You ll pay 15 euro and be able to play all of their games on premium mode with multiple promoting upcoming expansions, pvp seasons, modding etc…wow, titan, sc2, d3. BAS dota, etc …

    As for Torchlight. I really really really don’t get it. T1 must have been the worst piece of junk that ever resided on my hard disk. Terrible graphics, lousy game play, complete amateurish design.

    I mean, it takes about 10 minutes to see this and still it gets promoted like it is the second coming of Christ… Well it ain’t and it is a pure amateurish product. Life is too short to waste time on such products.

    • you’re assuming the Euro will still exist by the time Titan launches 8)

      Seriously though, I agree that they’ll head towards a subscription for with access to all their titles.

      • As long as the Euro is linked to the German economy we have the strongest currency in the world.

        Economy is like a soccer (football match). In the end the German play always wins … ‘)

          • To hell with a euro. America all the way. Nothing comes out if Europe. That’s why all you douches play American games

          • @ first TheDragon: You know Sacred? Or the X-Series (-> X-Reunion or X-Terran Conflict, for example…) Gothic? Realms of Arkania/The Dark Eye? How about FarCry or Crysis? Let’s keep it older: Amberstar/Ambermoon/Albion? Battle Isle? The Settlers? Or the Anno-Series of games? Or… … … (edit: And that were just the germans… don’t let me start on french, british and portuguese games, please, because it’s simply too much.)

            @ second TheDragon: To a degree of around 40% to run from the european justicesystem of the time. Another 30% were for purely economic reasons. (Ok… that’s only the estimates on the first two emmigration waves, as learned in social science in school, but…)

        • You know, the way we’re playing the economy for the last thirty years (-> longterm focus on exports!) is the same way that forced the world into WWI&II. Only difference: This time we are the one bringing others into economic depression first. But that won’t help us at all when the next wave of the financial crisis starts and the yoyo comes back to us…

          edit: With “we” I meant Germany.

  7. RMAH is silly. The AH fixed the “trade issue.”

    So long as there’s a stable in-game currency (gold), the regular AH should suffice.

    I’d personally just prefer one single AH, whether it was RMAH or not. It’s confusing to have two.

    • With the added side-effect that Diablo 3 now has more gold farmers than Wow 😉

      • yeah, and every day now I get idiotic friend requests from spammers. I hope this stops at some point.

  8. I’m okay with a model like GW2 for MMO.

    You buy the box and then it has some elements of a free 2 play game: no subscription and a cash shop which gives cosmetics or experience boosts.
    I feel this ensure that the game is not too cheap (true F2P) and not too much P2W (F2P have a tendency to have imbalanced items on sale, wtf ?).

    Or a model like LoL.

    But of course I dont want everything to turn F2P and P2W. Anyway I don’t think it would happen. There will always be a market for players that want competition without money being involved to win, so if there is a market there will always be developers.

    I also think it may be time for consoles to offer a true keyboard+mouse control (while keeping the gamepad for other games) and remove the obligation to pass through things like PSN and Xboxlive (for example you would directly connect to Battle net with your console, like with a PC). This way, if consoles start to truly emulate a computer (while still being only for games and non-upgradable) developers would proably be happy again at making “PC” games and it would open a BIG market for MMO developers.

  9. I prefer the old model – go to the store, buy the game, install and play MP if you want to or pay a fee for MMO. Don’t mind a digital version but the whole F2P with ads or RMAH or other “money-making models” are not really my cup of tea.

    • Fortunately, technology advances and evolves. I am sure we all still buy music CDs and play them in our CD players right?

      On that note, how many MP3s on your HD or iPod did you pay for? Yeah, you are all for the “old ways”…

  10. Why would subscription based be dead? I think they mean they haven’t been able to captivate an audience like Blizzard has. My wallet says there is still room for subscription based MMOs in the future.

    It’s all bullshit. WoW may have gone into decline, but that’s just the way things go. I don’t see everyone still playing Wolfenstein 3D. So now apparantly the competitors point and say the MMO genre is on the decline? Lol I don’t buy that for one second.

    No. They just don’t offer an attractive enough game. I think there will ALWAYS be room for a subscription model – it’s just a matter of how big a slice of the cake it gets.

    • Yeah the thing is 1: WoW is getting very old = some people get bored of it and leave
      2: All other MMO’s are when you come down to it are mostly WoW clones <- so why are you surprised that not many people will pay for them? I mean they are ethier looking for an MMO that not a WoWolike or they just dont see the point in switching from there high level WoW heroes to go and play WoW-clone2 from lvl 1.

  11. f2p is awful. I will be incredibly disappointed in PC gaming, and may even stop altogether, if that is the model that future games are all going towards. Yuck.

  12. Old news, I read this a week ago and tried to tell people about it. Just glad people are getting a chance to read this excellent interview now at least.

    Note that some of this stuff, not even all of the Torchlight devs knew about. One of them posted on the torchlight forums that they were learning things just reading this interview.

  13. Back in the days where there wasn’t “pay to win”? The last paragraph in your article seems to suggest that the potential for buying items with real money did not exist back in the 00’s?

    Pretty interesting, because that suggestion would be blatantly false.

    • Of course it was but it wasnt supported by game devs by any means – now game is build and designed around it – it’s just stupid.

      • Just because it is supported by devs doesn’t make it any more real. If blizzard decided tomorrow to drop “P2W” tomorrow, it wouldn’t just disappear forever into the land of make believe.

        Then a good percentage of the community would go to other pay2win sites that were just as prominent as in d2.

        I reject the reasoning that it is only bad because a game developer is doing it.

    • P2W refers to the business model of giving a game and then cutting stuff off of it that gives real power and then charge for each bit as the way of raising money. Basically it comes down to this you want that uber sword that does 20k damage pay up $10, dont want to pay well then you got to put up with only having the 10k damage sword.

  14. Thx God that gaming do not end at this greed bastards that try monetize games to absurd levels and there are still some Indie developers or companies like CD Project RED that create games because they love them.

    Problem is in customers, people have problem with judging worth of micro-transactions.
    People are eager to spend 60×1$ than spending 60$ for much, much better deal.
    They never look at ration product to value as long it is cheap…

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