MF: How many publishers did you pitch Wasteland 2 to before going the Kickstarter route?
BF: Every major one. I was turned down by everybody.
MF: What kind of reactions did they give you? I’m assuming that the first pitch video, which was unbelievably funny, wasn’t so far off the mark.
BF: Every single one of those things in that pitch video happened. The only thing that I elaborated on was the Farmville request, because that was done via Facebook, rather than on the phone. But it’s true. I would be waiting for people to call me back to give me a response, and they would send me Farmville requests all day long, but they couldn’t return a phone call. It was beautiful. I would go into meetings and say, “Look, guys. I know you have probably never heard of Wasteland.” I made the assumption that they didn’t know. I explained, “Before there was a Fallout, there was a Wasteland. I tried to make a sequel all these years, couldn’t do it, so I made Fallout instead. Now, I’ve got the guy who co-wrote Fallout and the guy who co-wrote Wasteland, I’m the producer of both so, Wasteland 2!” It was like there was no reaction in the room.
There was one guy who couldn’t stop texting in the middle of the meeting and I’m sitting there with Jason Anderson (game artist and designer that worked on Fallout and Fallout 2) and I was outraged. Other times they would send in these junior guys that were maybe 19 years old, never had heard of Interplay, hadn’t heard of anything. Then there were people who I’d get a room, they would jump up and down, act excited and three weeks later would tell me they were going in another direction. I would ask why they passed, so I wouldn’t bring them the same kind of project again, but they could never tell me why they passed. I really, honest to god, put the file away. Two weeks before Kickstarter I said, “I give. I don’t know what to do.” And, then, Kickstarter happened. I was the keynote at GDC Shanghai last year. It was just about roleplaying games, specifically a lot about Bard’s Tale and Wasteland. I had just given the speech talking about how we never get to do those games anymore.
MF: The new Bard’s Tale is still sitting on my shelf. I love that game.
BF: Well, the hard core aren’t too fond of it, but it definitely has its fans. Here’s how I explain that game. I had just left Interplay, I was kinda in a funny mood and I was playing other people’s roleplaying games. They were sending me to kill rats in a cellar and I was like, “Are you kidding me? They’re still doing this stuff?” So, I was fed up and Bard’s Tale was my parody of it. So, I set out to do a light RPG that was a parody. For that effort, I think I deserve an A. For the hard core, they wanted an absolute Bard’s Tale sequel, so for them, it was an F. In my defense, I accomplished what I set out to do. Just like with this Wasteland game, this is what we’re going out to do: old-school RPG, deep cause and effect, dialog, exploration, etc. We’re now going to execute that. I understand why people weren’t happy with Bard’s Tale, but if you look at iTunes, it’s one of the highest rated RPGs out there. So, people like it, but if you were expecting a hardcore RPG, you wouldn’t have liked it.
MF: You said you were inspired to use Kickstarter to because of Double Fine’s success.
BF: Absolutely. It never would have occurred to me if they hadn’t put up the large numbers that they did. Most of the previous projects were $50,000 – $100,000. I couldn’t do any kind of Wasteland sequel that lived up to its name in any way shape or form for that amount. I couldn’t even do it for $400,000 like (Tim Schafer) was trying to do. I basically needed to put up $1M. It was scary, because I knew I was asking for more than anyone had ever asked for, but I also knew that if it was any less, I couldn’t do. There was no point in asking for less.
MF: One of the things I’ve noticed is that there is a difference in that Double Fine started with Kickstarter, but you were pretty vocal that this was the last chance for Wasteland 2. Even though the language is a little bit different, what I’ve noticed is that, at some level, there seems to be a bit of defiance in developers that decide to use the movement. They were very political and, even more recently, Tim Schafer has come out and said that there is a place for everybody. You’ve said the same thing. Is tension between developers and publishers, especially around creative issues, normal?
BF: There is more tension than you can believe. You would not believe the stories you hear about how developers are treated by publishers these days. It is abysmal.
MF: Why don’t we hear more about it…?
BF: Because they are afraid to talk, because they’ll never get another contract if they do. That’s why. You cannot believe… it’s awful. It’s really bad. You should try to dig in and get some stories out there. Look at the most recent one with those poor guys at Obsidian. They did Fallout: New Vegas, the ship date got moved up and, who does the QA on a project? The publisher is always in charge of QA. When a project goes out buggy, it’s not the developer. The developer never says, “I refuse to fix the bug,” or, “I don’t know how.” They never do that. It’s the publisher that does the QA, so if a product goes out buggy, it’s not the developer’s fault. So, (Fallout: New Vegas) goes out buggy and they didn’t do the QA, their ship date got moved up and they missed their metacritic rating by one point. Did they get a bonus? No. Do you think that’s fair? I tried to get some of my publisher friends, who I used to make a lot of money for, to donate. Do you think they donated? No. Their employees did.
MF: What seems to be bubbling under the surface is this ‘us vs. them’ tension.
BF: It’s there. It’s not all publishers. I haven’t worked with all publishers, so I can’t speak for them all, but I’ve had enough of my own horrible stories. I have friends who are big developers and we sit around telling stories. The smartest people I meet are the developers; their business acumen. They’re not the ones who control the checks, though.
MF: You mentioned Obsidian. Have you spoken with them?
BF: I talk to them all the time.
MF: Would you consider working with them, especially given their current troubles… maybe reform the Black Isle Voltron?
BF: They are still working on projects. It’s not like they are going away. I have a lot of love for those guys.
MF: What about the people from Interplay? Honestly, us old guys would love to see Black Isle reborn in some form.
BF: Well, if this project works, it will give me a platform for doing things again. I haven’t had an engine… or I’ve had an engine with no gas. If this continues to work, and certainly we’re off to a great start—this game has got to be great—if I deliver that, I think there would be a chance to build it up again. Nothing would make me happier.
MF: Assuming that Wasteland 2 is as much a critical success as it is a crowd-funding success, and a publisher or two or three come knocking, would you consider working with one in the future?
BF: I don’t know why I would need to. Kickstarter and Steam allow me to bypass publishers and bypass retail. I think the world is going to go toward creative people carving out a direct relationship with their fans, and they are going to find a way to do business in their niche. It could be someone that makes model train simulators with their 10,000 fans or RPGs with millions of fans.
MF: Do you think that developers that choose to go the Kickstarter route might have trouble, whether its due to tasting creative freedom or otherwise, going back to work for in a publisher environment after finding success with crowd-funding.
BF: Oh, yeah. Of course. I stopped pitching publishers a long time ago. I finally just gave up because it got so frustrating. So we started other digital initiatives. We did Impossible Quiz and Bard’s Tale on iTunes. We’ve been building our own little digital business, but that’s smaller. Selling things at $1.99 or $4.99… I can sit home and make money, but it’s not building a business. Kickstarter allows me to make product that I can sell for $15 or $20, and that’s a business I can build upon. For the guys that go out and find some Kickstarter success and start making money on their own, yeah, it’s going to be hard for them to work in that kind of organization. People keep talking about how it’s the end of publishers, but that’s kind of an overstatement. We’re not going to Kickstart $100M productions. I think a lot of the really good talent is going to see people, like ourselves, doing smaller projects and having fun again. They are going to want a taste of that.