Runic CEO Max Schaefer, President & Torchlight Lead Designer Travis Baldree, Art Director Jason Beck and Zombie Pyrotechnician John Dunbar talk about the launch of Torchlight, the upcoming MMO, and the lessons they've learned from Hellgate: London, Mythos, and Diablo.
WarCry: How has the launch been so far? There's been lots of publicity.
Travis Baldree: It went really well. We were all surprised at how well the game was received. Twitter was (and is) certainly our friend.
John Dunbar: It's great to see people playing and liking Torchlight and spreading the word. We don't have much marketing, so we were really counting on word of mouth getting around.
Max Schaefer: I think the worst official review I've seen was an 8/10? I think you don't ever mind seeing that.
WC: Do you have any sales figures you can talk about?
Max: We have very incomplete information. Half of our partners don't report on figures until the end of the month, and since we launched at the end of October that's just a few days. We know what we're getting on our site internally, but we have to wait for everywhere else. But we're very pleased where it's going now and we can't wait to release the patch, level editor, and demo.
WC: How big is the Runic team?
Travis: I think we're 26 now - 26 or 27. I believe we started at 17 back in August of 2008. The original 17 were all ex-Flagship members who were on the Mythos team in Seattle. We've since picked up a few extras.
WC: At Triangle Game Conference, [Atomic Games president] Peter Tamte said that on average, bigger-budget games need to sell a million copies to break even on costs. Do you think lower-budget, lower-cost games like Torchlight will become the norm in this economy?
Max: If we sell a million, we will have more than broken even - we'll all be very, very happy. But I think it makes a lot of sense. If the publisher is at less risk in fronting it, it means that the developers can take a lot more risks. You have a really neglected area here between casual and big-budget games, and I think you'll see people rushing to fill that space. Plus, it doesn't take four years to develop - Torchlight took us 11 months.
WC: Do you think you could have priced Torchlight higher and still sold the game?
Travis: We could have sold copies for more, but I think that $20 was the right price. It lets us recoup our expenses, and it's sort of a "magical" price where people can just make the buy without having to fret so much. If their friends tell them, "Hey, this is a great game," they can make the decision then and there. It's the cost of a DVD; it's the cost of a large pizza.
WC: You could buy the game and then a large pizza to eat while you played it, for example.
Travis: *laughs* And you'd have $20 left over from what an Xbox 360 game would cost you, too.
WC: You mentioned earlier that the founding Runic members were all from Flagship. Were there any lessons you learned from the Hellgate: London fiasco that you were determined not to repeat with Torchlight?
Max: Certainly. The biggest thing we were trying to avoid was "trying to do everything for everybody." We were going to focus on what we were doing, and a simpler path to where we're going, not take off gigantic bites that are more than we could ever chew. We wanted to return to what we know and what we do well - action RPGs.
Hellgate was pushing everything - it was pushing DX10, new business models, entire new genres. It wanted to be too many things for too many people, and couldn't hold the weight.
WC: Is Torchlight the game you wanted Mythos to be?
Max: It will be when we make the MMO version, certainly.
Travis: We all ended up liking Torchlight a lot better than we liked Mythos. The development of that game was contorted and protracted, and like Hellgate it tried to be a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons. I think it's a better game for it. It's what Mythos should have been. Maybe it's what Fate and Diablo I should have been.
WC: Nearly every review has loved Torchlight but bemoaned the lack of multiplayer. Why was the decision made to not include at least LAN capability?
Travis: After we lost our whole Mythos project we said, "Let's be really pragmatic." We wanted to put all our multiplayer energy into the MMO to do it right. And we put all our energy into single-player so we would do it right, too. Its $20 price and the editor tools would justify its stand-alone existence. With limited resources and time, you do the best you can do with what you have.
WC: Is there a time frame for the MMO?
Travis: We've still got some support and patch stuff to do for the game, but the rest of our energy is fully focused on developing the MMO.
Max: The launch timeline is about 18 to 24 months. Obviously we'll have an alpha and beta tests long before that, but that's the timeline we're looking at.