June 15, 2012 6:00 PM | Cassandra Khaw
Last week at E3, thanks to a serendipitous turn of events ("You're at E3?! Can we gatecrash your meeting room?" "Sure!"), I had the opportunity to test drive Torchlight 2 (it's every bit as slick as what your friends in the beta have been telling you) and interview Runic Games' Max Schaefer about the game, co-existence with Diablo 3 and why 30 is his magic number.
Of course, as you might have guessed already, the interview opened with an earnest inquiry about Torchlight 2's release date.
"Late summer. No actual date just yet but it's getting close to where we can fix a date. We're polished up the rest of the content that wasn't in the beta (According to a brief Twitter exchange between Runic Games and a fan, it looks like some of that content may be pertinent to the skill trees. ), and it's coming along well. Nonetheless, we're still looking at late July, early August", Schaefer stated with a shrug.
Were they worried that Diablo 3's strong presence would damage sales? Schaefer said no. "I think it actually helps us because they're bringing so many millions of new people into the action-RPG genre, people that can be customers for us as well."
"Our games are also different from each other in a lot of ways: price point, offline stuff, the auction house. Compared to Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 is a little bit more light-hearted and faster paced. We think that the genre is meant to be more light-hearted, anyway. I mean, why are there monsters carrying chainmail standing around in fields just waiting for you to come kill them? It's kinda nice to not have to take things so seriously", Schaefer explained. "That's why we think releasing so close to Diablo 3 isn't going to hurt us. In fact, our pre-sales actually went up by 40% when Diablo 3 entered the market and have stayed up. We really do think that they're bringing more people into the genre. It also helps that a lot of reviews and previews tend to mention both Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 together."
In spite of his words, Schaefer confessed that they had initially been concerned about timing. However, the closer Torchlight 2 drew to completion, the more they came to realize their worries were largely irrelevant. "For most of the history of the game, we'll be selling together. The more important thing here is whether or not we can actually compete on an equal footing with Blizzard."
According to Schaefer, the original Torchlight had been a rush project. "We were a new company. When we started, we had computers with nothing on them, not even Microsoft Word. But, eleven months later, we shipped Torchlight 1. It all happened really, really fast and we learned a lot about how to efficiently make this sort of game. As a result, it was nice to be able to take our time with Torchlight 2."
"We knew we were going to have to do multiplayer even while we were making Torchlight 1. We knew that one of our strategies was to get the IP out, get people familiar with the franchise, then come back with a big budget."
He paused. "Well. Bigger budget, anyway."
Schaefer also had nothing but positive things to say about the Torchlight community. "Our community, as far as I can tell, is probably one of the best communities out there. We get so much feedback from our forums and community. We actually spend a lot of time just reading through them and figuring out what people want. For example, a lot of people actually said 'We want more explanations, we want to know what all the stats do!'. There were little things like that all over the place."
"I worked at Blizzard for 10 years and I started Blizzard North. Our company made Diablo 1, Diablo 2 and the expansion to Diablo 2. While the Diablo community was great, it was also just so big and that allowed obnoxious people to get into the forums, turning them into less than friendly places. With the Torchlight ames, however, I think we're small enough that the community knows us and we know them and that's really refreshing", Schaefer said.
It definitely looks like this strong rapport with their community is going to be a persistent trend. Instead of attempting to cash in through DLCs, Runic Games will be releasing development tools that will allow players to mod everything.
"New characters, new levels. We'll even give you a new character all rigged up so you can use it to base your own characters on. Quests, backgrounds, particle effects, UI - those are all moddable too. Everything."
Does that mean DLCs will be completely non-existent? Yes and no."We may do an expansion, at some point. We may trickle in some stuff that people have done around the office for free. However, we don't have any model set up to make money through DLCs. If we do that, it'd be in the form of an expansion pack that will have a substantial amount of content."
In regards to the possible expansion of the company itself, Schaefer stated that they intend to keep Runic Games small. "That's one of the reasons we left Blizzard. It was getting really big. When I left Blizzard North, we were at 60 people and that was already getting too big. Right now in Runic Games, we have 30 people and we intended to stay at that size. Over 30, it starts becoming more of a corporate thing. You start needing more management. You start getting things like one group not getting along with another group. 30 is perfect because it allows you to see everybody every day and for you to know everyone and vice versa. At Runic Games, we just have one big office. There aren't any private offices or cubicles. We have meetings just by turning around and talking to each other."
With a shrug, he added. "We won't have the bigger power of Blizzard but that's a sacrifice we're willing to make."