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From being the king of cRPGs during his Interplay days, to leading the vanguard of the RPG Renaissance at the helm of inXile, it's hard to overstate Brian Fargo's impact on the spreadsheet and story corner of the video games industry. However, between being a part of both Fallout and Baldur's Gate, and having the greatly successful Kickstarter campaign for Wasteland 2, Brian Fargo had to make a lot of deals just to keep his new company afloat. This PCGamesN article documents those efforts that include selling the Wizardry license off to Japan, playing a part in Bethesda's acquisition of Fallout, and even making a bunch of mobile games.
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“I have a horrible resume,” Fargo tells us. “Two jobs.”
The first was at Interplay, which he founded and built into one of the preeminent games publishers of the ‘90s. Fallout, Redneck Rampage, Earthworm Jim: if there is something offbeat you remember fondly from that era, there is a good chance that Interplay paid for it to be made.
But by the turn of the century Fargo was tiring of his first job. “I was doing anything but product development,” he recalls. “It was all dealing with investors, corporate fighting, managing morale, trying to find strategic partners. I wasn’t very happy.”
And so he left. Fargo lasted all of three months on the couch. He organised his CD collection. He played a lot of games. But by the time E3 rolled around, the workaholic CEO was ready to get back to it. He and Matt Findley, who later served as inXile’s president, attended without any company or job titles to put on their badges. And so Fargo gave himself a rather melodramatic title in reference to his departure from Interplay: ‘Leader in Exile’. By the end of the show, strangers were hunting him down for his business card. “We’re onto something here,” Fargo thought. inXile was born.
Game development teams are often thrown together hurriedly around a new contract, but inXile started slowly. Fargo picked staffers he knew and trusted. Findley was one. Another was Maxx Kauffman, who he had seen do great work on Redneck Rampage.
“I brought them together,” Fargo says. “But then it became, ‘OK, what are we going to do here?’. And this struggle to find a business model took nearly a decade.”
That jokey card title was proving prophetic. In 2002, the ground was shifting beneath the feet of RPG developers. There was very little publisher interest in PC games. With Steam still years off, the digital sales business did not exist. And those contracts that did exist were mostly reserved for studios that were already well-established.
Fargo kept the lights on by “hustling around.” He attempted, without success, to win the Baldur’s Gate 3 license from Infogrames. He sold the Wizardry franchise off to Japan, where it continues to this day. For a short while, Fargo and a friend co-owned half the rights to GTA for Game Boy.
“We both did very well by selling it back to Take-Two,” he says.
Fargo often sympathised with the publishers he was pitching to, since he had sat in their chair. But sometimes the rebuttals he got seemed nonsensical. A new Wasteland game was turned down by a company that said it preferred to have series that people had never heard of before. “What’s the upside of that?,” he asks.
Sometimes, inXile would get close to making the games they wanted to make. For a while they worked on a game for Codemasters called Hei$t, which Fargo describes as a single-player version of Payday.
“It was all Quentin Tarantino dialogue, and they really wouldn’t let us finish it,” he says. “Christian Slater and Clancy Brown were in it. We had a great cast. That was a product I wish we could have finished properly and come out with.”
Even Hunted, a fantasy take on Gears of War that inXile saw through to the end, came with a dramatic comedown. At the peak of development, the company swelled to 70 people, and afterwards shrank right down to 13.
“Persistence is just everything,” Fargo says. “I would have months upon months of bad news. Of just nothing working out. Something going sideways, pitches that you thought were going to happen, contracts that blew up at the last minute, products that didn’t work. You’ve got to strap on and be ready for bad news all the time.
“And you know, I’m human, it gets you down. But guess what, the next morning it gets your ass up out of bed and you find some way to make it happen. That’s what you do.”
Despite Fargo’s doggedness, a decade of scrambling for work had taken its toll. If you had attended his GDC China 2011 keynote, you would have heard a former RPG developer suggest the genre he loved might be over. Fargo was not enjoying working for other people, and there was no reason to believe things would change. inXile could not know that an incredible upturn was just around the corner.
On March 13th, 2012, the Kickstarter page for Wasteland 2 went live - a hail mary with no back-up plan. Fargo poured a decade of frustrations into the pitch video, culminating in a pastiche publisher meeting in which he attempted to persuade a child in a suit to fund the sequel.
Those frustrations, not to mention the dream of a classic-style isometric RPG, resonated with fans - and have kept resonating since. Torment: Tides of Numenera proved it was repeatable. This was the business model Fargo had been looking for. Since then, inXile have made a habit of over-delivering, sinking extra money into their Kickstarter projects, and checking more than the minimum boxes promised. They have generated enough goodwill that their next few years are already accounted for, with both Wasteland 3 and Bard’s Tale IV comfortably crowdfunded.
What’s more, inXile have become a known name. Kickstarter development needed a face, and Fargo - a man who understood the business from both sides, and could happily explain the ins and outs to a journalist on Skype for an hour - became that face.
Fellow developers who had been discretely chasing the same contracts over the decade Fargo now calls the “Dark Ages” would now call him for advice on their own campaigns.
“I was a complete open book,” he says. “I told them everything.”
Now, a community of classic RPG developers - inXile, Obsidian, Harebrained, Larian - routinely promote each other’s work. For the first time perhaps ever, the genre now looks like a scene, supportive and excited for the future. The way Fargo tells it, this is another, friendlier form of hustle.