Ars Technica has given us a brief history lesson on Runic Games and their indie action RPG Torchlight, with added commentary from the company's "minister of culture", Wonder Russell.
The first question was a simple one: why ship a top-down loot fest such as Torchlight without multiplayer? The answer goes back to how Runic Games formed, and where the game is headed, along with an interesting culture at the developer that rewards playability. It starts with the closure of Flagship Studios, and the subsequent loss of all the IP that developer was working on. In the case of the team that would become Runic Games, they lost Mythos, a free-to-play MMO, right before it went into open beta.
"To lose a game you've worked on for years like that is heartbreaking, so first priority for us as a new team was simple: ship a game," Russell explained. The founders of the company had worked on both Diablo and Fate, so they knew this genre inside and out it was a natural fit. Sticking to single-player meant that they could focus on one thing and deliver it with a high degree of polish.
So they wanted something fast, in the vein of Diablo, but it had to be good. Those requirements rarely add up to anything worthwhile, but the strategy for creating the game left a lot of room for iteration. "The MO at Runic is to 'always have a playable build.' The game has been essentially playable weeks after its inception, and so everyone can play and comment and tweak we have constant, daily iterations of the game, so playtesting really began a year ago and has only ramped up since then with our hardworking QA team," Russell told Ars. They also invited the friends and family of the developers to come in and play to make sure the game was fun for the more casual fans. The goal was simple: to make the game fun to play, even if that meant focusing on single-player.