Last week, I had a chance to speak with Max Schaefer, the CEO of the newly formed Runic Games. Schaefer is a Blizzard veteran, having played a major role in the creation of Diablo, Diablo II, and Warcraft III before moving to Flagship Studios and producing Hellgate London and the free-to-play action-RPG Mythos.
With Flagship Studios gone, and the Hellgate London and Mythos IPs moved to new owners, Runic Games is hard at work on a secret new project that will be a spiritual successor to Mythos, itself a spiritual successor to Diablo. In my correspondence with Schaefer, I learned exclusive first details about his upcoming (still untitled) action-RPG, the challenges facing independent developers in a shaky global economy, and his anticipation of Blizzard's own Diablo III. It's a great, informative read for any fan of Diablo, Mythos, Blizzard, or the action-RPG genre.
GamePro: So how is life at Runic? What's it like out there for an upstart young developer in this typhoon of an economy?
Schaefer: These are tough times for any developer, especially small, independent ones. We've been able to establish a good, strong partnership with a publisher so we're one of the lucky ones. Given the state of things, however, we're watching every penny, and developing with an extra sense of urgency and effort.
Mythos never made it past a beta stage, but Runic's new game will pick up where Mythos left off.
GamePro: Regarding Mythos, it sounds like that project now belongs to the ages. What is Runic Games working on now? Is it in the spirit of Mythos?
Schaefer: We've begun work on a game that is very much in the spirit of Mythos. We're starting from absolute scratch, of course, but we're still committed to the idea of an easy to play, action-RPG. This time we plan to start with a single-player version, and then expand to an MMO.
GamePro: Does Runic consider itself to primarily be a PC developer? Is there any potential interest in something like Xbox Live or PSN?
Schaefer: We are primarily a PC developer, but we still have interest in other platforms. Right now, however, the PC is the best platform for us, and is still the best option for games where you might want to chat with other people. Secretly, however, we'd love to do an iPhone version!
GamePro: I've heard only a few details about your latest project, but it sounds like a free-to-play model with microtransactions. Do you expect to release it on store shelves as well? What steps have you taken to evolve in the face of the changing PC game market?
Schaefer: That is correct. We love this model for MMOs for a lot of reasons, among them that people can play the game and decide if they like it or not at no cost at all. We fully expect a good portion of our players to never pay a penny. Those who want to speed things up or buy extras for their characters can do at their discretion. Done properly this is a fantastic way to run an MMO.
Like I mentioned above, we also plan to a single player version first, though. This will be sold at a low price point, and primarily available by digital download. We'll probably get boxes on shelves as well -- we'd like to get it as widely available as possible.
GamePro: What's the style of the new universe you're working in? Will it have the "softer" look of Mythos, or do you think it'll lean towards the darker, gorier look of Diablo? Are you forming any seeds for a storyline?
Schaefer: It will have a more light-hearted look and feel than Diablo, and be like Mythos in that respect but with a very different style. We have a rough storyline worked out, one that will have your character adventuring in all kinds of cool places. We'll fill in the story details as we go, however.
GamePro: Do you expect to follow the same basic gameplay guidelines that you laid out in the Diablo games and Mythos? Action-RPG, multiple character classes, skill trees?
Schaefer: Yes. We're constantly tweaking this formula, but it's one that works and it's one that people are familiar with. Plus, it's what we're good at.
This story, "Runic Games CEO Speaks" was originally published by GamePro.