Interview: Supergiant Games' Greg Kasavin on Bastion, Part 2

Kasavain picks up the chat to discuss the business of being on XBLA and Steam.

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For part two of our interview, Greg dissects the business side of things, including dealing with Microsoft, Valve's Steam service, and pricing structures.

Switching over to the business/marketing side, one of the comments over at Major Nelson when the game went live was, “This game looks like a masterpiece, but I'll wait for a price drop.” Respond to that.

What can I say, right? That's a tough one. That, uh, that makes us sad, I guess, but I understand because the price drops do happen. I can't speak to the value of people's money. Like, $15 is worth more to some people than others. I certainly understand some people have to be selective with their spending these days.

It's interesting because some guys are real hardliners between the $15 and the $10 price point. They'll never buy a Xbox Live Arcade game for 1200 MS Points ($15). I feel bad for those people because they're missing out on so many great games. That's just a fraction of what full retail games cost.

In our case, we aimed to make a game that's longer than your average $60 first-person shooter. The feedback we've received said Bastion is better than most $60 retail games. I think there is still a prejudice that comes with downloadable games for some people. They're like, “This game costs less therefore it's not as good.”

For people actively playing stuff like that, they know that's not true. For them, they know downloadable games are some of the best and most creative of this generation and it's even better that they cost less money.

bastion7.jpgI'd be willing to say the Live Arcade has the best games this generation so far.

I really think so as well. I think downloadable titles have been a silver lining on a generation that has been sort of a bleak hardware cycle where a lot of good studios have shut down and there have been rampant lay-offs for two years now.

All of that stuff is pretty scary, but instead you're getting these smaller teams bubbling up and making some pretty cool stuff. We feel we're following in the footsteps of those studios who have come before us, those who made Braid and Castle Crashers which were made by very few people but were high quality games.

So, Dungeon Siege III has come out which is an action RPG, but on the Live Arcade, you have Bastion and Torchlight. Dungeon Siege is $60, Bastion and Torchlight are only $30 combined. How can a casual market stay away from buying the two for $30 and letting the $60 one fall to the wayside? Is that a problem with the industry in general?

Ultimately, I think this type of competition is good for customers. Prices are dropping and quality is going up. It does create a challenging environment for some developers as prices approach zero, which I think is something that has been popularized on iOS. You can get some pretty great games for $0. If, over time, the expectation takes hold that games should cost nothing, that would certainly be problematic.

Some have cracked that with free-to-play business models, but that model is not compatible for every type of game. In a game like Bastion which has a fixed amount of content with a beginning, a middle, and an end but it's not based around a grind, the free-to-play model would not make sense. Personally, for $15, the game was a great deal and I'm glad we didn't charge any less for that.

Even with a team of only seven people, we still need that kind of money and a sufficient amount of sales in order to keep making games independently. This project was self-funded. We don't want to take money from publishers so we can keeping making games our own way.

The industry is changing a lot and prices are continuing to drop. I think the guys who are charging $60, they're probably the most nervous. I would be if I were them. That's part of the reason we're not doing that anymore, myself and the co-founders of the studio worked at Electronic Arts, one of our engineers used to work at Infinity Ward, so we've been there. Those games are under tremendous pressure to deliver both the content and the quality that these small downloadable games are not capable of.

bastion3.jpgSummer of Arcade was surely a boon to Bastion, but two questions on that topic. One, how did you get into the Summer of Arcade, did Microsoft approach you or did you approach Microsoft? And two, do you think Bastion would have done as well were it not for that promo?

Both of those are pretty easy to answer. I'm sure Bastion's success was aided by being in the Summer of Arcade. It's obviously impossible to prove how it would have gone otherwise, but the Summer of Arcade has had a great track record over the years so I have every reason to think that by being a part of it and being the first game, that gave it an increased level of awareness it wouldn't have had otherwise. It got more people to try it and ultimately pick it up. I've already mentioned Braid and Castle Crashers, so to follow in their footsteps is an honor.

As far as how we got in, it's a straightforward submission process via our publisher. There was a certain deadline in which we had to submit the game, certain materials for it, we send it off, and we don't hear anything for a long time. They start telling the people who don't get in; it's a process of elimination.

Very shortly before they make the public announcement of who got in, we find out that, in fact, we did. It's very black box, not a negotiation or anything. We figured it was going to be super competitive and we had no assumptions that we would be selected. The things we could control, like the quality of the game and the timing of the submission we're done. Past that, it's hoping for the best.

Onto the PC version that just came out, there is the addition of the Portal turrets. Did Valve ask you to add them or did you just do it to do it?

It's more of the latter. It came up as a possibility while talking to Valve about bringing the game to Steam since the game released a little while after the 360 version. We didn't want the PC version to feel like it was a runt.

We wanted PC players who had been waiting for it feel like it was worth it, so we spent the time after the 360 version getting it ready. It took additional work, both on the control side and some other features, and the turrets were an easy way to pay homage to what is easily one of the best games this year [Portal 2].

bastionsteam.jpgBetween Microsoft and Valve or PC and console, what are the differences in getting published?

That's hard to say. With any console they have a series of technical standards that are specific to that console that are not the same on PC. So, one of the key differences is that Valve does not have people who test your game and make sure it's compliant with everyone's PC.

Microsoft puts everything through a rigorous test to make sure it works with Xbox 360 standards. PCs are a more open platform for better and for worse.

In that respect, it can be easier to get a game out on PC. Microsoft works directly with the publisher where Valve works directly with the developer. In our case, we wanted our game to be on console and PC.

We had a pretty good sense of what those differences were going to be. On the 360, you're not dealing with a guy who doesn't have a compatible graphics card.

No expansions or DLC is planned for Bastion?

No, we have no plans to extend the game in that way. As I was saying before, we held nothing back. It's meant to be a complete story, so there are no obvious extensions. We of course intend to continue supporting the game and I guess you could call something like the Portal turrets DLC. We'll continue looking at things like that which we could do, but that's it.

Open forum. Anything you wanted to address that I missed or something you need to announce?

Well, we're probably going to go dark here in the sense that our game is out there and whatever we do next probably isn't going to happen for a while. People who are interested in what we've done so far and want to know what's coming next can keep an eye on our Twitter feed @supergiantgames because that's where we post all of our news. Whenever we have something to talk about, it's going to be there.

We're happy about the response Bastion has received so far. The game is very much an expression of our values as a team so I hope that whatever we go on to do after this has those key characteristics: a strong sense of atmosphere and something that can be enjoyed from moment to moment. It also has to have something deeper beneath the surface both narratively and from a gameplay perspective. That's the type of stuff we care about.

Thanks Greg!

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Matt Paprocki is a 13-year veteran of the video game, movie, and home media scene. He has written thousands of reviews, has been published on a variety of websites, and contributes his thoughts daily on a diverse range of topics.

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