Interview: Jeff Vogel On Bundles, Graphics And Pessimism

By John Walker on July 17th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Jeff Vogel is the man behind Spiderweb Software, the studio that recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary of creating rich, deep RPGs. As a week-long Humble sale draws to a close tomorrow, we dragged Jeff away from writing content for Avadon 2 to talk about the amazing success of the sale and how it will put his kids through college, the changing nature of selling indie games over the years, and how feedback affects the RPGs he creates. You might also be surprised to learn whether he’d opt for flashier graphics if he could.

RPS: At the time of writing, you’ve sold over 33,000 copies of your bundle, raising nearly $155,000, with two days to go. Have you ever had such a profitable week before?

Vogel: Nope. This is the record, by a wide margin. We’re shocked. I honestly though it would do less than a third of that. I am hugely grateful. It makes us feel liked, and it’s always great to feel liked.

RPS: Did you have any hopes in mind before it started, maybe target you were aiming for?

Vogel: I’ve learned over the last two decades to try not to have expectations. Things are so super unpredictable. There are so many factors and so many moving parts that go into how something will be received. That said, I always try to be cynical and pessimistic, and I though the Humble Bundle would be nice and pleasant and a good bonus and not set the world on fire. I can’t remember when I’ve been more surprised.

RPS: Have you been able to look away from the Humble site and the live numbers rolling in?

Vogel: I let myself look twice a day. Once when I get up, Once when I go to bed. I’ve developed a lot of rules and guidelines over the years to stay sane. One of them is that I exercise iron discipline and let myself know how my games are selling as little as possible. My employees are forbidden from telling me anything about sales. It never does me any good to know how my games are doing. If the news is good, I don’t feel good. If the news is bad, I feel terrible. So I have spent the Humble Bundle days doing what I always do: writing dialogue for Avadon 2: The Corruption.

RPS: That’s extraordinarily disciplined! You’ve taken a variety of different approaches to pricing your games, with quite high fixed prices on your own website, and cheaper options on outlets like Steam. Has taking part in a pay-what-you-want sale changed how you might approach pricing things in future?

Vogel: Nope. This is how indie games (well, all computer games) are sold these days: Full price for a couple months. Then ratchet the price down fast. First 50% off, then 75% off, then bundle pricing. It’s how we use every part of the buffalo. I believe that letting your game be in a bundle on the first day of release would be a colossal mistake, but not as big as never dropping the price at all. But this is key: The low prices are always for temporary sales. The low prices are never ever permanent. That is how you maintain the value of your back catalog.

RPS: Spiderweb has been going an for amazing twenty years, and clearly has a large following of dedicated fans. But from my perspective, the last couple of years have seen perceptions change from a quite niche specialist developer, to a broader appeal. Why do you think this is happening now? Is it simply reaching new audiences through online retailers and devices like tablets, or do you think there’s also a new appetite for meaty RPGs out there?

Vogel: I think the demand has always been there, but I just didn’t have a big enough microphone. Single player story-driven RPGs are one of the oldest, most beloved, evergreen computer game genres. The biggest frustration for me, over the years, is that I’ve known there are hordes out there who wanted to at least try my games, but I didn’t have the PR muscle to reach them. Steam changed everything for everyone. It certainly changed my life. The Humble Bundle is also fantastic, for the way it lets anyone, for a tiny price, try games and genres they would never have otherwise. That alone makes the Humble Bundle great for the industry.

RPS: You’ve resisted changing your game design from the top-down, relatively simple layout to the more detailed environments that appear in most contemporary RPGs. What’s the reasoning behind that?

Vogel: It’s an interesting question, because it makes an unstated assumption that the qualities of modern RPGs are superior. And they are. To some people. But indie games over the last years has showed us that there is a hunger for all sorts of presentations. Look at the stunning rise in popularity of more simple 8-bit graphic games over the last few years. A lot of those simple-looking games were hits!

RPS: There really wasn’t the assumption that the higher fidelity games are superior! Graphically, sure, but beyond that it can make little difference in the genre.

Vogel: There is room for a lot of different art styles in the industry, so I go with the thing that I personally like and that I can afford.

RPS: Are there advantages you find to the presentation you use, beyond whatever money it might save. Do you think it affords you or the player advantages too?

Vogel: To tell the truth, outside of a clean appearance, I don’t think there’s a lot of advantages. I mean, it looks good for what it is. Don’t get me wrong… I am not immune to the appeal of nice graphics. If I had a AAA budget and team and the ability to make something super-shiny, I would totally be into that. It’s just not really an option for me. So I just like to appreciate the nice things about my work without deluding myself into thinking it’s something it’s plainly not.

Also, one key point. I could blow every penny I own, and I would never be able to match Skyrim or Dragon Age in appearance. I’ve seen so many people play this game before. They have a simple indie game, work like dogs and spend piles of cash to make it look as good as it can, and then get instantly dismissed as “Not as good looking as Skyrim.” It’s just not a game I choose to play. I really need to get a real sound designer, though.

RPS: How would you say the immediacy of customer feedback has affected your experience releasing games? Presumably twenty years ago, when releasing an epic RPG, it was a very different process.

Vogel: I pay huge attention to player feedback, but for the next game. While I am writing a game, I only listen to feedback from a small, elite cadre of friends, testers, and wife. When you’re in the weeds, I think it is very important to limit the number of voices in your head. But once the game is done, it’s open season!

RPS: Has feedback affected the development of Avadon 2 in a way that previous series woudn’t have received? Or do you blank it out and focus on the project you want to create?

Vogel: Oh, I listened to feedback a lot for Avadon 2. People thought Avadon’s beginning was too dry and uninteresting, and they were right. They wanted male and female icons for each character class. They wanted the interesting action to start sooner. They wanted better graphics. (And we did spend quite a bit of money putting a lot of new art into Avadon 2.) They wanted more decisions to make and different endings to experience. And I’ve been trying to answer all of those criticisms, and, honestly, I’m doing pretty good. But then there will be many complaints about Avadon 2. And I’ll work those into Avadon 3.

RPS: Talking of Avadon 2, what exciting tidbits of information can you give us about it? What should we most be looking forward to?

Vogel: It’s got a really cool story, and the tale is intertwined into the gameplay much more smoothly. I’ve really tried to make every major quest and dungeon have some hook or unique element or new thing for more variety and strategy and fun. It’s taken a lot more time to write Avadon 2 (2 years, a personal record), and there’s a lot of fun stuff in it. I’m really proud of it, and I can’t wait to see what people think.

Here’s the thing about the Avadon games. I know some people think they’re too different from what I’ve done before. But when the more complex fights start, Avadon is the game I’ve written that I personally enjoy playing most. I honestly find it to be a lot of fun.

RPS: In light of the financial success of the bundle, will that have any effect on the development of future games, perhaps open new opportunities, or simply mean less worry for the next utility bill?

Vogel: I don’t think it will make a big difference. I’m getting older and slower and a little burned out, so I’ll keep writing games, just not at the frenetic pace I have been since the mid-nineties. All the money will probably go to buying college for my kids. Which is totally awesome, but it won’t change my life so much in the day to day.

RPS: What do you think new indies can learn from the tales of Spiderweb?

Vogel: I think that if there is anything I want people to learn from my example, it’s that there are a lot of ways to be in this business, a lot of way to fund, design, and create a game. People always have their ideas about how games should be made, and I ignore them. I do my own thing. I made up my own process, and I encourage others to do the same.

For example, if I have a really nice icon of a wolf, I’ll use that for four games. Why shouldn’t I? It still looks nice! This sort of reuse is anathema these days, and I think that’s a shame. I’m a thrifty guy. I do what it takes to get the thing over the finish line, on time and under budget. Any suggestion that interferes with that is discarded without mercy.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Vogel: Oh, and one more time, so many thanks to Humble Bundle and to all the people who supported it. I feel truly honored.

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89 Comments »

  1. frightlever says:

    Always interesting to hear from this guy, but he really has changed his tune. Only a few years ago he seemed, if not anti-Steam, certainly indifferent to it. He was all about maintaining the price of his games and didn’t like the discounting philosophy at all. Guess he’s a convert now. Regardless, the bundle is about 400 hours or so of gaming for buttons. If you’re ever snowed in over winter without internet access, there’s your entertainment right there.

    • gschmidl says:

      It’s great when people can see they’re wrong/misguided/mistaken/whatever you want to call it, and adapt accordingly, and get successes out of that. It happens way too seldomly.

    • malkav11 says:

      As I recall, it basically came out of two things – first, he finally got onto Steam, which dramatically raises visibility for an indie developer, and they suggested based on their data that, at least on their service, he would do a lot better with a lower price, not to mention periodic sales. Secondly, he wanted to expand onto iPad, and the price expectations there mean that there is absolutely no way he would have gotten away with his usual prices for that version. I think we can assume that Valve’s advice and iPad presence are both paying off.

    • briktal says:

      Yeah

      “But from my perspective, the last couple of years have seen perceptions change from a quite niche specialist developer, to a broader appeal. Why do you think this is happening now?”

      Because you can buy a whole series of 5 or 6 games for what it used to cost to buy one of the games.

    • Rizlar says:

      Got the impression that his old no-reduction pricing strategy was more of a business plan than a personal conviction. So it doesn’t seem too surprising that he has changed his tune, I’m just glad he is seeing more money coming in and more people playing his games!

      • Archonsod says:

        He’s never been anti-Steam,, he has however been risk averse. His argument was that the people buying games on Steam were different to those buying direct from him (which would be pretty much accurate, since Steam lacked OSX and Linux support at the time), and since he couldn’t see how he could compete effectively on Steam he was unwilling to abandon a working system in order to try an unknown, which seems a perfectly reasonable argument when you have bills to pay.

        Same with the pricing – he’s always accepted lower prices would result in higher sales, however since he’s always had a somewhat pessimistic view of Spiderweb’s profile the argument has always been that they’d be unlikely to see enough sales at the lower price to recoup the loss from the higher price.

    • pupsikaso says:

      In the past, when he first started selling these games, it was a very different time. There was no steam, no humble bundles. The problem in the past was visibility, or like he says himself, he was having trouble reaching out to all the people that would want to play his game.

      So in that situation of course it made no sense to decrease the price. Sure you could do it and gain a small amount of more sales, but it wouldn’t account for total sales because your games wouldn’t be any more visible than they were.

      But now with steam and all the other distribution methods like the humble bundle, what you have is a HUGE boost to visibility. In this situation that we are now it becomes reversed – it now makes no sense to keep prices as high as they are when you have so many more people seeing your game.

      But one other very important thing that he points out is to keep the value in your games catalogue. These lower prices are only temporary, whereas the permenant price remains moderate. This is important to keep your game’s value. Because when the sale does come, you are still looking for games that give the most value for the buck. So when you see one of the valuable games on sale you will want to buy it. But if his games are always low priced then they lose that value. I mean, how much of a sale can you really have on a game that is already something like $5 anyway?

  2. slerbal says:

    Lovely – glad to hear the Humble Weekly Sale has done so well for him – it certainly allowed me to pick up the rest of his games I otherwise wouldn’t have. I think he has a very pragmatic attitude. Good luck to him and I hope Avadon 2 does really well :)

  3. Unrein says:

    However I try, I just cannot get past the presentation of these games. Lo-fi is fine, but you gotta have some style. These graphics look like they’re from some bland Windows 95 -era Shareware game.

    But graphics aside, these games are a great achievement in indie RPGs. Kudos on their success!

    • briktal says:

      Well, the first games were Windows 95-era shareware games.

      • Unrein says:

        Just wish they hadn’t stuck with it to 2013. Not that it’s really the time that matters, but like I said – the style pushes me away. Not that Jeff will be crying bitter tears of remorse on his way back from the bank, moneybags in tow, on my account…

        • Niko says:

          Not as good as Skyrim, then?

          • wisnoskij says:

            Skyrim is mostly bland, but hi-fi.
            But even Skyrim (which is known for BAD graphics) has more style than Spiderweb.

          • Jim Rossignol says:

            Yes, that is what it is known for.

          • Nick says:

            I saw a Skyrim the other day, disgusting graphics.

          • pupsikaso says:

            I think what wisnoskij and Nick are trying to say here is that Skyrim looks bland, and washed out. Everything is saturated with grey, and not that it has bad “graphics”. Why the designers decided that this is how the game should look like is beyond me. Maybe they’ve never lived in any Northern, colder regions of the Earth and only seen it in bad movies.

            It takes 3rd party mods like the FXAA injector in order to adjust the colours and make the game actually look vibrant and beautiful. But in its vanilla form Skyrim does look rather dreadful.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            I think Nick was making a mudcrab joke though. Not entirely sure he thinks it’s disgusting.

    • JFS says:

      Wouldn’t be half as bad if he had actual sound and a better user interface (which in my opinion is the largest problem of his games – they’re super fiddly).

  4. gunny1993 says:

    I have never heard of this man or his games …. but i like his balls… make that 33,001

  5. Swanny says:

    I’m getting into his games for the first time because of the bundle, and they’re amazing. I’ll be paying full price for Avadon 2, as well. Good on him for making isometric RPG when no one else would.

    • Keyrock says:

      There are also the Eschalon games by Basilisk Games, with Book I & II already out, and Book III on the way. There is a lot of overlap in the fanbase of Spiderweb and Basilisk Games.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Spiderweb’s writing (and I think battle system) is vastly superior to Eschalon. Eschalon is an isometric dungeon runner. Spiderweb has living, breathing worlds with tons of prose and interesting moral conflicts.

        • Harrington says:

          Yeah, I’d agree. I bought Book 1 way back when (2007?), and it was fine, but to be honest I’d completely forgotten about it until I saw the post above. It didn’t grab me at all in the way that Spiderweb’s games usually have.

        • frightlever says:

          Not to pile on to Eschalon, but I found them a bit too min-maxy – an argument that could be levelled at the earlier Spiderweb games for sure – insofar as you do not want to misjudge your skill selection if you hope to survive the opening areas.

  6. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Has this guy ever really used publishers? Maybe it’s why he’s still at it and doesn’t seem to be slowing down or growing jaded.

  7. Cryptoshrimp says:

    It’s good to hear he’ll be taking some of the critque Avadon garnered, and adressng it. Hopefully, Avadon 2 will be a better game for it.

    • Continuity says:

      Avadon wasn’t bad by any means, but he did step away from some of his previous design choices and many fans didn’t like the change. I’ll be very interested to see where he takes Avadon 2, but for my money the high point of Jeff’s work is still Exlie 3.

      • 2gudtoulouse says:

        I agree, although there is a lot of nostalgic bias there for me. I’m playing through Avernum: Escape from the Pit (Exile 1 remake remake) and I really hope that he gets around to making “Avernum: Ruined World” (which would be an Exile 3 remake remake).

        Exile 3 was the first game I ever bought and it took me about 8 years until I actually finished it, there’s so much lore, so many dungeons and encounters and being on the surface just made the game beautiful (at least, compared to the other games).

        Jeff mentioning that he’s slowing down makes me worry that I might be waiting a long time (or indefinitely) for the Exile 3 remake remake though. :s

  8. PopeRatzo says:

    Why should his kids be the ones to get to go to college?

  9. revan says:

    Loved his games for quiet some time now. They’re nothing to look at – although his latest remake of Avernum really has some lovely isometric graphics, especially if you grew up on Infinity Engine games and love that style of presentation – but where he truly shines are the descriptions of various situations and environments. Those walls of text really pull you into his world, much better than any amount of shiny graphics.

    While Avadon isn’t as unique as Geneforge or even Avernum, there is still some great stuff in this game and the world. You just have to tough out that first dry spell. Afterwards it really pulls you in. Haven’t bought his bundle because I’ve picked up all his games from GOG.com. Nevertheless, I’m really glad they are selling so well. I recommend picking these titles to anyone who is in love with old school cRPG and doesn’t mind the lack in the graphics department.

    • InternetBatman says:

      That’s good to hear. I’m a recent convert to Spiderweb, I played the Geneforge Series and Avernum Escape from the Pit, but I never quite got into Avadon.

      • revan says:

        Yeah. I understand you completely. First few areas really start to grate after a while. It’s kind of like a book with a dreary beginning turning out to be great after those first hundred or so pages. I haven’t actually finished Avadon yet (lack of time, work, life, you know the drill) but I’m near the end. Best of all: Vogel seems to be addressing all my gripes with the original in the sequel. So it is safe to assume I’ll be visiting Lynaeus again.

      • mouton says:

        Avadon does have its share of bland, especially in the beginning, but the setting is deliciously morally ambiguous (as usual for spiderweb, it’s just different flavor – being an enforcer for a confederacy of nations which, while deeply flawed and corrupt, is the only thing the prevents terrible chaos and bloodshed on the continent), the story is actually quite interesting – although for most of the game you are totally in the dark about it – and a lot of fights are quite fun and challenging. No regrets for spending all those hours on it, played it on Torment too.

  10. wisnoskij says:

    I don’t think I really agree with him on the graphical front. There are a lot fo amazing, better than Skyrim, indie games out there that I really do not think cost loads more cash or time to develop than some of the others.
    You can look amazing on a budget.

    Also, you think he would show some interest in designing something different. A new perspective, a new genre, or just another section of the strategy CRPG genre.

    • pupsikaso says:

      No, the whole point is that he is serving that audience that wants nothing more than the good, ol’ old school classic cRPGs. He is able to make a living because he grabbed this piece of the market by the balls before anyone else could and has held on tight for dear life.

      In a way, that’s almost the same as what the “AAA” studious are doing now, but the difference here is that Jeff believes that there is a market for any kind of games, and those old genres that used to exist but are now considered “dead” buy people in business suits are still viable for people like himself to make a good living. He found a piece of that market for himself, and urges that others can do the same.

    • kalirion says:

      Ok, which indie games have better graphics than Skyrim and a world as large and full of content as the typical Spiderweb game?

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Not better graphics, perhaps, but Miasmata looks pretty nice and was made by two dudes as far as I recall.

        I don’t think there is any major problems with Spiderwebs games looking as they do though. The focus is obviously not on graphics and I’ve no beef with that. In fact I bought the bundle on Monday and I’m looking forward to getting to play them.

        Anyone can recommend a good place to start?

        • jrodman says:

          Miasmata has a vastly smaller scope, as do most indie games (for good reason!)

          You could probably turn out slightly better isometric art direction, but building a world of the scale of the spiderweb games with modern tools and more love on the art detail would require scaling back the explorable parts severely, or a fair amount more money than they currently spend on it.

          But i think part of this comes down to the paradoxical fact that churning out lots of handmade bitmaps is sometimes more costly than 3d tools.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            True. I wasn’t implying that Miasmata was on the same scale as Skyrim. It was just to show that small teams can make graphically good games but as you say they have to scope for it.

            I’m perfectly willing to trade graphical fidelity for mechanics and story.

            And frankly, I just loaded Avadon up for a bit. It’s not a graphical marvel but it looks decent and the graphics serve their purpose and makes it easy to figure out what is going on.

  11. Jockie says:

    I need to pick this up, keep bloody forgetting. I basically played the crap out of Exile 1-3 and Blades when I was too young to actually afford games, shareware was a wonderful thing for me as a kid as we only had a Mac which had a very limited catalogue (incidentally – anyone remember Realmz?).

    I totally skipped Geneforge though and have only played the Avernum remake from his latest crop of games. At the very least I should pick up Avadon.

    • Harrington says:

      Realmz! Oh god. I had a never ending supply of Mac shareware CDs (remember those? All with generic titles like Great Adventure Games for MAC) and they all seemed to have a handful of Spiderweb games and, well, Realmz. I still remember that godawful sound effect from when your party ate…you’d be walking through the wilderness and CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH at max volume.

      You should pick up Avadon. It’s very good.

    • Keyrock says:

      You skipped his best work then, the Geneforge series is the pinnacle of Jeff Vogel’s library.

      • Jockie says:

        There’s no such thing as skipped in this day and age, I prefer to think of them as part of my ‘as-yet-unpurchased backlog’ (even though I’m the one who said skipped first).

        I am going to send myself an e-mail or something so I remember to buy this this evening.

      • 2gudtoulouse says:

        Really? I played a lot of Exile 1-3 as a kid, then tried Avadon when I heard about that and know basically nothing about the other series, can you elaborate for me?

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Realmz, yeah that was probably my first experience with a crpg. The stats, the options, inventory management, spells, quests, dialogue! Definitely one of the games that made me.

    • Eldiran says:

      Heck yeah, Realmz! I’m glad other people remember that game too. I spent tons of time tromping around Bywater, beating up giant spiders and giant snakes and giant bees and giant centipedes and giant…

  12. wisnoskij says:

    The graphics have kept me away. Honestly, on a budget of $0 most indie games manage to produce beautiful graphics.

    OK, he does not want to go hi-fi, I can understand that, but at least go good looking lo-fi. And if he cannot produce good looking 1995 computer graphics, than make something that looks like FF 4.

    • InternetBatman says:

      16 bit graphics are a faddish style just as much as anything else. As someone who’s been making these games for years, he has to worry about supporting and updating art once it’s been made.

      Also, there are several very significant problems with using a JRPG art style, not the least of which is looking like an RPGmaker game, thus making it harder for fans to determine quality.

    • Nick says:

      I’m sure he’ll cope without you, somehow.

    • frightlever says:

      Um. Many of those beautiful indie games last 4-6 hours and take a year to develop. He can spend his time and resources working on the story, which is what attracts his playerbase, or on graphics, where he will never be able to compete. It’s right there in the (F) article.

    • AngusPrune says:

      I don’t care about the graphics, but what always gets me is the awful, awful interface. Graphics cost money, I get it, but the user interface is something that any game with a half decent programmer ought to be good at.

      I don’t really know the history, but playing the Spiderweb games give me the impression of a programmer who got his start on Apple machines with one button mice, and never really adapted to era when a mouse has three buttons and a scroll wheel as standard. It’s pretty damn hard to concentrate on the story when you’re constantly taken out of the world by having to interact with it in such a frustrating way.

      Perhaps the tablet versions are better, I haven’t played them so I couldn’t comment, but I’d really like to see some improvement in the PC versions.

      • FriendGaru says:

        When you think about it, he has actually been very well served by sticking to that one button mouse design philosophy. Until human hands have mouse wheels integrated into them and tablets can distinguish between being touched by the index or middle finger, developing interfaces for tablets seems to be pretty similar to one button mouse interfaces. I haven’t played the iPad versions of any of his games, but playing Avadon and Avernum on the PC I definitely feel like they would play pretty much the same way if I were using my finger instead of a cursor.

      • AngusPrune says:

        Only if you’re an exceptionally poor and unimaginative UI designer. Even out of the box, tablets use a long press to do what the right mouse button would do on a PC.

        Gestures, drags,, multiple finger presses or weight of the press, length and context are all tools available to the tablet UI designer. Most tablet games are pretty good at realising this, But like I said, I haven’t played these games on a tablet, so I can’t comment on how well they cope with it.

      • briktal says:

        I think he’s pretty much always had Mac versions of his games.

    • Rizlar says:

      Agree insofar as the sprite-based Exile games appeal to me waaaayy more than the Geneforge/Avadon isometric graphics. To the extent that it puts me off playing any of his later games properly.

      eg. Instead of mountains being represented by little pictures of mountains in Exile, in Avernum there are unnatural looking walls, just taller than your character, everywhere. It’s a bit of a representational uncanny valley for me.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Avernum (at least the first one) is a cave world. They’re cave walls.

      • 2gudtoulouse says:

        I played the Exile games and play them on occasion even now (I played Exile 3 from start to finish in 2008) and I didn’t like the isometric view on the Avernum games but the latest remake; Avernum: Escape from the pit is actually not that bad, I’ve clocked ~10 hours on it so far and I’m really enjoying it.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I’m a massive SPiderweb fan (seriously, I’ve completed nearly all their games on torment), but I think they are ugly, ugly, games. Which has nothing to do with their graphics. I think the engine that Spiderweb currently uses is entirely adequate and a game doesn’t have to have advanced graphics to be good looking.

      Rather, it’s a matter of aesthetics. Spiderweb’s games just have ugly art and absolutely zero sense of any sort of cohesive style.

      Take “Escape From the Pit,” for example, which is a jarring mishmash of art styles that really don’t fit together. You have the simple realism of the in game graphics (all seemingly cobbled together from different assets so that some individual pieces, the giants for example, are jarringly out of place), the more lavish fantasy painting of the story board graphics, and then the black and white, humorous, cartoon drawings for the skill screen. None of it goes together and it’s just ugly.

      And some of the art work for Avadon was hideous. The portrait for its steam store page, for example, looks like it was drawn by a 9th grade D&D fan who did it while taking his first computer art course in 1994 (seriously, if Spiderweb actually bought that picture I certainly hope they didn’t pay much for it).

      Honestly, I think the whole “we are a small company” excuse doesn’t cut it as there are games made on much smaller budgets which look way way better. Vogel could hire one artist to do all the art work for a single game in order to ensure that it has a cohesive and attractive style. But he doesn’t want to, plain and simple. I think he’s just gotten kind of complacent via the fact that he has a built in set of fans who will buy everything he releases regardless so he doesn’t have any motivation to change. Which, honestly, is fine. I think he’s earned that complacency and I will play his games regardless.

      But, still, I have no doubt that Avadon would have sold waaaaaay better if it had some kind of snazy, comic book looking, art style.

  13. Jimbo says:

    I picked up the bundle and played some of Avadon. The biggest problems aren’t due to a lack of budget, just pretty fundamental design decisions. Mostly the UI, which you’d expect he’d have honed to perfection by now, but also the unbearably slow pacing.

    I’m ok with it looking 20 years old (limited budget being a legit reason for that) but it also feels 20 years old, which isn’t so easy to overlook. It feels like games felt back when nobody really knew how anything was supposed to work. The act of playing it is just needlessly clumsy and inconvenient. Best thing this guy could do is take a break and spend some serious time playing and studying other games to see how interfaces have developed.

    • frightlever says:

      I think this is a lot to do with how screens have gotten bigger over the years – there’s a lot more on-screen real estate for icons now. You’ll get used to the UI, but I do kinda agree with you. OTOH, I’ve spent almost all my spare time for the past two weeks playing Dwarf Fortress, so Avadon is cutting edge in comparison.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      The worst part about the UI of Spiderweb games is that you can click on chests and doors to open them, yet if an inventory object is on the ground or on a table you have to push “g” to bring up a ground inventory screen and grab it from there rather than clicking on it directly.

      Honestly, though, once you play for a bit pushing “g” after every battle just to make sure you don’t miss anything kind of becomes second nature.

  14. Bahoxu says:

    “writing dialogue for Avadon 2: The Corruption”.

    Well now… Thats something to look forward to.

  15. Beelzebud says:

    Books have very crappy graphics, and yet they continue to entertain me. The focus on good graphics is a joke. Yeah good graphics are nice, but they aren’t essential to a great game.

  16. lomaxgnome says:

    I’ve always had the distinct impression that most of the big donors to Humble Bundles give that money to charity. Now these weeklies seem to be a bit different, but I’d be very curious to know what percentage of the total he actually ends up with. Hopefully it’s quite high, but it’s very hard to say.

    • MondSemmel says:

      As a good first approximation, I’d assume all people stick to the default percentages, i.e. 15% Humble Bundle, 20% Charity, 65% Developers. After all, presumably only the minority of gamers who e.g. read video game websites would bother with these payment options. So I think it’s a fair assumption that devs get ~65%. Yes, a few people will play with the sliders, but probably not enough to have a significant impact in relative (rather than absolute) terms.
      And even if all big donations went to charity, they don’t make up a big percentage of sales at all – the average purchase in this weekly sale is currently 4.65$.
      To get a maximally skewed distribution, for every 100$ donation (current top 10 contributions are rarely above 100$) there could be 20 0.01$ donations. But most people presumably want Steam keys (-> negligible proportion of people paying less than 1$), and many people want to beat the average to get all games, so the ratio is definitely less skewed than that.

    • avp77 says:

      I haven’t heard it explicitly stated but, even with the money going to charity, the developer must get the tax write-off? I assume that’s the business angle to this thing?

    • kestre says:

      I gave $25 for a bit of nostalgia, since that’s the price his games used to be. I skewed the donation so that I gave him about $23 and Humble a little under $2. Nothing to Charity. I participated because I wanted to make sure I had every game to complete my library. I’ve bought probably over half of them over the years but I don’t remember exactly which ones I’ve gotten and which I haven’t. This lets me easily complete and tip Jeff some cash for the privilege.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Charity is kind of designed to be an after thought with Humblebundle and I think it’s entirely a marketing gimmick that they use to generate cheap good will.

      Ideally, I think they should switch their charities up from time to time, or let the developers choose which charities they want to donate to, but they have the same two charities over and over. It’s almost like they are actively trying to get people not to donate to the charities.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Why change charities? Child’s Play is directly related to Gaming. The EFF is directly related to The Internet. The target market for the charities is Gamers who are on The Internet, who care about Gaming and The Internet. You sell them Games on The Internet, to benefit Gamers and The Internet.

        Most charities people want to donate to are for things like MS or Cancer. They have noble goals, I guess, but most charities have pretty horrific track records for producing anything useful (Cancer charities collect the vast majority of charitable donations, but the best cancer *treatment*, not even cure, we’ve come up with is still “Try to kill the patient and hope the cancer dies first”). The EFF is constantly fighting legal battles for rights, however, and Child’s Play has a well-proven record of supporting the part of hospital budgets that gets no respect.

        • Rise / Run says:

          I totally agree with you that the current humble bundle charities are well chosen. But I’m going to take a wee bit of issue with your criticism of disease-related charities. Just considering cancer, while many treatments are harsh, I don’t think it’s fair to lump things like bone marrow transplants with broad-spectrum chemotherapy. Frankly, we’ve made leaps in bounds in our ability to treat a wide variety of cancers.

          But beyond that, a large portion of what medically-related charities do is pay for transportation and room and board for patients and their families. Double that for charities like the Ronald McDonald houses (not a big fan of the parent company, though) which exist only to house families of sick kids during treatment.

  17. RuySan says:

    I have to agree on the UI hoes, but in this case Autohotkey is your friend. I play with WASD controling the camera, Q to change weapons, Z X and C for spells and abilities, E for Journal and side mouse button for pickup/inventory. I never need to move my hand.

    The graphics used to be crap, but i think they’re fine in the Avernum Remake and in Avadon. Seriously better than SNES rpg type.

  18. Lobotomist says:

    Thank you for all the games :)

  19. pupsikaso says:

    I love the doodles for the character statistics and skills in Avernum: Escape From The Pit.
    They look so much like the style of a web-comic I used to read, but can’t for the life of me remember which one it was.

  20. utharda says:

    Thanks Senor Walker, I had missed this one, and a chance to throw a couple hundred dollars at someone who’s given me so much was worthwhile.

  21. crinkles esq. says:

    I don’t mind the art in general, but what bothers me is the reuse of particle effects (spells and whatnot) from game to game. Particle effects don’t require a big art budget, just some time investment to come up with interesting new effects. Good spell effects can make up a lot for low-budget art. That he reuses the same ones (that don’t look great to begin with) just smacks a bit of laziness.

  22. BobbyKotickIsTheAntichrist says:

    I’ve a hard time getting into his games, because of the extreme low-fi engine. But i do like the writing. So, what the hell, i bought the goddamned bundle.

  23. ts061282 says:

    Just got this for <$5 and started Avadon, very good. You can skip the dialogue and just read the response options, which are typical A, B, C old-school adventure options, and just play it like a turn based hack 'n slash. Extremely polished and pleasing game.

  24. lordbain says:

    Last 5 years I’ve been trying to get into these, play for a couple of hours then quit. The bad graphics do affect my interest. I’ve been playing since the first Wizardry came out. So much game playing since then it’s hard to go back. I bought a bunch of gog games M&M, Wiz, etc. and lost interest pretty quick due to the graphics. Playing neverwinter nights 1 and 2 and some mods. I am tempted to buy the bundle but I know I’ll never play it.

  25. GypsyDavey says:

    I’ve supported Spiderweb ever since Exile 1 (which became Avernum: Escape From The Pit) on the Mac. In those days, it was in competition with another great Mac RPG called Realmz (whatever happened to those guys – they should be thinking iPad too?). IMO it won out over Realmz because of the vast maps and simpler interface. I don’t know if Realmz ever converted to Windows.

    I’ve played a lot of the iPad RPGs, but very few of them come within touching distance of Jeff’s. Most are boring, repetitive and lacking in imagination.

    Avadon was a pleasing if only slight change in direction for Spiderweb and he achieved his goal, I think. What I would like to see Jeff tackle now is putting more character into his game characters, rather like Mass Effect, for instance.

  26. Zekiel says:

    I really respect Vogel and am really glad he’s done well out of this sale. This is in spite of never having even tried one of his games because I’m not enough of a hardcore RPG-er (and am getting even less so over time). But I respect the fact that he concentrates on story not on the chimera of ever-improving graphics. Hooray for him.

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