So Runic, What’s Next After Torchlight II?

It’s been a long road to the release of Torchlight II. Not Diablo III long, mind you, but it technically started with the original Torchlight, which didn’t even release until 2009. And all the while, there’s been Torchlight ports and constant demand for a Torchlight MMO – among other things. I wouldn’t be surprised if talk of Torchlight-branded torches, lights, and lighters crept into the conversation at some point. Point is, Runic’s been stuffing loot pinatas and shuffling dungeon tiles for quite some time now. So then, is it time for something new? I asked Runic CEO Max Schaefer as much during a recent interview (which you’ll be seeing all of soon), and he told me many things.

Max Schaefer sounds stressed. Of course, his wearied tone is only natural, given that he’s in the final stages of guiding his company’s flagship game to a safe landing. Years of hard work and multiple delays are about to pay off, but it’s always the last few hours that are the most agonizing. But there’s a tinge of excitement in his voice too. Insanely ravenous herds of fans are about to tear into Torchlight II, after all, and there’s a certain closure in finally getting the meticulously tweaked ARPG into the hands of the public. Plus, it means something else as well: freedom. Well, kind of.

Schaefer begins our discussion at the top of the to-do list. Priority number one? Er, don’t do anything at all – at least, for a little bit.

“We’ll just kind of sit back and catch our breaths, catch up on sleep, and look at what makes sense [for us to do next],” Schaefer tells RPS of Runic’s plans for the immediate future. “Whether that’s DLC for a while or a full-on expansion or maybe a tablet version – you know, the options are so wide open that we really want to have a good head on our shoulders and see what the landscape looks like before we make that kind of decision.”

“[An entirely new, non-Torchlight project] may actually be the thing we decide we want to do next, because we might be so tired of making Torchlight that we’re kind of burned out. Maybe we want to cleanse the system a little bit before we go back to Torchlight. Because, I mean, we’re gonna go back to the Torchlight franchise, obviously. But we may do something else in-between. That’s on the list of things that sound kind of cool, and we have to evaluate down the line.”

Specifically, Schaefer goes on to cite tablets as a big area of interest, as well as – more broadly – Minecraft. “I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the last year,” he notes. “I’d love to infuse some sandbox-y mechanics into that style of universe.” However, he also adds that “we have 30 guys in the office. I’m sure we have 30 very distinct opinions on what the coolest next thing could be.”

You’d have to search pretty hard, however, to find the oft-mentioned Torchlight MMO on that list. Originally, Torchlight II was supposed to be a multiplayer bridge between the original Torchlight and its MMO end goal, but a lot can change in three years. Unfortunately, things are markedly less straightforward these days.

“When we started the company, we had more imminent plans for it,” admits Schaefer. “And we still want to, but now there are lots of other cool things to consider as well. I think what the Torchlight MMO would be is changing, because we definitely don’t want to make a traditional MMO. We don’t just want to make the standard MMO in the Torchlight universe. We want to change up the genre and put a unique stamp on it.”

“[MMO fatigue] definitely plays into it – not only in the market, but in our own minds. We want to get away from that, but still have the cool parts of an MMO, which is having lots of people interacting chaotically in a big world. I think EVE Online is a good example of a non-traditional MMO that’s obviously successful. It’s kind of hard to break the mold and make a new style of game, and kudos to the EVE guys for doing it. But yeah, it’s gonna have to be done, because MMOs are all a little too much alike for my tastes. It’s time to really break out of the box a little bit.”

Moreover, he explains that an MMO’s a serious commitment for any company, but when you’re as tightly knit as Runic, developing and expanding such a game could see you “spending a good chunk of the rest of your game career making this MMO.” That, of course, would be slightly counter-productive to the goal of doing anything else, er, ever. “I would say it’s pretty likely that it won’t be the next thing we do,” Schaefer concludes.

So for Runic, things are pretty open at this point. No, nothing’s set in stone, but options are hardly a bad thing to have. Well, you know, soon, anyway. Soon-ish? “When hundreds of thousands of people hit on Thursday, lots of things can go wrong,” Schaefer laughs. “So I’m sure we’ll do some emergency patching and make sure everything’s running smoothly.”


  1. InternetBatman says:

    That makes me glad. MMOs are a crowded market, and their talents could best be used elsewhere.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      MMO’s are like the kiss of death for small to middle sized developers. The model is dying in its current form, and short of someone doing something really amazing with it, a game produced with the intention of entering that market is virtually guaranteed to land in a crater.

    • Lobotomist says:

      I agree


      So please runic, just skip MMO

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Do developers really have an artistic interest in creating an MMO? I realise there’s a big financial pay-off for a successful MMO, but it seems more akin to creating a party than a sculpture.

      • narugo5445 says:

        And it could have immediately been written off as “a buggy mess” as people love to do. Better to surf on its own merits than another game’s failures.

    • LintMan says:

      Yep, this is rather good news. The MMO gold rush can’t end quickly enough, IMHO.

    • lcy says:

      Agree with the artistic merit thing. I would have loved to play the Secret World as a single player RPG. Having all that lore spoiled by the general public running around? Having to spend ages grinding? Not so attractive.

    • darkath says:

      The way he words it, if they are to make a MMO, it will be a groundbreaking kind of MMO, not your cookie cutter Themepark MMO.

      GW2 is doing a fine job at revitalizing a genre that stopped evolving – or rather evolved in a terrible way, for the last 7 years (yes it’s been 7 damn years since wow, and we’re still seeing companies copying it) – but the genre as a whole is pretty much dead and lives on thanks to old successes that are still going strong, and delusional investors that thought the market was a never-ending gold mine.

      So yeah what I understood in those words is that runic won’t settle for the good old MMO (and recipe for sucide), but rather will aim at something greater, if they ever wander in those treacherous ways.

      • Nate says:

        There was a point to a Torchlight MMO in the past, which was as an ARPG MMO. I didn’t expect it to be particularly good, because Torchlight was a perfectly serviceable (fun, not mind-blowing though) ARPG, but that was because it was a single player environment– it wouldn’t have translated well to a multiplayer game.

        And there used to be a lot of people saying “If Blizzard can do it, why not us?” And it turned out they all did it, and the reason Blizzard can do it is because of network effects, and if you’re not Blizzard, you’re pretty much fucked. Not that MMOs can’t be profitable– you have to keep in mind that, even though there’s a billion of these things, they’re mostly making money. They’re just not making it hand-over-fist like Blizzard is.

        And it turned out that there are several ARPG style MMOs out there between now and when the Torchlight devs were talking about that. I played Tera, and the mechanics were fun, but the game isn’t helped by being an MMO, it’s hindered by it. If the game had been developed instead as an ARPG, instead of focusing on endless progression and interesting single-player play, it would have been a much more successful game.

        So I think these devs did the right thing. “Hey, we want to make an ARPG MMO. Which is a big project, but it can be broken into bite sized chunks. So let’s make the ARPG part first.” Because they made the game, and they got to reevaluate the market, and go, hey, yeah, that MMO part probably isn’t the best idea after all.

  2. povu says:

    I’m glad they decided not to make the MMO. There are so many MMOs out there already, it’s hard to compete with. And I don’t think that many people are interested in the Torchlight universe. It’s a nice place for a hack and slash that’s pretty light on story elements, but it’s not a world I’d be very interested in visiting in an MMO.

    It’s no WoW/Star Wars/Guild Wars/Elder Scrolls universe for sure.

  3. gschmidl says:

    Public service announcement: better link your Runic and Steam accounts now, before everyone does.

    I had to log out of the Steam website and log back in after being redirected from the Runic to get it work

    • Williz says:

      Thanks for the reminder! Just done it now.

    • povu says:

      I keep getting a 404 page not found page.

      Edit: Switched to chrome browser which I have set up less strict with cookies, that worked. Either that or closing the Steam client did.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Sorry to sound ignorant, but why “before everyone else does”?

      • drewski says:

        When Torchlight 2 is officially released in a couple of hours, Runic’s servers are going to get slammed.

    • freeid says:

      Thanks for the heads up mate, you just saved me some frustration, took me a couple of goes to get it done now (2hrs before release) Lord only knows what it will be like in a couple of hours.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Thanks for the heads up! I didn’t know I’d need an account with Runic to play online.

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      This is just for online multiplayer though, I think. So anyone who wants to play SP should be able to start playing straight away…

  4. drewski says:

    Any update on when we can expect a WIT?

  5. gravity_spoon says:

    I am actually glad that TL MMO naver made it and instead TL 2 was made. Would have hated playing another MMO but I hope if they do make it, they announce it with “And now for something completely different” :) As far as their next project is concerned, people (forumers and not Runic staff) have made threads to discuss/speculate it on their official forum. And a theme which I’ve seen pop-up quite often was that of “Sci-fi” arpg. I doubt if they ever take speculations into consideration but the reason people brought up that was of course the way people feel about Hellgate and how it could have been great and that now a days people really can’t think of a good sci-fi isometric arpg (Greed: Black Border comes t mind but tbh it sucked)

  6. golem09 says:

    Hw about somone like them finally makes a proper Diablolike SciFi ARPG?

    • Spoon Of Doom says:

      I’d kill for that. I still remember how disappointed I was with the bugfest that called itself Restricted Area some years ago. Space Siege was mediocre, too, and I’m really aching for some good sci-fi ARPG.

    • Zanchito says:

      Oh, YES, this, please! Maybe after they do a different kind of game, but we need some more sci-fi gaming.

    • Aedrill says:

      WH40k is the best possible setting for such game. Think about it – it’s sci fi but also fantasy, so you have freedom of adding both technology and magic based skills. It’s completely over the top, which is fun and has the advantage of not taking itself too seriously, which is a problem of way too many sci fi games/films/etc. (Matrix, Mass Effect anyone?).

      And one more thing. The range of the weapons is laughable. Seriously, it’s the 41st Millenium and their guns have smaller range than what we’ve had in 19th century. And this is good for an ARPG, because you need small range to keep action close to the character to make it exciting.

      • MistyMike says:

        W40k is a fascist power fantasy for 15 year old boys.

        • Kestrel says:

          Wow. Suddenly I’m interested in W40k.

        • JackShandy says:

          I understand it’s ironic.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          I have to partially disagree. With so many writers and so much diverse literature around the universe, there is something for everyone, assuming you like the idea of the universe in the first place. I myself, as a 40 something year old woman enjoy lots of aspects of it immensely and while I don’t disagree some of it is aimed at adolescents, some of it is deeply complex and very grown up.

          • Kestrel says:

            *fascist power fantasy for 40 year old women.

            Oh! It’s 50 Shades of Gray!

          • Hematite says:

            40K Shades of Gray?

            But from what I hear Warhammer fiction has more literary merit than 50 Shades of Gray.

          • sassy says:

            The napkin I hastily scribbled a note on while drunk last night has more literary merit than 50 shades of grey

        • Aedrill says:

          No, it’s a power fantasy setting with fascists in it, see the difference? I’m talking about an idea for ARPG game, and WH40k fits perfectly. Of course it’s silly, of course it’s shallow. But how many deep and ambitious ARPG games can you name? And if any, how many of them were fun?

          Seriously, I’m all for smart and ambitious games but sometimes silly is good, and ARPGs are all about silliness.

        • iucounu says:

          It’s always been inherently silly. The fascism is played for black laughs, like Judge Dredd. (WARFACISM!!!!)

          What I would like, please, would be an XCOM style TBS based on the WH40K Inquisitor rules, set in a procedurally-generated universe. You could start off in your own little cluster of stars, generated specifically for you to play in, recruit a team, take on randomized missions, and then maybe meet up with other players and their own unique teams in a shared online setting, in an MMO-kind of way. Somebody get on that please. A tactical, squad-based space MMO with Roguelike underpinnings.

          • Aedrill says:

            Sounds like a real goldmine;) But yeah, I’d play it too. Maybe except this MMO bit, I think it’s unnecessary.

        • Efrizial says:

          sound like star wars to me …

      • malkav11 says:

        The campaign(s) of Dawn of War II pretty much are a 40K ARPG, just with a little strategery infused and a bit less clicking.

    • circadianwolf says:

      Isn’t the thing the Titan Quest guys are working on like that? Grim Dawn?

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Wasn’t that the point of Krater?

      • Aedrill says:

        I guess he forgot to add “working”. Working sci fi ARPG.

    • skyturnedred says:

      Why is it always either fantasy or sci-fi? I would love to see more (A)RPGs take place in our time. Of course, it could be too difficult to make, but I would really much like to see someone give it a shot.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Because gaming is tied to geek culture which as a whole has become compartimentalised and commercialised. Just like when a kind of music becomes defined as a genre, there are cliches and rules you have to follow in order to belong. Fantasy and scifi are the standards. There might be room for some horror or vampire stuff here or there, but that’s as far as it goes. It doesn’t leave room for creativity or artisticity.

      • Optimaximal says:

        I thought the Modern Warfare games had put everyone off modern-day combat, largely because any attempt usually devolves into a US loving bro-fest of Bay-splosions.

      • noodlecake says:

        You could do modern day setting but nothing to do with war or armies. Like some kind of alternate reality where things are a little surreal. It wouldn’t have to look realistic. It could be cartoony and stylized.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Space Siege. Unfortunately.

      And there have been a few other attempts as well.

  7. Vinraith says:

    MMO’s are pretty much bug zappers, and developers are moths. I’m pleased to see Runic veering away from the lethal, buzzing light. An MMO was always the last thing I wanted out of them.

    • Shuck says:

      To be more accurate: Games with large budgets are pretty much bug zappers, and developers are moths. The failure rate on large games is pretty high in general and just as disastrous. Actually, the failure rate on all games in general is high, but with small games you can at least have the game made, out the door and on to the next one before you realize it failed. And with MMOs, one at least has a better return on one’s investment thanks to revenue streams that are there regardless of whether it’s subscription or free-to-play.
      So there’s no real salvation to be had in not going the MMO route. (And financially, they could be in a more precarious situation in the long term by staying away from MMOs.)

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        Please do not remind me of Infinity: tQfE. That game is an one-man MMO (drugs may have been involved). At least the dev wised up and decided to just sell the engine instead. Impressive (galactic-scale space sim MMO with fully simulated star systems), but ultimately suicidal from an economic point of view.

      • LintMan says:

        “And with MMOs, one at least has a better return on one’s investment thanks to revenue streams that are there regardless of whether it’s subscription or free-to-play.”

        The investors behind APB or 38 studios might beg to hugely differ with you on that.

        “So there’s no real salvation to be had in not going the MMO route. (And financially, they could be in a more precarious situation in the long term by staying away from MMOs.)”

        But MMOs also require constant expenditure from the developers. Not just for new content to keep the players interested, but also for all the MMO infrastructure: servers, bandwidth, moderators, customer support, etc. All that costs money to maintain.

  8. DickSocrates says:

    If they make an MMO, we won’t hear anything from them for 5 years and then they’ll go out of business within a year of release. Max Schaefer will for a new company and make a Torchlight clone with no multiplayer. And then think about making another MMO.

    Forget MMOs, just think about interesting ways online play can be implemented.

  9. Dys Does Dakka says:

    This one could have released a month or so ago, and lazily ridden the wave of disgruntled DIII-players to glory and victory.
    As it is now, Borderlands 2 is completely stealing its thunder, so if Runic came up with this delay (no; late September is not ‘Summer 2012’) to put some space-time between it and Diablo the Third -and Gilworz the Second-, it was perhaps not the best marketing move ever thought up.

    Still, it’s topping the Steam Top Seller list at this moment of writing. Good going, there.

    • MrLebanon says:

      Are BL2 and TL2 even hitting the same audience?

      • Zanchito says:

        Yes: me.

      • drewski says:

        There’s probably a fair degree of overlap, but Torchlight II isn’t competing for the same AAA market that BL2 is.

      • Commander Gun says:

        Both games are about slaughtering enemies to get better gear/weapons, so yes :)

        • Commander Gun says:

          Also, now that i think about it, there is another characteristic they share: I played both TL1 and BL1 because they were like 75% off on steam.
          For that price, both games were great and i had a great time. Borderlands 2 is quite expensive if seen this way. (That and i hardly have time to play Guild Wars 2, too many good games gets released!)

        • vorvek says:

          That’s a bit shortsighted. You slaughter enemies to get better gear in pretty much every action game, being these first person shooters, action-rpgs or MMOs. Would you say Borderlands 2, Rogue and Jagged Alliance and Everquest cater to the same audience? In all three you slaughter hundreds of enemies to get better equipment, but as far as I know, that’s not the goal of any of those 4 games.

          You are mixing the ends with the means.

    • Didden says:

      BL2 can wait until a year or so, when all the DLC is cheaper and integrated. I will not be buying a ludicrous season pass. For £5 less, I get the whole of Torchlight 2 to play.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      And it could have immediately been written off as “a buggy mess” as people love to do. Better to surf on its own merits than another game’s failures.

      • Dys Does Dakka says:

        Oh, I should clarify that I’ve actually had TII on preorder for a long, long time, and that I have absolutely no problem with a month’s delay if that’s what it takes to release a better game.

        -What I’m saying is that if the real reason for it was to try and get away from being squashed by the release of bigger games -well, bigger in hype and budget anyway-, it wasn’t the most cunning marketing ploy I’ve ever heard of.

  10. Kablooie says:

    I didn’t hear about “demand for a MMO”, but that Torchlight 1 was produced and published to raise revenue for such? Myself, I wasn’t excited (in general agreement about MMO opinion’s already posted) . . . if Runic is rethinking their goals in heading for a TL MMO, I’m glad. In fact, very happy to read that they won’t go there unless they come up with an idea that is really outside the box for such.

    I’d really rather see another single player or co-op game – like Projekt Red’s latest news about a possible cyberpunk game.

    • Thermal Ions says:

      I don’t recall ever seeing anyone posting about wanting a Torchlight MMO, rather it was generally a case of negative reactions to Runic’s plans for an MMO. People just wanted a multiplayer Torchlight.

      • malkav11 says:

        Yeah, I was going to say “where is this supposed demand for a Torchlight MMO? I’ve never seen anyone interested in the prospect, much less demanding it.” Multiplayer Torchlight, yes, and in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Flagship people were interested in seeing Mythos survive and that happened to be an MMO, but I for one didn’t need it to be.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      The demand came mainly from the developers themselves.

  11. Meat Circus says:

    Runic’s next game: TORCHFACE!

  12. Enikuo says:

    Sandbox-y mechanics ARE cool! Oh please, let those 30 opinions agree on that….

  13. MadTinkerer says:

    As far as I’m concerned, mods + online co-op + ProcGen world already make Torchlight II better than any MMO could be.

  14. ffordesoon says:

    MMOs: the best idea in the world with the worst execution in the world.

  15. ShatteredAwe says:

    I’m glad they’re not doing an MMO. MMOs usually ruin gaming companies.

  16. MysterD says:

    Please stay away from the MMO-turf, Runic. Stick w/ games that let the same campaign played OFFLINE and ONLINE like Torchlight 2, Borderlands series, and Diablo 2.