This week saw the latest success in the history of The Banner Saga, Stoic Studios’ highly-regarded tactical RPG series. The final part of the story, The Banner Saga 3, smashed through its Kickstarter funding goals, turning out with a $416,986 total from a goal of only $200,000. This last part of the Banner Saga tale was officially wanted by the gaming community, and it was now confirmed for arrival, complete with a variety of stretch goals.
This meant that congratulations were in order for Stoic’s Arnie Jorgensen. After all, this was another, important step towards completing one of the most unique and intriguing RPG properties of recent years. Thankfully, Game Rant had the chance to talk with Jorgensen about The Banner Saga, from its Kickstarter roots through to the changes that Stoic is going to ring in with the last part of the trilogy.
For starters, Jorgensen was quick to talk about the potential volatility of funding a game through Kickstarter, and how much of a relief it was to see the fans of The Banner Saga return to fund its final outing.
You never know what a Kickstarter is going to be like when you start it. It could be that the community goes south, or there could be a couple of people who don’t like what you’re doing. We’ve seen a lot of developers have tough times with communities on things like this.
This is our second Kickstarter, so at the same time if you don’t hit your goal what does it mean for you and the IP? There were a lot of question marks going into this, and we can say now that this was an awesome, fun Kickstarter to be involved in.
According to Jorgensen, the Kickstarter campaign was “extremely low-key,” with a fun-filled and happy community getting involved. Stoic has a dedicated Discord chat going on for the title, which has approximately eighty fans on the go at all times. For Stoic, part of the reason why there’s such a strong unity is down to how people know exactly what The Banner Saga is all about.
I think it might have to do with how everyone knows what the function of our game is now. We’re on game three and people know what to expect, so it’s not like people are debating “what it’s going to be? What is this game?”
Although The Banner Saga is one of the proudest examples of a crowdfunding project done right, Stoic did not go back to Kickstarter for the sequel. However, this funding model was returned to for the final part of the trilogy, with Jorgensen stating that an extra kick of funding was needed for those “extra bells and whistles” to add to the game.
Kickstarter was once again perhaps not necessary, but there to give the game that little special something. However, the additional funding of the first game brought with it certain expectations for the sequels, beyond the minimum scope that Stoic had originally planned for.
On The Banner Saga 1, we had this small game that three guys were going to develop. I was going to do all the music myself, we were going to do all the animations, and everything else ourselves with three dudes. So, we opened up the Kickstarter for funding on The Banner Saga 1, and we got $723,000.
Now, you have to deploy that money. We promised all of it was going into the game, and sure enough we did that. But then, that put us on the hook, to keep The Banner Saga 2 at a very high standard, and we see ourselves in that same boat now. So, in order to keep up that standard we needed a little bit of help with funding.
Another reason to return to the crowdfunding model was to once again reach out to the gaming community – something that was missed by Stoic during the creation of The Banner Saga 2. For the third part of the story, Stoic clearly wanted to involve the fans once more. “What we actually missed out on [with The Banner Saga 2] was reinvigorating the community again,” said Jorgensen, but the Kickstarter for the third game has already brought back some of this fan communication. “We have a re-energised community and it’s fun talking to them, so we hope to keep them all the way through to the launch of the third part.”
It’s easy to see why fans of the first two games are back on board so quickly, too. The original Banner Saga stands as one of the best examples of a successfully-crowdfunded, independent project, with a best debut win at GDC 2015 just the tip of the iceberg when it came to critical acclaim and an eventual impressive home console port seeing release. It proved that tactical RPGs and old-school computer RPGs still had a strong place in the gaming market, alongside the success of games such as Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity, and Jorgensen feels that crowdfunding has perhaps allowed these games to thrive.
When we were first putting up our Kickstarter, there were not actually too many turned-based strategies out there. The Banner Saga was successful, and I wonder how much of that, and Pillars and the other old-school RPGs successes, spawned more of those games. Probably quite a bit.
Of course, the world of crowdfunding has changed a lot since the first Banner Saga was funded, with many studios reaching out to multiple funding sources at once. This, too, is something that has interested Stoic.
I think it’s interesting now how we have sort of a hybrid now. You have Double Fine coming out and people saying “hey we’re getting funding here, we need you to help with this aspect of it, and we are also taking funding from the community.” And they let people know right upfront “this is what we need all this money for,” so it’s not all just purely crowdfunding via Kickstarter or Fig. I think it’s interesting how people are using crowdfunding now in different ways.
However, one of the key parts of crowdfunding is still the way that it allows studios to talk directly with their fanbase. This is something that Jorgensen, and the rest of Stoic, truly relishes. Coming from a background in AAA development, alongside fellow Stoic founder John Watson, it also comes as something of a new freedom to explore.
We love talking to the community […] Even though we were both managers at other companies, you couldn’t talk to the community, because that was a very guarded information channel that was reserved for only the PR people at the large companies. So it was really freeing, and still is for us, to be able to talk directly to the community. I have the chat open all day and I’m talking to them, telling them what we’re doing and what’s new. It’s a huge bonus.
It’s not the only the community side that Jorgensen likes about life in the indie scene, either. Life with Stoic may be less stable than with a larger developer, but there is a lot to enjoy about the extra freedom that Stoic provides.
Boy! I’m hoping it works. We’re still pushing the rock up the hill, but we seem to be doing pretty well as a company. I enjoy it quite a bit. I work from home, which I absolutely love. There’s a lot more creative control.
I think the thing that turned me off of AAA development is I could look down the road 10 years from now and say “this is where I’ll be then” and it became very static. So for me this is the best world. You’re indie, you’re controlling your own destiny, doing the games that you choose to do, and I couldn’t imagine another way to live.
That said, Jorgensen can still see the positives in AAA development, with the perks of larger recognition and scope, and also use of technological advancements such as the “hottest 3D shaders,” but it’s a different world to what Jorgensen and Stoic are aiming for. Instead, the additional options and flexibility of indie development are a cornerstone of why Stoic works so well.
It’s so much fun. I was in meetings all morning and we’re retooling and reshaping the story, and these are things that are really hard to do in AAA. There are a lot of moving parts.
Indie development has its own challenges, of course. However, the difference between a self-funded project and a Kickstarter-backed one do not trouble Jorgensen, with the positives of a crowdfunding model and the responsibilities that come with it far outweighing the weaker sides of that option.
The only thing we see that’s a negative is that you have to put together the Kickstarter and carry it through, so we lost a bit of development time. Everything else seems to be a win to us, even with the community where we plan to engage with them to balance combat, and we’re probably going to engage with them to help balance the Survival Mode (which was a stretch goal) and the Eternal Arena. As developers we take our best shot at it, and we’re hoping people like it, but if we can engage the community along the way then that’s a complete win for us.
The community, too, has a great amount of trust in what Stoic is working on, and there is a huge level of positivity among the backers, and faith in the studio to pull something special out of the bag with the resources at its disposal.
Nobody in the community is ever saying “you have to do this or I’m taking my money back.” They’re all saying “you guys gotta do what you guys gotta do, make it great – we trust you to do it.” That’s about the only message I’ve heard so far, so in that realm we’re still doing exactly what we want to do. But now if we have a couple of ideas we’re not sure about we can bounce it off them and it’s awesome – we get to hear what they want.
This trust no doubt comes down to just how well the first two games in the series have done. The Banner Saga had a great impact on PC gaming, and the follow-up was equally as impressive. Now, there’s a sense that fans are with Stoic, whatever they plan to change for the final iteration of the franchise.
I think thankfully we’re pretty much at that point. Everyone who’s still here is enjoying the IP and is here because they love the IP, and they know that we’re making decisions and we have made decisions in the past purely because we think this is cool for the game. There’s nothing else that rolls into this – there are no publishers that need to be satisfied or whatever else. So I think they know our motivation and they trust us at this point.
When it comes to the next game, Stoic isn’t resting on its laurels, either. From what Jorgensen has stated, the final part of The Banner Saga is going to hit – and hit hard.