XOXO: Ron Carmel - World of Goo and Indie Fund
Ron Carmel is the co-founder of 2D Boy (which created World of Goo), and partner at Indie Fund. He's being interviewed by Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen magazine.
Bonnie and Clyde was important for a lot of reasons, but not least of all for its context, a Hollywood struggling with the demise of musicals and led to the renaissance of the medium at the hands of new auteurs. The gaming industry is going through a similar revitalization, with Ron’s World of Goo being one of the first of the new vanguard.
Ron’s background - he worked at Electronic Arts in his first game ever, because he’d wanted to make games since he was six years old. Didn’t realize in college or school that making games was a serious profession - it sounded like saying “I want to be a firefighter”, but going to EA changed that.
One of his first games was a clone of the Tron arcade game when he was 17, his first “real” game and then he didn’t have time to make games until he got to EA, which he joined after being laid off in the dot-com world in 2001. Working on the Pogo team was good because it was sheltered from some of the worst parts of the EA company culture. But the work there wasn’t primarily creative; Even though Ron could contribute he was mostly treated as a factory worker. Being at a big company requires you to be a specialized tool, but being independent is the exact opposite, and meeting Kyle made it immediately clear that there was another person who was interested in small games. “It was a natural pairing” for them to leave when they did; Jim Greer the founder of Kongregate left at the same time.
The conventional wisdom these days is the “minimum viable product” idea, around “one person, one game, one week” and one of the most popular was Tower of Goo. This indie process was a lot different from what the big studios were doing, with no design documents and no attempt to create a magnum opus. You pick the one core mechanic of what you’re doing, and you build the simplest core mechanic of that.
Is “World of Goo” complete? If Kyle had his way, they’d have worked for another year, but they embraced the work-in-progress nature of being indie. They had a great range of non-overlapping skills which made them able to work together well on the project without any conflict. They’d started talking to publishers and amounts of money like $120,000 sounded enormous, but they eventually figured out the biggest offer they got was $650,000. And doing the math of how much they could sell through WiiWare and direct made it seem like it wouldn’t be worth the pain to work with traditional publishers. The worst deal they got was a European publisher that offered them $180,000 and 10% of net revenues.
World of Goo’s ended up a wild success, despite the unconventional tactic of targeting many platforms. And the team has kept iterating on it, offering up new versions and variations that customers have loved. Ron says he’s not officially retired, but he doesn’t have to work for the next 10 or 20 years. [Naturally, a round of applause.]
Lots of other indie game devs want to get funding so they don’t need any further funding, so they can stop being tenant farmer sharecroppers. Now they’ve published their funding terms as a public Google Doc, so that devs can see they’re getting a shitty deal from big publishers, or so other other indie devs have a starting point to work from.
Indie Fund is really distinguished from other sources of funding because it’s not the primary source of income from its investors, but it’s optimized for helping its fundees, and sharing the learnings between those games.