Eleventh Hour Games is working on an ambitious action role-playing game called Last Epoch. The developers’ ambition is to create a title that can beat the best RPGs of all time.
There is nothing unusual about that, except that the founding team for the company is a group of gamers. They met on Reddit and they were such big fans of these types of games that they decided to build one themselves, said Judd “Moxjet” Cobler, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Cobler is the founder, CEO and game director for Eleventh Hour Games in San Antonio, Texas. His team came together talking about their passion on Reddit in 2018. Everyone wanted to create a game that combined the best elements of the big ARPGs. I caught up with him at the Gamescom event in Germany.
“Like Diablo IV, it’s a looter action RPG, hack-and-slash type game. So, if you know these games, you’ll have a good framework,” Cobler said. “What you need to know about me is that I’m a die-hard action RPG player. I’ve been obsessed with these games since dialed to about 20 years ago. And since then, I’ve played literally tens of thousands of hours in games like Diablo and Path of Exile.”
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Last Epoch fits comfortably between Diablo IV and Path of Exile on the ARPG spectrum, offering tremendous depth of build-crafting and character customization while remaining accessible and understandable to new players, Cobler said.
Against all odds, they have made a lot of progress. Last Epoch is already available in early access on Steam for $35 in Chinese, French, German, Korean, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, in addition to English. The remarkable thing is that it has already sold over 800,000 copies and has been wishlisted 600,000 additional times.
Last Epoch is poised for its highly anticipated 1.0 release in December. The team wanted to create a game that rewards experimentation, collaboration, and avoids exploitative monetization practices. It sounds like a fairy tale, and it is.
Regular updates have helped generate a following. Earlier this month, the team released a major update that added a Runemaster, a new Master Class for the Mage. The Runemaster can invoke 40 different invocations from a single button push.
How did this happen?
It all goes back nearly six years ago. Out on the forums, Cobler expressed his love for these games. He and his friends would “get a little bit loud” about their preferences. When they tried to get the attention of the developers, they were “met with silence,” Cobler said.
He added, “”When you play these games as a hobby, that was kind of heartbreaking. It’s like you want to be a kind of a part of it as the community. Before this, I wasn’t in the games industry at all. I ran a wave agency in Texas. And I told my wife, ‘I’m going to start a video gaming company, and I’m going to make the next great action RPG.’ She was pregnant with my third daughter, and she was like, ‘Don’t you dare.’ And here we are.”
Cobler dove in and started recruiting people on Reddit. He had no funding or game development experience.
“I looked for other just die-hard action RPG players who were excited about the idea of making an action RPG,” he said. “I was able to find a lot of really talented, awesome individuals very early on within this first month, actually.”
He started the studio nearly six years ago and gathered eight people. They spent 18 months communicating with the community, asking about the perfect action RPG systems. Then they developed a version of game, dubbed a vertical slice, that they took to crowdfunding on Kickstarter. They set a goal of $210,000, and they raised $255,378 from 2,824 backers. That got them off the ground.
“That really legitimized the last 18 months of craziness,” Cobler said.
The demo was “janky,” but it “was very endearing to us,” Cobler said. But they soldiered on and a year later they launched a game in early access on Steam. The game was approachable and there was “a lot for people to chew on for a long period of time,” Cobler said.
It took off, raising money for the company. They were able to expand the team to 25 people, and then at the end of last year, Tencent invested more money. Eleventh Hour is now closing in on 90 employees across the world.
They’ve been releasing content every three or four months and grown to huge numbers and high ratings on Steam reviews. Cobler takes pride in the game’s systems and its many classes of characters. Every skill in the game has its own transformative skill tree. And there is tons of crafting.
The game has time travel and both high fantasy and dark fantasy. You start off in the ancient era and move into the warring era of empires and a time when the undead have taken over. Then you get to the ruined era, where it gets really dark.
“We literally are the community,” he said. “We felt we can do it better. We threw caution to the wind. We thought about what the perfect RPG would look like. We talked to the community. Nobody knows these games better than people putting thousands of hours into them.”
The team wants to keep developing the game for 10 years and fill out its world map. If the company had more money, that would be awesome. But Cobler’s life has bought into it, as she helps with human resources and administrative tasks.
“But we’re living the dream,” he said. “It’s like those garage stories where you just make it happen and live in the dream life.”
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