Yesterday I finally started reading “Blood, Sweat and Pixels” by Jason Schreier. The book is supposed to give its reader some insights from behind the curtain of the Game Dev industry. Being a hardcore gamer back in my childhood, I still lean towards spending some of my evenings with a PlayStation 4 gamepad or logged into my Steam account. So it isn’t surprising that I was willing to read this book not only from a professional perspective but as a big fan of gaming too.
The first chapter of “Blood, Sweat and Pixels” shares the story of Pillars of Eternity, an old-school isometric RPG inspired by classic D&D mechanics that was released by Obsidian Entertainment back in 2015. Obsidians gave this world many hits, including Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: KOTOR which I have devoted 100+ hours of my spare time back in school.
Back in 2012 Obsidian Entertainment found themselves in a tough situation — Microsoft has just cancelled Stormlands RPG which was originally supposed to be the Xbox One’s launch game, and they had no other choice than to lay off around 30 developers to keep the company afloat. They had only one other project in progress and didn’t get any results from the next half a year of pitching to different publishers. So they decided to give a try to the fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. That step was considered to be a severe reputational risk for such a severe game dev studio, but Obsidians were left out of other choices. The campaign went pretty well, and they were able to raise three times more than planned, but this is not a lesson I’ve learned from reading this story.
It took three years for Obsidian to develop a Pillars of Eternity. Don’t get surprised, 2–3 years are considered to be a typical timeframe in game dev, so everything went as usual. What was different this time is the level of collaboration and transparency between Obsidian and their Kickstarter supporters.
Feeling responsible to this people, Obsidian started to publish regular updates on their progress from day one at their Project Eternity campaign page. It gave them a fantastic opportunity to receive regular feedback from pledgers which affected the final result a lot. It was even more critical since Obsidian did not have rights to use original D&D materials and had to come up with all games aspects from scratch: races, classes, story, world and even naming for all of that. Of course, the feedback they received wasn’t professional or relevant all the time, but the team felt inspired and developed a sense of more significant empathy towards their fans. Besides sharing concept arts and some videos, they also came up with several beta-versions for the pledgers which allowed them to get some useful information on the game’s mechanics and uncovered bugs that were missed by the QA team.
Original Pillars of Eternity’s budget was around $6 million $4 of which were raised during the Kickstarter campaign. The company earned $18,5 million only in the first three weeks after release. Another great benefit was that Obsidian maintained full ownership of the trademark and intellectual property since they did not get any investments from a publisher.
Being provided with such opportunity to collaborate with their fans and equipped with a sense of purpose, Obsidian’s team managed to release a real hit with reviews around 9–9,5 or 10 from most gaming websites and magazines. In my opinion, this story is another example of the importance of user collaboration and how far keeping your users close can take you and your company not only in terms of inspiration but terms of finances and PR as well.
P.S. Thanks for reading! Please feel free to read, highlight, clap and let me know what you think on the topic in the comments.