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Swen Vincke reflects on the development of Div:OS, reveals that it's sold over half a million copies

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Swen Vincke reflects on the development of Div:OS, reveals that it's sold over half a million copies

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 12 September 2014, 18:36:27

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Larian CEO Swen Vincke updated his blog today, for the first time since the release of Divinity: Original Sin back in June. His new post is a long and dense rumination on various aspects of the game's development and reception. Swen talks about the game's success, about the lengths he had to go in order to achieve that success, and also reveals a little bit of what Larian has planned for the future. And, yes, there are sales figures. I'll quote the most interesting bits:

Divinity: Original Sin did pretty well. At the time of this writing its Metacritic critic rating is at 87%, it’s user rating at 89% and it’s been at the top of the Steam charts for most of the summer, occupying the nr. 1 spot for around a month.

It has sold well over half a million units by now– mostly from Steam, with 10% from retail. ”Break even” has been reached, our debts have been paid and we are now in the profitable zone. While not all of the money is for us as we had private investors on board, the game did sufficiently well for us to envision funding our next endeavors with it, meaning we’re pretty happy about its performance.

So much for turn-based fantasy RPGs not selling, crowdfunding not working and a developer like us not being capable of bringing a game to market without the help of seasoned publishers!

[...] The release of D: OS was one big crunch period with all the good and bad that come with it. If the game ultimately did well, it’s because of the outstanding performance of the team when “the going got tough and the tough got going”.

A lot of the crunch was caused by our decision to listen to the feedback we received through our Kickstarter and Steam Early Access communities. While it often was tough to read through all of the criticism, it was clear that integrating the best parts of the feedback would be well worth the effort and improve the game massively. We didn’t hesitate for a minute.

This meant extra delays however, which in turn meant a need for extra budget. Steam Early Access was getting us some money but unfortunately that wasn’t sufficient. We needed to pay back our creditors who were all under the conviction that the game would be out sooner. When, to my surprise, it turned out that they didn’t share our belief that everything was going to be ok and even better if we listened to the feedback, I had to engage in a lot of fun conversations. Between “it’s ready when it’s done” and actually following up on that mantra, there unfortunately lies a big gap that can only be bridged with financial stamina.

I think we would’ve continued development even longer, but when I had to dash to a far away place where lived the one last bank director who still wanted to give us sufficient credit to pay a part of what we owed to another bank, it was clear that we needed to finish. I wasn’t joking when I said it was all in.

[...] We worked on D:OS until the very last day before release, and while that in itself isn’t for the meek of heart, it did have some interesting consequences. For one, we didn’t have any review code to share with reviewers prior to release. This meant that it would take several weeks before we’d actually know what the review scores were going to be. It also meant that anybody interested in the game would have to either wait or check what other players were thinking.

I don’t know if there was any correlation between our ultimate review scores and the user reviews, but the latter were really good and when you went to the Steam page on the day of release, it was loaded with over 1500 user reviews, 93% being thumbs up. I think that fuelled a lot of the initial success of the game and I also think it made some reviewers pay a bit more attention to the game.

[...] Our plan is to continue supporting D: OS for quite some time as this is the RPG framework on which we’ll build our next games. We’re fooling around with controller support to see if a big screen version with cooperative play would work well, something I’m silently hoping for as I think it’ll be a lot of fun, more so perhaps than playing coop in LAN with a friend sitting next to you. We’re also improving the engine itself as well as adding a bunch of extra features that not only make D: OS more fun and more friendly to players, but that will also improve whatever our next offering will be. We’re also adding extra content, like for instance the big companion patch, voiced et al, and I imagine that won’t be the last of what we’ll add.

The foreseeable future for Larian (i.e. the next couple of years) is going to see us making further progress in improving our RPG craft and creating dense game worlds with hopefully new and innovative gameplay systems based on old school values. These last months I’ve been very busy expanding our development force so that we can continue to compete in tomorrow’s market.

As I mentioned in this interview, the current thinking is that we shouldn’t go back to Kickstarter. That’s not because we’re ungrateful of the support we received through our Kickstarter community or because all those rewards caused a bit of extra work, but because I think the crowdfunding pool is limited and it should be fished in by those who really need it. Since we now can, I think we should first invest ourselves and then see if we need extra funds to fuel our ambitions. Only then it makes sense to look at crowd funding. I know several of our backers will be displeased by this, so it could be that we still change our minds, but if that is the case, I do think the the format we’ll use or the way we’ll do it will be different than how we did it for Divinity: Original Sin.
Swen ends the post with a recap of the lessons he's learned over the course of Original Sin's development, with regard to content creation and the solicitation of community feedback. His maxim about content is something I can definitely get behind.

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