Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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Interview Obsidian Media Blitz: The Future of Nu-Obsidian

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Sep 15, 2017.

  1. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

    Infinitron
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    Tags: Armored Warfare; Chris Parker; Feargus Urquhart; Obsidian Entertainment

    The Obsidian media campaign provided a few more stories this week. There were a couple more Fallout: New Vegas retrospectives - a brief one at Eurogamer and a massive one at Usgamer. Eurogamer also released the condensed version of their Fallout 1 & 2 discussion with Cain, Boyarsky and Urquhart. All interesting enough, but not particularly newsworthy. With today's article, it looks like Eurogamer are ready to cap off their coverage. Contrary to what they may have implied, it has no new information about Obsidian's secret project. What does it provide is a kind of evaluation of the state of Obsidian Entertainment in 2017 - their principles, their plans, why they worked on a game like Armored Warfare, and whether they're really looking for a buyer. I quote:

    "What publishers look at a lot is whether you still have the ability to make triple-A assets," Feargus Urquhart, studio co-owner and CEO, tells me. "Can you work on these new consoles?" He can say Obsidian can, "but it's just words". "I can't show a pretty level working on Xbox One.

    "One of the things we recognised with Armored Warfare - because the goal of Mail.ru at the time was to make a triple-A game that could transition to console - was this would let us make triple-A-looking tanks and triple-A-looking levels, and we would keep and potentially even grow that competency at the studio.

    "Let's say Bethesda called and said, 'Hey we want you to make Fallout: New Vegas 2,' then we would still have the people here who can make these big open-world things."

    He thinks for a moment. "I still want to make big RPGs," he says.

    "Most of the gaming I do on my PlayStation 4 tends to be the big releases," co-owner Chris Parker adds. We are sat in Urquart's office - surprisingly small and unspectacular considering he is the boss. And a little bit messy. (Maybe that's the point.) "Those are the games that I play, those are the games that I love, those are the games that I want to make and compete with. Given a choice I want to go spend all the money on a big budget title and make something that's unbelievable."

    Armored Warfare paid off. Now the contract is over - "very much a joint decision desired by both parties" according to Urquhart - publishers are interested in Obsidian as a result. Those tanks did their job. "Some publishers like Sega are getting back into looking at doing games, and Microsoft is looking - they've had to do some restructuring and they're starting to look again at doing it. It's cyclical, we just hit a long down-cycle.

    "I just got off the phone with a publisher who wants us to do something," he adds, meaning that morning before I arrived. "But this one was just a not good timing, not good things that they want us to do and it doesn't fit very well."

    Obsidian had a different surprise offer back in March that nearly went all the way. "We went to a meeting with this group and they presented us with this idea and we were like, 'Whoa, okay...' They said, 'We want to move this along pretty quickly.'" Obsidian worked up a pitch and the conversation turned to budget and then bam, all of a sudden the deal fell through. "Something happened and the timing for them was now bad," Urquhart shrugs. But he's used to it, it happens all the time.

    Nevertheless Obsidian is working on something. Something big - something to keep the bulk of the 175-person studio busy. "There's a new project," Urquhart says cagily. "Yes" it has a publisher but he won't tell me who it is, nor if Obsidian has worked with the publisher before. "That's too easy!" he says. Then after careful consideration he continues: "We're making a big RPG - and it's not Fallout!" Whether or not it's a new IP we'll apparently see.

    Over the course of a four-hour interview I realise I had Obsidian wrong. I expected a company where imagination ruled the roost over getting things done on time - dream big! finish the game later. But what I discover is a surprisingly pragmatic company run and founded largely by producers - people who bring projects back down to earth.

    "Our intention is always it's less that is better," Chris Parker tells me. "What we would like to do is make a very minimal amount of stuff and make it really really good and add to that later. That is a much smarter choice than it wind up being scrappy at the end."

    Wait what? Isn't that exactly what Obsidian games have been accused of in the past - of being scrappy? Feargus Urquhart shrugs: "They say the path to Hell is paved with good intentions."

    Maybe some of it is down to genre. "What we've had to learn - we're better at it but we're still learning - is it's really easy to make RPGs big. It's like, 'Oh just one more quest,' 'Oh just one more class,' 'Oh just one more monster.' Every game is like that but RPGs just seem to grow and grow and grow, and we have, traditionally, done a poor job understanding that scope and managing it well."

    As an independent, it's also been harder for Obsidian to get extensions than it generally is for internal studios at publishers. "We sign a contract and we must hit that number and it is the end of the earth if we [don't]," says Urquhart. "We've had to sign away royalties, we've had to sign away ownership of IPs…" He pauses again. "Whereas internal studios, it's just another month - they're already paying the people, it's already in the budget these people are going to be paid."

    That said, Obsidian has had offers of acquisition from publishers - "a lot", according to Urquhart. "It's not like we're 'indie for life'," he says, "not like we bleed indie blood. We were an internal studio [Black Isle] for a publisher for a long time and we were successful."

    "If the right opportunity came up," adds Parker, "it's certainly something that we would do."

    It would certainly be an easier life with malleable deadlines and someone else absorbing responsibility for people's livelihoods. Plus, Urquhart wouldn't have to go out on the road all the time and do "his little horse and pony show" as Chris Parker so brilliantly puts it. But the deals have never been right. "We just didn't think the offers were commensurate to what we're worth and then what we would get to do," Urquhart says.

    "The great thing about being independent is we can work on Star Wars and South Park at the same time, where an internal studio couldn't. I can wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey we're going to try and pitch Star Wars for the ninth time.'

    And there's something deeper, too. "The industry needs independent studios like us," he adds, "because we're going to make games differently. It's like the ecology of game development: there needs to be triple-A indie developers who can be looking at things the big publishers don't look at at."
    There hasn't been any new material on the other sites that have participated in this campaign recently, so this article may be the last of it. This whole thing has been pretty bizarre and I don't understand what Paradox got out of it, but I guess that's 2017 for you - crazy but educational.
     
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  2. Licaon_Ktergender: ⚧ Augur

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    Make....it...stop....
     
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  3. Otreegender: ⚧ Literate

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    In the article 'Stormlands and the million-man raid: Obsidian's cancelled Xbox One exclusive' on 10th Sep,
    In this article,
    :nocountryforshitposters:
     
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  4. Major_Blackhartgender: ⚧ Codexia Lord Sodom Patron

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    Jesus. It's the same info over and over. Just said a bit differently. Out with it man!
     
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  5. Country_Gravygender: ⚧ Arcane Patron

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    So it isn't Fallout? Who gives a fuck, then? They are just hyping shit for an unnamed publisher before they officially announce the project? I guess that's smart business. The line about willing to be acquired makes me think they were just saying, "Make us an offer, people."

    If their project with this current publisher is a hit, I bet they get bought up by a big name publisher rather quickly.
     
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  6. Laheygender: ⚧ Scholar

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  7. Riddlergender: ⚧ Scholar Patron

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    Holy hell, that was one pathetic cry for help if I've ever seen one... :(
     
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  8. Volrathgender: ⚧ Arcane Patron

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    Obshitian is doomed.

    We were THIS close to making a big new game with [insert publisher here] but,.... it fell through.... again.

    It's a company living on borrowed time where all the talent left ages ago. Literally nobody gives a shit about them anymore.
     
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  9. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    How come? If anything it shows they are in a fine place, even though a big deal fell through. There were no layoffs and I doubt they have the manpower to fully start working on an another big project right now. They are quite busy for a while with Deadfire + DLCs/expansion, Tyranny DLCs and possible Tyranny 2, Project Indiana and Pathfinder Card Game.
    Sure it gives them more security if they have two big projects under contract in case Paradox doesn't want Tyranny 2 and/or Deadfire is a huge flop that kills the series. Otherwise they've got their hands somewhat full for the moment.
    And yeah, it might have meant a new IP for Obsidian and growth from a 175 studio to over 200, but they are definately not in a bad place at the moment.
     
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  10. Jedi Master Radekgender: ⚧ Arcane

    Jedi Master Radek
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    Would guess it's Bethesda



    Feargus called Obsidian triple-A indie studio :)
     
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  11. felipepepegender: ⚧ Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

    felipepepe
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    So all this for fucking nothing? Really sounds like they're trying to inflate their status to score a AAA publishing deal or just sell the entire company. No idea why Paradox tagged along.

    Also, "RPG's greatest survivors" my ass. Larian Studios is much older than Obsidian.

    Yeah that "iii" bullshit he and Fargo were trying to push. Right now all that really means is "we have A LOT of bills to pay but no funding from big publishers".
     
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  12. Quantomasgender: ⚧ Educated

    Quantomas
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    VS


    Their mind is split.
     
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  13. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    It was always about promoting Tyranny. Did you miss the Tyranny ads on Eurogamer? Paradox paid a trip to a bunch of journalists without reining them to only talk about Tyranny and bought bunch of ad time on their sites so when people who are interested about Obsidian come to the site to read the article, they are blasted with Tyranny ads. Pretty basic marketing campaign.
     
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  14. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

    Infinitron
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    Naive post, Quantomas. They SHOULD be publicly ambivalent about this. Signaling that they're dead-set on being bought out is a bad look that would reduce the company's value. In negotiation, you always want to give the impression that you'd be fine walking away from the deal.

    But even setting that aside, who could blame them for being split on this? It's a big life-changing decision, which is always scary. I'd be split too.

    I guess it kinda makes sense if you think about it as Paradox wanting to make up for their lack of marketing for the game's initial release. The Tyranny release marketing campaign, delayed by one year.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
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  15. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    Umm no. He says the industry needs triple-A developers like them, not them precisely and I doubt Feargus&co plan on running the company for an eternity.
     
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  16. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    Exactly. Paradox fucked up when Tyranny came out. They are so used to their Youtubers and streaming doing all the marketing that they forgot it won't work on a crpg. You can't stream that game for hours without spoiling the plot. Since they don't have the marketing funds of EA/Activision etc. they need to come up with something else to market their games.
     
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  17. Quantomasgender: ⚧ Educated

    Quantomas
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    From a business point of view you are right.

    BUT this kind of indecisiveness made them go down the path they went. Loyalty to whom?

    The interesting thing about Larian is that Swen Vincke said, fuck it, we are trying to go big BECAUSE we love games.

    Maybe it's just a day 1 fluke, but there is a chance that they can make it:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
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  18. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    Who should they be loayl to? You are really naive or you just like to think about everything in just black and white. Feargus&co only need to be loyal to their fans and their employees. With the small slip with Armored Warfare that was done out of desperation mostly, they've remained pretty loayl to their fans. From business point of view making AW makes perfect sense, they remained big enough to stay relevant and got to keep their staff instead of laying off loads of people.
    With publishers it's a two way street. You can't ask for Obsidian to stick with just one publisher, because if they did they would be out of business already. They make niche games, they aren't working on the next Halo series that everyone wants to play. Publishers needs vary, while some publisher might be looking for crpg right now that situation can and will change. So you expecting them to work with just one publisher is beyond retarded. They can't force a publisher to publish their games.

    Good for Larian. Currently they employ only 40 people, so they still have a lot of expanding to do, to get to around 175 people that Obsidian employes.
     
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  19. Make America Great Again Zorba the Huttgender: ⚧ Arcane Weasel

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    I guess Feargus has learned a lot of lessons along the way

    [​IMG]
     
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  20. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

    Infinitron
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    You're way out of date Flou, Larian now has four studios with at least 130 employees in total.

    They've been very successful. Unusually successful. Larian has been able to do things that other similar independent studios simply don't get to do, and it's unclear exactly how. I'd love to interview them about their financial state over the years, but I doubt I'd get a straight answer.

    My suspicion - Belgian government support has played a role.
     
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  21. Flougender: ⚧ Learned

    Flou
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    What? Wikipedia entry said 40 people. *shakes his fist at Wikipedia*
     
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  22. Make America Great Again Zorba the Huttgender: ⚧ Arcane Weasel

    Zorba the Hutt
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    Isn't it just a mix of DOS being 'unusually successful', given they pretty much owned it all and didn't have to split too much of the proceeds with others, and state support for setting up their various new studios, eg: Canada, much like inXile got with New Orleans?
     
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  23. Hinesgender: ⚧ Novice

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  24. Make America Great Again Infinitrongender: ⚧ Trade Master Patron

    Infinitron
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    No, I mean even before that. They self-funded D:OS's development for three years (along with Dragon Commander) long before the oldschool RPG revival was a thing. They were able to get significant royalties for their publisher-funded action-RPGs (Divinity 2) while Obsidian seemed permanently locked in hand-to-mouth work-for-hire mode. They survived for years without releasing any games at all (between Beyond Divinity and Divinity 2).
     
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  25. Quantomasgender: ⚧ Educated

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    You can be loyal to your fans. You can be loyal to your beliefs. And you can be loyal to your employees, which means more than only to secure their next paychecks, but to honor what they believe in too, because this is most likely the reason why they chose to work there in the first place.

    Obsidian looks very much like the story of a company that set out boldly, grew too quickly and then had to make all kinds of compromises which led them to be dependent on publishers.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
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