D20: Kickstarter, goodwill and the weight of responsibility: analysing Project Eternity

Project: Eternity

By on October 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm

For years, a number of gamers have been clamouring for a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time — Planescape: Torment. Unfortunately, thanks to some rights issues, we’ll probably never see a second Planescape game — and to be honest that’s probably for the best as any slight flaw in the game would be transformed into a crippling error by the powers of nostalgia. But for old-school RPG fans, a recently finished Kickstarter campaign could give us the next best thing. I’m speaking, of course, about Project Eternity, the isometric RPG by Obsidian Entertainment scheduled for a 2014 release.

To many backers, myself included, Project Eternity is something of a dream project; a veritable super-group of RPG developers, including Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment), Tim Cain (Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura) and Josh Sawyer (Icewind Dale II) teaming up to create an old-school epic. By the end of the campaign, just shy of 74,000 people backed the project on Kickstarter, with another undisclosed number contributing through Paypal, After asking for $1.1 million to make the game, Obsidian Entertainment raked in over $4 million, making the project the most strongly backed Kickstarter game campaign so far, and increasing the size and scope of the game far beyond the original parameters.

With only a single screenshot of the game existing, it’s far too early to speak about the game itself, but the amount of money raised, the way the stretch goals for the campaign were structured and some of the comments on both the Kickstarter and on gaming forums say some very interesting things not only about Project Eternity but also about the industry and community as a whole.

For anyone slaving away behind a desk (as long as that desk isn’t a giant mahogany number at the top of some high rise somewhere), four million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but in the world of game development it’s a drop in the bucket. Game development budgets frequently range into the tens of millions, with equal amounts of money being pumped into marketing. Compared to that, $4 million is pocket change.

One of the more frequent claims of game Kickstarter campaigns is that the project isn’t something that the major publishers wouldn’t touch, and that’s a claim we’ve seen repeated with Project Eternity. Whilst it’s disappointing to see beloved genres and styles falling by the wayside because of fiscal concerns, if you look at some of the base numbers you can really understand why major publishers don’t want to touch niche projects like Project Infinity. The game may have broken Kickstarter records for the amount pledged to a game, but when you take a step back you see that the 74,000 people who backed the campaign have in essence already bought it.

the majority have decided, rightly or wrongly, that it is the traditional publisher/developer relationship that was responsible for Obsidian’s infamous bugs and lack of final polish

Sure, there will be extra profit made through GOG, Steam and retail sales, but if that went through a normal publisher they probably wouldn’t pay for the marketing campaign necessary to push the sales on launch.

Sidestepping the traditional publisher/developer deal should enable Obsidian to ride on something they have a lot of — goodwill. The clever way in which the Kickstarter rolled out stretch goals, each adding something beloved to both old and new school RPG players – new races, classes and areas, crafting, player housing and the like — has garnered them a lot of love in the community, but there is also another interesting thread of goodwill that has run alongside the Kickstarter campaign.

It’s not that controversial to say that Obsidian is a name almost synonymous with rushed or buggy games. KotOR II, Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol and Neverwinter Nights 2 all featured a number of bugs on launch, prompting many gamers to question whether the company ever did any kind of QA. That particular reputation appears to have been ditched with the Kickstarter campaign. Although a few people have commented on the Kickstarter itself or on forums that they wouldn’t contribute to a game they knew would be buggy, it seems as though the majority have decided, rightly or wrongly, that it is the traditional publisher/developer relationship that was responsible for Obsidian’s infamous bugs and lack of final polish, that budgetary restraints and unrealistic deadlines imposed by publishers were the cause of all ills.

I have no idea if that is true of not, but the mob has spoken and developers seem to be as virtuous as publishers are villainous. In the span of one campaign, Obsidian has transformed from a developer renowned for bugs to being all but beyond reproach. Now it’s time to see if it can hold up.

5 comments (Leave your own)

I’m not sure I completely agree with the comment that the punters think that the publisher was responsible for all bugs due to rushed deadlines or what not. I think it’s more of an indictment on the overall respect they have for the developers. Obsidian do push out some buggy releases, but damn their games are fun and interesting for the most part and for the attached names to be involved it is a bit of an RPG nerdgasm, the guys linked have been directly involved with some of the best games out there – Planescape, Arcanum, Fallout etc.. big names in gaming circles for producing games that were simply beautiful in their experience (Arcanum is buggy, looks like poo smeared on a monitor but damn it is a beautifully deep and interesting game to play).

I think there is also the factor that the punters feel that they have more of a directing influence on the actual content delivered when it is through crowd sourcing, it also gives an almost immediate response to developer proposals which helps for a more tailored game. An isometric RPG won’t appeal to the masses these days for the most part, but you tailor it to those who do find it appealing you will rake in those sales. 4 million has been raised from the 74k punters, I have no doubt it will reap more than that in profits for these guys.

 

I really liked this article. It poses an interesting idea which I too started to see. I know myself I blame the publishers. It just seems to make sense.

 

I hold a similar sentiment as Meji. To me Obsidian are the new Troika, I accept that their games will probably be flawed in some manner but also that those faults will be far outweighed by what else is on offer.
They dream big and I don’t hold it against them that they don’t always pull off those dreams. For me it’s far better than the alternative of a finely polished but conservative game.

 

I didn’t fund this project but I think they got as much as they did because it is the first Kickstarter in along time where they can at least deliver on most of their promises and definitely release a game (having already made quite a few). I was surprised to know there was actually an Insurgency 2 Kick starter that ended with half its goal and receiving almost zero media attention (with the exception of TotalBiscuit). A project which has a fully functioning Alpha already should be enough to get people thinking that they can actually deliver somewhat (as opposed to some Kickstarter projects where they make wild promises that cant be done).

 

You know, maybe it’s not so much about making profits as it is about staying employed for the next two years while working on something they enjoy. It’s not like Obsidian needs to rake in cash hand over fist, they just need enough to keep their employees paid.

Instead of relying on potential sales they might just put up another Kickstarter once this ones out the door. I guess it all depends on how this pans out.

 
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