Quality over quantity in RPGs

Whenever I manage to get home before my kids go to bed, I am forced to tell them the next adventure of Little Green Dragon. Little Green Dragon you see is the sequel to Little Blue Dragon. He’s been having an epic journey through an enormous fantasy world for over two years now, fighting against the evil Nomen who just recently abducted Little Green Dragon’s mother.

I used to think the first Divinity was only going to be a 20 hour game

It’s becoming pretty hard for me to keep up with my own story, and unfortunately my kids have excellent memories, so occassionaly I need to carefully query them about some of the well-known facts of the little dragon universe. I even started taking notes.

The thing they like the most I think is that it’s a neverending story. Whenever I try to bring some closure, they want to know what happens next . Running out of inspiration and hoplessly caught in a spiderweb of plotlines, I tried finishing the story once, but a young boy crying and a wife giving me the evil eye, forced me to add yet another plot-twist, meaning that Little Green Dragon still has a very long journey ahead of him.

My personal equivalent of listening to Little Green Dragon stories is playing RPGs & reading books, so I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I too like my RPGs to be very big, and I rarely read a fantasy book if it’s not at least a trilogy. If it’s not big enough, then I don’t feel it’s worthwhile investing myself in the protagonist, because what I’m looking for are grand epic adventures, Lord of the Rings like.

So recently the discussion of size versus quality popped up again at Larian Studios,the topic being where to spend our efforts, and as typical in that conversation, I once again found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The gist of the argument is very simple – given a fixed budget, the smaller the world in which the RPG takes place, the higher the quality and polish of that world. The corrolary of that is, the larger the gameworld, the more generic the mechanics that drive it.

We started working on something called Project E in 2010 at the same time as Dragon Commander. While Dragon Commander breaks new grounds for us, project E is very much what people expect from us, a big RPG with all the stuff that goes with it.

At some point during development I asked the guys in the team to put the concept art for the entire world on a wall, and chalk out the pieces that belonged together. Given that the brief was that I wanted it to be a grand adventure with continous changes in environment, I wasn’t surprised that what I was looking at was very varied, and also very large. Definitely Little Green Dragon worthy and of a scope I would invest myself in as a player.

But then the next thing I did was asking one of the designers to estimate how long it was going to take to traverse one zone of the world. On the face of it, he thought it was going to take half an hour, but obviously it might take a bit longer. So we sat down with a chronometer and role played a walkthrough of  a zone. Turned out that the half hour became at least one hour, without any way of really knowing because we didn’t factor in interface operations such as deciding which skills to get, what items to trade etc… things we couldn’t try because the game’s still in development.

Enthousiastically the designer told me – yeah cool, it’s going to be really epic, really really epic. Sadly this was quickly followed by him being disappointed because I told him –we should cut. This didn’t go down well and he argued quite strongly and well against it, but in my mind the decision was already taken – every single alarm bell ringing very loud inside of me. Looking at that very long and high wall,   I knew that without intervention this game was going to be way over budget and really late.

So I told him, cut about one third, rewrite the story in such a way that we can still add the one third (for  the unlikely event that we’ll be ready with it ahead of time) and then we’ll see.

I broke his heart, and I also broke mine, because the small boy in me actually wanted the world to even be larger. But the big boy said, you can’t do this. Probably one third isn’t even enough, you might have to cut half.

Sean R. in a comment on “The route to the very big RPG that will dwarf them all” wrote that one should prefer quality and uniqueness over quantity. He hit a note that doesn’t really feel right to me, given that I’m the one who likes both quality & uniqueness but also quantity when it comes to a RPG. However, there’s some evidence to suggest that he’s more right than I am, and that if forced to choose, you should always reduce the quantity.

Two important supporting arguments for this are experience with reviewers, and actually time spent on RPGs by players.

Having read a lot of RPG reviews, we learnt that a lot of meta-critic reviewers in general only play a game for a couple of hours or so before making their final judgment, especially if the game doesn’t have a huge advertising budget. They also rarely reduce the score for a game being too short, which is actually one of the few consistent traits we observed ;) Since their rating is ultra-important for the sales of a RPG, this is quite an important observation.

You can’t even blame them, because statistics obtained by monitoring how many achievements are unlocked in Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga on Xbox360, tell us that 40% of players finished the first part of the game, 18% the second part and a mere 7,5% the entire game. So in this sense, reviewers represent the audience, which in the end I guess is their job.

If we project this in gameplay time, it means that the large majority of our audience is more than served with 20-30 hours, and you can’t help but wonder if it’s worth the effort to put in more than that.

So this time around I decided to see if anecdotal evidence, xbox statistics and what agents, publishers and friendly journalists tell me, really makes sense. The policy of the day has become the ruthless guarding of polish and quality at the expense of quantity, with the silent hope that the team progresses fast enough so we can still appease my inner yearning for the grand-scale adventures of Little Green Dragon.

That, and the knowledge that even if I reduced the scope of project E by 30%, it’s probably still going to be large enough( if not too large) by the reasoning I outlined above. I say that because when we finalized on the scope of Divine Divinity back 2001, I thought we were making a a 20 hours game, and suffered from a mild depression  until I discovered that 20 hours in my book meant around 60 hours when observing players playing  ;)

 

  • http://twitter.com/chautemoc Sean R.

    Honoured to have inspired a post and be referenced, sir.

    To be clear, yes, I simply meant quality and uniqueness should take priority. If you can afford the huge scale, too, then by all means. I adore RPGs that can pull it off. There’s not much greater than being completely immersed in a massive, believable RPG universe.

    This applies to all games, really…I think it’s a sad situation we have. I’m sure some of it is down to ambitious designers and producers who throw caution to the wind, but it seems like another good bit is down to pressure from the audience, who demand stunning graphics and huge worlds and lots of mechanics and so on.

    The costs today, as you’ve detailed, are enormous. Scaling back where you can and have to is important. It’s a delicate balance between satisfying both your vision and the public at large in an effort to grow your studio, and being cautious where you can afford it, without sacrificing the soul of your game (or at least not too much of it).

    The upside to working under such confinements is with good lead designers and management, you can whittle the project down to a completely refined experience that’s exciting every bit of the way through. If you reach this level, I like to think perhaps lesser graphics and/or a smaller scale won’t matter much to the audience.

    Regarding reviewing time, I sincerely hope this is not the case at large. I can only speak for Neoseeker really, but we spend a minimum of about 30 hours on any lengthy RPG, and really do try to finish it when we can (though for a variety of reasons this usually doesn’t happen). Advertising budget is not a factor for us, but the quality of the game can be: if I’ve played 10 or 20 hours and it’s the exact same garbage then as it was when I started and I’m stressing out every time I boot it up, well, I’m probably not going to keep going. A few hours is absolutely shameful.

    Not docking for length is more or less accurate. There are times where I have and will, but much less so than if the game is polished. There’s more ways than length to make a game satisfying, and I’d argue they’re all more important. And besides, if it’s lengthy and unpolished, you’re just dragging out the game’s weaknesses for the player/reviewer.

    Mind you, there’s the option of DLC and expansion packs for later on (generally I strongly prefer the latter for a more or less singular, meaty experience — small DLC usually feels like time that would’ve been better spent on a new game).

    A lot of people would like to finish the big lengthy RPGs, but due to other aspects of life, they never get around to it. Another part of the issue is they can be very tough to pick up after you’ve put them down for a week or more due to the sheer amount of content available and things to do at any given time — scaling this down or designing mechanics to alleviate this can be very beneficial in that regard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      A game reviewer who spends 30 hours on a game is classified as a dinosaur. For various reasons: often, staff is underpaid and nobody really expects any in-depth material from the part-time freelancers. Often, staff is stretched over so many releases (e.g. typical for German magazines, as I hear) that they can only afford a day with any given game, unless it’s Diablo III and they need to dig for details. Finally, even if the game manages to get up the ladder to the Important Reviewer’s table, this person is so busy with his other tasks that, no matter how much love he has for the game, he’ll run it twice before making his final statement.

      In regard to the books, I differ from Swen. I buy everything. A big book is a big promise (AGOT?) but Dune’s thin volumes I would really rank higher. 

      What makes me confident in the Quality over Quantity, Detail over Size argument is my experience with Advance Wars. The high points are the detailed missions, and me trying to break another level on a plane when I forgot where I am and where I’m going to, I just wanted to finish the freaking level on the “S” score ;) . This is why I love the game and love the developer. As to the size – I never managed to finish Days of Ruin, just because of the way my life runs. I forgot the cartridge in another house, then found it but had no time, etc. If the developer would ask me now, would you like a longer game, or better detailed game, I would enjoy more details – but I won’t see a difference between 30 and 50 missions. Yes, not 10 please, and not 15, but 30 is already a good dive.

      If the RPG is detailed, and if I play it with pleasure, I would happily pay for DLC to go back to the world and the characters. If the game suffers on this front but is actually quite big, well, I can’t really buy a High Detail pack, can’t I? :-)

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Did Sergei just call you a dinosaur ? ;)  

      The scaling back argument is having an interesting side consequence – I mentioned it to a local publisher with whom we want to work for retail distribution and what’s the result ? “We’re going to send a team to check out the scope to see if it’s large enough for a retail product”. I’m sure they’ll walk away mind-boggled if not by the game, at least by the dragon beer we’ll serve them (probably reporting that we’ll never manage to get the game done on time because of everything we want to put in), but it does show that, at least to certain people, size does matter.

      The small DLC’s are making a lot of money, at least for certain companies, which is why you’re seeing so much of it. I was told by the developer of a well-known AAA property that half their revenue actually comes from such micro-transactions (which I’m personally not crazy about, but if that becomes the dominant business model, I guess we won’t have any choice)

      In terms of review times and reviewing in general – I think the top 4 things that frustrate the hell out of developers like us:

      a) Reviewer is inconsistent with previous reviews of the magazine (or himself for that matter)

      b) Reviewer doesn’t speak for the target audience of a game

      c) Reviewer didn’t really play the game

      d) Reviewer is a wannabe/failed developer 

      I don’t have the time but I’d be interested in a review of the reviewers. 

      I think it’d become rapidly clear that it’s a class society, with on one side some excellent remarkably consistent and diligent reviewers and on the other side some pretentious snot-noses. Sadly and unexplainably this does not always correlate with the size or impact of the publication, meaning that some of those on the wrong side  can have devastating effects on sales of a game. 

      In my idealistic moments I hope there’s a sense of responsibility among editors in chief but I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary and have therefore long lost belief in an unbiased gaming press

      • Arne

        Are there any review magazines/sites you do believe to be noteworthy then?

        • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

          I tend to think more in terms of reviewers that I like, and reviewers that I don’t, not necessarily publications.

          It wouldn’t be bad if there would be more focus on that in the publications, together with good profiles of who they are, what they like etc… so that as a reader you can relate.

          For instance, on http://www.rpgwatch.com, a site I regularly visit, I pretty much know which reviewer prefers what type of game, and I also know how diligent he’s going to be about reviewing a game. That helps a lot in assessing whether or not I’d like the game or not.

          The worst examples are the publications that give 90% scores to very high profile games on the day of the release, games that then subsequently get 70% or less scores from the rest of the world who actually played through the entire game. I often wonder why those magazines are still being bought.

      • Illusive Man

        ARGH !! DLC !! :,(

  • http://www.facebook.com/vaders.1st.general Hans William Hansen

    for me, if the game is imersive it does not count how long it is.and i really want long games that will last for quite some time. if the story and imersion is good i can sit for well over 300 hours with a game.but if the game is not imersive and i dont feel a conection with the game world at all i will just place the game in a shelf and MAYBE play it again later.

    skyrim, which many people found to be the best game of the year, i found rather borring and dull since the world does not draw you in (and because the “dragons” in the game are actually wyverns).i know alot of voice acting and text went into skyrim. but i actually got more imersed in skyward sword and felt a sadness at the end (if you have played the end you know what happens)

    to contribute in the imersion, encounters of characters are important so your not just wandering around in a huge world. and broken valley had such encounters in the form of that crazy wizard, and i would like to see more game have that kind of encounters outside of towns.

  • haderach512

    Another great entry and a joy to read, I’ll throw in my opinion, for what it’s worth. I would always go for a shorter game rather than a long one, though I admit it’s not an absolute rule. Probably I’m in minority here, but I actually like sequels. They could let you tell a huge story in decent sized chunks that let you provide closure for each game and also let the gamer wanting for more. Of course, there’s always the issue that people will expect your next game to be X times prettier than the first, with bells and whistles and some critics will trash you if you just offer more of the same. 

    The DLC model is an interesting option, in that, for what I’m concerned, is still broken or should I say incomplete. I could never get myself to buy a DLC because everything just seems optional to me. You finished the main story? Cool, there’s a dlc for you – that’s the point where it’s all optional to me. If I would see a game, however, that would adhere from the start to this model for telling a story, a big story, every dlc tied to the one before it, that would be something. 

    The age of expansions seems to have ended with Neverwinter Nights 2, but those were really cool ways to A. keep the main game decent sized, not too long, not too short and B. provide content on the assumption that there is no “2″ in the title of the game, so people would know that the new content is on the same graphical engine as the first. Valve had another great idea with the Episodes for Half Life except, well, we all know what happened to the third.

    Not to go too far away though, give me a 10-hour game that tells an amazing story and I’m sold :D When I see a game with 70+ hours like Fallout New Vegas adding even more content with dlc’s, I’m starting to think that in this day and age I’ll have to dedicate my whole spare time – lillte as it is – to playing the same game for two months.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      Civ V had 17 DLC packs on Steam, last time I checked, that cost more together than the main game. And people seem to be happy to pay.

      So yes, for me – if it’s a great game that is short, I can always get more goodness by buying expansion. If it’s a long game that’s a bit lacking in greatness, though, it’s going to be lacking forever.

  • Pavel

    For me, it is simple:

    Sure I love how huge Skyrim is. The sense of immersion and wonder of exploration there is just amazing.

    BUT.

    This huge scope means that most of dungeons feel very similar. Cities too. Characters ditto, not to mention quests. It is pure quantity over quality kind of thing (although in Bethesda’s case, that has a lot to do with their inability to write interesting quest).

    As much as I enjoyed Skyrim, its highs have never been as high as highs (god what a sentence) in game like Vampire Bloodlines. Or Witcher 2. These games are smaller, do not have huge megaworlds, but are so much better written, have so much more interesting quests and characters…

    I will never forget them. Skyrim ? I did 98 quests in it and remember maybe 2. And I finished Skyrim few weeks ago…

    Quality over quantity!

    (Although it is true that Skyrim sold 10 million copies or so…so I guess if you want huge megasales, you should have big open world…)

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      Here’s an argument for Skyrim vs. The Witcher:

      TW2 released only on PC
      TESV released PC, X360, PS3

      TW2, as we read in the news, sold 1.4M units – as in “sold”, i.e. paid for
      TESV, as we read in the news, shipped 10M – so probably actual sales are 7M now

      If we were to say, TESV PC is 7M/3 platforms = 2.34M units
      Most likely though, console share is higher than 1/3 + 1/3

      So, we’re really dealing with 1.4M vs. 2-2.5M on the PC platform for these games.

      And then, it’s TW2 not TW5 and TESV not TESII.

      In my book, this means that give the time, and the marketing budget, of Bethesda’s series, TW is as successful a concept as is TES.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      I still have to play Skyrim – I’m not really appealed by it, too realistic in my book, but the job doesn’t leave me much choice.

      • melianos

        I like it a lot, but it’s as far from Divinity2 as can be while still being called a rpg :)

  • Wotan Anubis

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m one of 7.5% who not only finished Divinity 2, but also took the extra time and effort to get every single achievement (though honesty does force me to admit that the fact Divinity 2′s achievements are pretty easy to get did help a lot).

    Anyways, when it comes to quantity v. quality, I’m firmly on the side of quality. A huge game providing a shallow experience is inferior to a short game providing a rewarding experience.

    A good short game I’ll replay. An unrewarding huge game I’ll never finish.

    Which also means that I’ll end up sinking a lot more hours into the short game than in the huge one.

    Of course, a huge game offering a very rewarding experience is the best of both worlds, but if I’ve got to choose… well, the choice is obvious.

    That said… Deadly Premonition offered an interesting perspective. It was very much a quantity-over-quality kind of game, but the kind of quantity was fairly different. Instead of offering a huge world filled with meaningless trash mobs, the philosophy of Deadly Premonition seems to have been ‘if it sounds fun, toss it in’. Which made that game a sort of weird, unpolished and charming compilation of a lot of (sometimes disjointed) neat stuff.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      “if it sounds fun, toss it in” – that’s very close to how I think tbh, but reality put me in a corset

  • Kevin1235

    While you make some good pints I still cant understand why game developers go by statics, As there never accurate. There are more gamers than just those with an Xbox.

    I don’t have a problem either way as long as the game in and delivers om what was promised. 30-40  hours if fine by me. I know games have been getting smaller espicially rpgs. Hell just look at the current FPS genre. A measly 2-6 hour campaign with all the focus on mp.

    Just dont cutout content with a big spoiler at the end and have me foaming at the mouth in rage. Nothing make me madder than knowing content was cut and that I have to buy dlc or an expansion just to finish a game.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      After the death-threats over the ending of Ego Draconis, I think we’ll probably do worse ;)

      • Kevin1235

        Touche I will see what you do next. Don’t make me me sic my jetpack dragon after you.

    • Arne

      I know what’s worse: release a multiplatform game dlc for xbox/ps3 only.
      I understand the profit of dlcs but that doesnt mean i have to like it.

      About the death threats, i actually burst out laughing at the end of Draconis,
      imagining all the complaints that would strand on the script writer’s desk!

  • Illusive Man

    Listening too much to “anecdotal evidence, xbox statistics and what agents, publishers and friendly journalists tell [you]” could bring project E on the damn way to casual gaming.

    For players within the 7.5% and whom, like your kids, always want to know what happens next, this blog entrie is heartbreaking. Much compassion to the designer who did the walktrough…

    Surely the Plan cannot be achieved with only Hardcore fanbase and require a larger audience.
    So please, if you can, make one or two (real) expansions and release another pack with game + expansion(s) like DKS later, that Hardcore fanbase can still be satiated.

  • Arne

    I’m glad to read you decided to cut. Sorry for your little inside.

    If one needs proof of quality > quantity succes, it sure is Portal. No multiplayer, no advanced engine, only 4-5 hours gameplay… Just a lot of humour an incredibly amazing stuff.
    If i wanted an unlimited virtual world i’d play LOTR online, i actually tried and never tried again.

    So you’re doing fine. But innoviation is not all a game has to offer to it’s quality. You guys got the engine, textures, and story; it seems an incredible job getting stories for children sprout out of your mind, so maybe you should write them down, that’s how Winney the Pooh and The Wizard of Ozz came to exist; But even if you got those… To myself the Story Presentation is the backbone of fantasy, thus RPG quality.

    That’s were Divinity II and Divine Divinity might have failed me. Those books that were spread all over Rivellon might have been quite fascinating, puzzling Divinity’s story, but, and maybe it’s just me being lazy, I really did’nt like to pause the game to read The History of Rivellon Part I to X, 4 to 4 pages each. Instead i just skipped them. Whilst playing e.g. Bioshock I so much loved the audio recordings spread along Rapture. They had the same purpose as Divinity’s books: presenting a World. But it was way much shorter and did’nt require a break. I wonder if anyone else prefers this way compared to reading large books? What i did enjoy in Divinity II was the narrator. So when i stumble upon a book in Dragon Commander that has no narrator or even drawings in it, be aware i will skip it again (and think of this blog). People like the word being told and you don’t have to waste time getting characters moving naturally during storytelling from a book, memory,…

    Apart from that I only expect just as much humour and quest fun as from Divinity II and then it’s going to be great, so don’t just sit there with your egg but instead, sit him up!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      I second the motion to either illustrate / narrate, or skip any kind of chronicles altogether.

      On another topic, the Divinity Universe is worth a separate presentation. We’ve played the games now and then, but how would you explain Rivellon to someone who just came up and asked, what’s that? Where can I read up more about it? I’d love to go back to “the happy place” and line up all the facts in one line.

      When I was reading LOTR for the first time, I absolutely loved the illustrated maps that the edition had. I still remember the style, the colors, even the smell of those books (and did I have to get up at 6 to be in the queue to get them, boy oh boy). It just put everything together, and I’ld appreciate something similar for Div.

  • Wayfarer

    It’s quite interesting reading yours every-day thoughts. I’d  recently discovered serial Divintiy for myself, it was just a  bit of curiosity. But, when I finally finished DKS, that was really impressing. I mean – the whole world of Rivellon with all quests and characters and bunch of funny situations( I will never forget Rabbit-killer) makes it so fresh around all other today-rpgs.
    About big RPGs. I remember when I first installed Arcanum, it was great experiense. It was complex, huge, openworld and at the same time with interesting quests and main story. So it is fully possible making vast games with enormous care of the details.
    Today making such games become more complicative and there is no such big audience which estimate all details. So making not neverending stories really good for our real life, and you still enjoy the game.

  • melianos

    So, Eyes is actually “Eyes of the Little Green Dragon” ?

    • Farflame

      More likely “Eyes of the Patriarch” :-) . Or something like that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

        You guys should stop this guessing, you’re getting dangerously close to… :-P

        • melianos

          Do we get “Little Green Dragon Adventures” someday ? :D
          (Btw Sergei, are you the director of propaganda from larian ?)

          • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

            Yup, propaganda and bizdev. I’m the guy who will be happy if Larian is rich enough to kick off Swen’s Dream Game, and I’m also the guy who wants to release DC in Romania, Serbia, Maxico, Argentina, Iceland, etc. in addition to US and Germany :-P

            I’m in Stockholm tomorrow, in Ghent the day after, and in Warsaw on Monday, having breakfasts and lunches and dinners with the single goal: make Dragon Commander BIG, as big as it deserves.

            I’ve seen profit-driven studios, I’ve seen tech-driven studios, Larian is a creatively driven studio, and I say, all the power to these guys. They’ve kept their dream. To quote from the intro to my own (yet unfinished) game,

            Cattle die, kindred die,Every man is mortal.But the good name will never fadeOf one who has lived honorably.– Odin, Words of the High One 

            - just replace “lived” with “developed” :-P

        • Farflame

          You are joking, are you, Sergei? :-) But we are good at guessing, thats for sure. :-)  
          If you want us to stop guessing, give us something other to play around… for example half of a story from Divinity world. We may try to guess the second half. :-)

          • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

            You’re making me wish for a guest blogger right in this blog ;)

            To start with, I’m not a big fan of “let’s forget that this world does not speak English everywhere” approach that developers sometimes exhibit.

            The official (currently, in-house) title of the E project is hardly pronounceable outside of English-speaking territories, and if you try to spell it out in the streets of Germany… or Russia… or Poland… oops, people will laugh and say, WTF was that?

            The concept of the title is great, though. Once you know the story, you immediately understand the reason for the title. But. But, but, but – we must remember that US is 40% of sales, even less in 2011, and the other 60% will need something easier to refer to.

            So I’m of the small political party inside of Larian that lobbies the change of the title for Project E before it’s officially announced.

          • Farflame

            Political party inside independent-to-be-developer? Sounds like small paradox. :-)  
            According to your post it seems like something in the vein of “Ego Draconis”, but in english language. Anyway I will wait and see what come out of it.

            Regarding the guest blogger – well, maybe Lar will allow you to write few articles here. Actually you are both from the same company and have the same goal. And as a president of propaganda you can probably tell Lar some good reasons for your interest in writing based on marketing blah-blah… I mean solid facts based on newest methods of social propaganda. :-)

          • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

            Actually, I managed to score a guest blogger – she’s a royalty auditor who’s seen the books of I think most major publishers and so she’s ideally placed to give some (necessarily general) comments about how things work behind the scenes. I’ll do an interview with her shortly.

  • Slava Gonakhchyan

    RPG is basically simulation of life in some fantasy setting. So the question asked transforms into another question: Do you want to live short but enjoyable life or do you want life to be long but dull?
    It’s a stupid question anyway. We want balanced life with enough dull moments to highlight rare moments of bliss – that’s my answer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      The rock scene responded by suggesting to live fully and die young, by the way ;)

      I love Sherlock Holmes “series” which is only 3 episodes more than, I think, I would love 13 duller episodes.

      But of course, balance is best, as you say – e.g. Rome, it was detailed and long enough, sure.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      So rock & roll followed by detox ? ;)

  • daniel

    One thing worth noting of course is those stats are for Xbox 360 players who I suspect on average are more casual than PC players. An ideal game length for an Xbox RPG may well be to short for a PC RPG.

    • http://rudolphthesnowdeer.myopenid.com/ Rudolf

      Yeah, I’d like to see the Steam stats too.

      • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

        I actually don’t have them so I can’t comment really. 

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          Will someone please send a link to this blog to Focus or dtp… :-P

  • Peter

    Wouldn’t the huge success of Skyrim (and previously, Fallout 3 + Fallout: Nev Vegas) both on PC (fastest/best selling game on Steam) and X360 indicate that gamers want more “big huge” games? Kingdoms of Amalur appears as it is going to hit the right notes as well (and many players even compare it with Divinity 2).

    It may be just the huge oversaturation of short, linear story-driven games like Witcher 2 and BioWare games that makes the gamers crave for something else.

    To me, Divinity games always struck the right balance between huge/open world and story telling.

  • Mathieu Vanhove

    I think a parallel can be drawn with English vs American TV comedy shows. A typical English season will have 6-7 episodes with every minute packed brimfull of humour. An American season will have 22-25 episodes each season with every episode having only a couple of hilarious moments.

    While most connoisseurs would consider the quality of the English comedy higher, due to the quantity of the American comedies, they do tend to reach a wider audience.

    To take it back to gamedev:
    By increasing the quality of your features/content, you also limit the type of features/content you can put in the game and risk only pleasing a smaller playerbase.

    In my opinion a two-pronged approach can help you reach the broadest audience:
    1) Make a short, high-quality rollercoaster-ride of a main storyline.
    2) Add high-quantity of easier to produce but world-filling side-content and extra features.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      I second this motion, once the game breaks through the clouds to be recognized as “great” – there’s loads of things that can be done, on the strength of such recognition.

      It’s like a restaurant, in a sense. What if we serve great food, but just one niche, and then expand… or should we offer an entire palette of Armenian flavours, even though we’ll probably suffer in quality on some of these? I’d go for top-grade limited offering, and then hire additional chefs once the money allows.

  • John Glassmyer

    Wouldn’t the answer be, then, to write the story as a sequence of smaller narrative segments?  If your analogy is that a book has to be part of a trilogy to be worth investing time in, then wouldn’t it be similar, when you are designing a game, to commit to building only the first chunk of at least 3 chunks?  Rather than permanently cutting 30% and releasing the remaining 70%, reduce the size of the world and release the first 30% as one episode.  Incorporate feedback from reviews, then release the next 30%.  Etc.  That’s what Valve started doing with Half Life 2, right?  Granted, HL2 was linear rather than exploratory.  Can you make the world piecewise-open, exploratory only a section at a time?  How episodic can you make an RPG without the latter episodes feeling DLC-ishly shallow?

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Some platform holders/digital vendors told me that the pure episodic  model doesn’t really work well (in contrast to micro-transactions, which seem to be working extremely well), because all you get is always a fraction of the sales of the first episode.

      • Farflame

        Because its marketed and stated that its episodic model. I know from my experience that this fact alone is something that players dont like. For most people “episodic” means “short, unfinished, half-baked, mostly linear, small story-missing epicness” etc. But I think that opinion of John Glassmyer is not bad. If you have that “grand idea” about your world and stories of individual characters you can create full intricate story with reasonable medium/large size, but with the idea how to proceed next, how to expand the story etc. Its probably something you try to achieve now with project E…

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          Does anyone remember Siege of Avalon, in three or even in six series?

          • Farflame

            Unfortunately no, its a little old for me. Whats your point?

  • Illusive Man

    All those blog entries and comments seems like a big huge puzzle which pieces are spread all over, hidden between lines and thoughts.
    Trying to bring things together leads to a larger pattern, a glimpse of the future.

    “Reducing production cycle”, “shorter games”, “larger audience”, DLC , “quality over quantity”, “stronger Franchise” are definitely big dev / publisher’s concerns.
    From an old gamer POV, it reminds the path of BioWare leading directly from Baldur’s Gate to Dragon Age ][. And that’s not a compliment…

    The difference is that during BioWare’s evolution they became an “EA division” whereas Larian is still independent.
    But will the argument “We are indie, with a small budget, and we did our best.” be enough if Divinity 3 : Eyes of the Burning Imp and Dragon Commander aren’t successful after following this path ? ( if being the most important word )

    Unless you’ll finally be possessed by the Molyneux’s Spirit  which self-award 90% to self-made games, leaving only misunderstanding and confusion as explanations.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      We’re not looking for sympathy and we don’t want people to say “oh, for an indy game, that’s pretty good”. Our goal is making good games that can stand comparison with what the big boys are making – but we’re taking a different route in which we are in control of our own fate. What you’ll find here is the thoughts that drive that particular journey, which undoubtedly is riddled with obstacles, but if it’d be easy, I guess everybody would do it.

      And we’re not Bioware – we’re Larian. And I’m Swen, not Peter :)

      • Illusive Man

        So be it :D

        I guess I’m confused because you’re braking free from publisher’s limits only to face market’s constraints by yourself while I was assuming you will also rampage the market with your own conception of RPG ( a.k.a. ” free systemic game-world coupled to a strong storyline and powerful character development mechanics” previously posted ), kicking some Top 10 Publishers’ a*s in the process.

        Instead it seems you’re carefully looking at the existing pattern and try to fit in, which is… unexpected since the road to “the big RPG that will dwarf them all” requires doing better than the big boys.
        But you can’t break all the rules at once !

        On the “unexpected” part, I would just add that, imo, shorter games with DLC are not what the big boys have done best and should not necessarily be considered as a model.
        Especially after DKS hitting 82% on Metacritic with 100+ hours of gameplay and a single expansion for Ego Draconis.
        And the fact that shorter games comes quicker to the second-hand market.
        And that statistics are just numbers. Numbers can be interpret. Like “100% of the gamers within this Xbox Stats bought DKS”.

        But assuming Larian could need to release shorter games with DLC by the end of 2012 to ensure financial income before the balance goes red in 2013, I’ll be fine with that.
        It’s a supposition I wouldn’t agree but i’ll understand. Not by sympathy, because it’s part of the Plan.

  • Haba

    That is most definitely a difficult choice.

    DKS was an extremely positive surprise to me when I saw the opening area; the multitude of characters, quests with several alternative ways to complete them, seemingly huge world to explore. All of those positive feelings were shadowed by the premonition that the rest of the game would not maintain the same level of quality.

    Most games tend to fall to the same pitfall. You’re served the best cuts as appetizers, and for the remainder of the course you get soup that is thinner and staler by every serving.

    As much as I love lengthy, epic stories, I’ve seen my habits change along the way. No longer can I spend hundreds of hours grinding through combat encounters to finally see the ending slides for an RPG. I play games for shorter periods and there is more and more time in between sessions. The more of a behemoth the game is, the harder it is to return back to it after a break of weeks or months.

    So for an developer, I’d give the recommendation to make the game as good as it can be. It is better to finish a great game in few hours than it is to feel regret at one that never gave you the closure you wanted. If you can’t make the gameplay interesting and diverse enough, then don’t drag it on artificially (endless combat with trash mobs), or at least make it optional.

    Even in fantasy epics, most of the pages are filler (count how many times Thomas Covenant is foraging or ill or travelling somewhere…). I’d say that in games that “filler” should be the driving force behind the game. Bioware of those days would be much better making visual novels than games… And this is said with no spite – the core gameplay has been simplified to the degree where it serves no meaning anymore.

    Ideally I’d get games like books, continuing epic that builds upon the characters and storylines of the previous titles, released on a steady pace. But as even writers have problems maintaining this pace, I don’t see this being feasible, even in indie scene.