An important lesson

I have these little notebooks in which I write down my thoughts. Every day I fill a couple of pages with new observations, questions and decisions. Whenever a notebook is full, I put it in a drawer, there to stay until the drawer is full at which point I empty the drawer, and put the notebooks in a box. I really don’t know why I bother with it, because I rarely read what I wrote, but I guess it helps me organise my thoughts. It also makes it look like I’m paying attention in meetings I’m not particularly interested in ;)

If you’d take the notebook that says January 2013, you’d see that I listed as major tasks for 2013, the organising Divinity: Original Sin’s kickstarter, releasing Dragon Commander and releasing Divinity: Original Sin. At that time, I only had hopes and aspirations and I really didn’t have a clue whether or not my plans were going to work.

Taking risks is of course part of the metier of running a game development studio, and there’s only that much that you can do to cover your bets. You know certain things will go wrong, you hope more things will go right. So last night, I started thinking about how we were doing compared to what I hoped for at the start of 2013…

I mention Dragon Commander a lot in this blog. If you don’t know what the game is about, it was released on August 6th 2013, and we made this fancy trailer to explain the game

Well, pretty good actually.

If I look at where Larian stands today, I can’t say that I’m unhappy about how 2013 unfolded so far and I think it’s safe to say that more things went right than wrong. Our Kickstarter campaign beat expectations, Dragon Commander outsold Dragon Knight Saga 3 to 1 in its first month and will  be profitable, and a surprising amount of people reported that they had fun playing the game.  Sure, things could even be better, but considering some of the environmental parameters we encountered, I’m definitely not going to complain.

But that is already in the past and I really have no time to linger as there’s plenty of work ahead of me. My next job is to finish and release Divinity:Original Sin, something that given the scope of the game will be quite an undertaking. In a way it’s the one task I’m the most nervous about, probably because I have the feeling that that’s the game where our players expect the most from us. I also know that considering the many opportunties I’ll get, chances are high that I’ll make some judgement error in the coming months that’ll hurt the game. I can only hope the damage won’t be to big.

My activities last night were part of an introspective exercise with the aim of avoiding making mistakes  made in the past, and so I started taking stock of what went wrong on Dragon Commander and specifically, what problems were caused specifically by decisions I made. Of course, looking at failures in past performance carries with it the risk of sounding too negative, so I do want to make a point of saying that I don’t think we botched up the release of Dragon Commander too much, and  I’m quite proud of what we created. I think there was a lot that went right and if I talk a lot about errors and mistakes in the next paragraphs, then it’s because I believe good ends when it stops improving.

Looking at how I personally handled the self-publishing part of our business, if anything, I think my biggest mistake was that I let weaker sales channels or markets affect our development flexibility at the expense of the better sales channels and bigger markets. I’m mostly talking about the retail portion of our release here, though the lesson is applicable to other channels/markets too, such as territories with a low amount of paying players but complicated localization needs. It really doesn’t pay to spend most of your resources on markets where you’ll gain the least, especially if your resources are limited. That may sound obvious to you, but it wasn’t that obvious to me in the run up to the release of our latest game, and it cost us.

For Dragon Commander, at present digital sales make up 85% of our revenu and retail only represents 15%. If you take into account that the digital lifecycle of a game is a lot longer than its retail counterpart, and also a bit more profitable, then numbers like this tell the entire picture – if you have to choose where to put your effort, put it in the digital side. The mistake I made was that I had our studio do pretty much the opposite of that, for all the wrong reasons. As a consequence, a large portion of our publishing investments were done in the retail side of things and that automatically meant that certain digital opportunities were lost, because obviously, we couldn’t do everything. That wasn’t such a clever move.

I guess the thing I regret the most about my misplaced belief in retail was that I let it affect our flexibility so much. Small teams like us gain part of their competitive advantage from our ability to quickly make changes when needed, and I  feel I was a fool for manouvering ourselves into a position that handicapped this flexibility.

For a variety of good and bad reasons, we ended up crunching for two months to get everything ready, and during that period we really could’ve done without the constraints of a retail release. I’m sure that had we not been locked into a fixed street date, we could’ve gained a few extra points in our review scores, because we wouldn’t have had to make some last minute compromises. PC Gamer gave it 85%, Gamespot 8/10 and IGN 78%. Obviously it’s the 78% that hurt ;)

I was of course aware of the risks we were taking when the release date was set a few months before, the biggest risk being that we were still developing. Still, I thought we could manage, and to ensure there was some extra buffer time,  decided to make the retail box Steam activated. That way we could have a day 1 patch which everybody would get, meaning that we could continue developing until the very end, instead of until the day the gold master was delivered to the factory. But while that worked to a certain extent, we still had to make more compromises than I wanted to.

There’s a lot of preparation involved in a retail release, especially if you’re launching in multiple countries, and in a small team like ours where the same people wear many hats, a retail release problem popping up automatically means key developers will be affected.

A good example of this is what happened to our translation system. The timelines involved in localizing a game with 200K words and full voice acting with facial capturing on top necessarily require several months of localization. Spread that over multiple languages, and you have a compicated process. It’s already hard when you have a all the source assets in place, but it’s even harder if you’re still developing and the text that is being translated is prone to change.Because we were running late, this was the case for Dragon Commander, so we knew there were going to be some casualties. Still I reasoned, better that than stop making improvements to the game. We had come prepared for this eventuality, having invested significant resources into developing a new and fancy well-functioning localisation system that could deal with incremental versions of a localisation kit, presumably without a hitch.

Yeah,right.

The problem was that our new system had only been demonstrated to work with test data, and well argumented theory, and that the programmer responsible had since left for the competition. In real life, the localisation system failed miserably, and of course it only started doing that when we only had a few weeks left. Life suddenly became very complicated, the nights became even longer and a lot of much-needed time was lost fixing this particular problem. It was seriously bad and if it hadn’t been for the fixed retail release dates, I would’ve postponed the game with a few weeks right there. Or at the very least, I’d have released the English version first and let the other languages follow later. But I couldn’t make those kind of decisions anymore because of the retail agreements we had, and so several lead developers had to scramble to get things sorted out. That of course made them lose time in other domains which were desperate for attention too, and inevitably it meant that certain things weren’t done or only half-done. A real pity.

I realize the  core problem here was that the system didn’t work and that the localisation had to start when we weren’t ready with development yet, but these are the kinds of things that happen in any complicated production, and at times like that, you really want to have as much flexibility as possible.Being locked in prevented me from taking the decision that was the best for the game, and it was quite frustrating.

A similar thing happened because we chose to release on different digital channels. Here the problem was that our multiplayer layer used Steamworks for matchmaking and lobby creation, and that we didn’t have any really good alternatives for players on other platforms. (We actually thought we’d have them but that didn’t work out). I completely mismanaged this part, even if we did spend a lot of effort on it, and in hindsight I think we’d have  been better off just releasing on Steam, and then deal with the other platforms later. That could’ve avoided a lot of unnecessary frustration and allowed us to focus on the core release, which a Steam release is in the modern day PC market.

As I continued to review things that went wrong on the publishing side and that affected development, I found that the common pattern was that most of them were inspired by the different requirements of the different sales channels. Things like separate builds, different feature requirements, special DLC packages etc… I seriously underestimated the impact of this on our development, and I should’ve been more alert when initially agreeing to certain things. Funnily enough this is of course the very thing that I always cursed publishers for, so I guess a few apologies are in order here and there ;)

Like them I found myself sending out review code to magazines, even if the game wasn’t ready for review, pumping money in ads just to convince retail buyers that there’s a market for the game and limiting the size of a day 1 patch because I didn’t want retail buyers to have to downoad gigabytes and gigabytes. Oh oh oh , what I have become!

Of course, every time there were logical reasons for all of this, but in hindsight, they were not good enough reasons. I should’ve guarded development more than I did because after a while, the only thing players remember is the quality of the game, not who released it or how it was released. At least, that’s what I remember when I think of a game.

So yes, I discovered a few interesting lessons.

The most important one for me was that in the future I’ll try to only commit to a release date when the game is actually done. Not if it’s 85% done or even 95% done, but only when really, it’s done. As in, ready to be released. It doesn’t matter if that release date is inconvenient – the lifecycle of games is now much longer than it used to be, and there are ways around inconvenient release dates.

In case we find ourselves in a case again where we have to release, which I guess will be  more than often the case, then at the very least I’ll play hardball when it comes  to guarding our flexibility and refuse anything that’s not focussed on our core release or our core release channels.Fragmentation over different channels cost us too much time and we didn’t gain that much from it. On the contrary, if we had focussed on our primary channels and disregarded the secondary ones, we could probably have improved things here and there.

So to conclude, as I said, this may all sound obvious to you, but in the heat of battle, it really wasn’t to me. The thing I wrote in my notebook therefore was exactly what you’d expect after reading this entry: When in doubt, finish the game first, then think about releasing it. If that’s impossible, focus on where it matters, and refuse all the rest, no matter how tempting. 

If that’s wise or not, I don’t know, the future will tell. I know several developers or publishers who make quite a lot of money by being on every platform they can think of, so I might be wrong, or it may really depend on the game, team and release path.  It in any case seems to be the most sensible thing I could distill from my experiences of the past months and so it’s shaping my thoughts. I’ll let you know how it works out for us.

  • Oscar Velzi

    Thanks for the post, Swen. We’ll certainly take your experience into account when releasing AoD :)

    • Fox

      What is AoD?

      • Oscar Velzi

        The Age of Decadence, a game I’m developing =)

  • Endre

    Hi Swen, I just read your new notice and was a bit puzzled, because the situation reminds me of the decisions in Dragon Commander:
    I didn’t have many time to play with it yet (because I work full time and study), but I got a clear idea about the decisions (at least in the beginning) of the game. Regarding feedback it doesn’t matter, what you do, you always get back the negative critic, not the positive. This is it! The other thing is that you never know 100% sure if your decision is good, just after some time. Developing and releasing a game is not simple, so it is impossible that all your decisions are the best. There are no decisions, but better or wronger. People do a decision and after some time they only remember the bad side effects. This is normal, but don’t be too hard to yourself. ;-)

  • Stabbey

    Congratulations on the good sales, it’s great to hear that Dragon Commander will be profitable. The game isn’t perfect, but it’s still very good considering the drastic gameplay overhaul you made a year before release.

    I am looking forward to Original Sin and news on that, but I do hope that there will be more features and tweaks to Dragon Commander coming eventually (fingers crossed for custom settings for the story campaign).

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      There are – we have a big patch with extra bells and whistles that’s in testing right now.

  • S.B.

    Every now and then someone at http://www.rpgwatch.com gives a link to one of your posts — and — every time I’ve followed the link, it’s been a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Same with this posting.

    For one thing, you write well. You have a great conversational style of writing. Reading what you write feels like I’m talking with you in some relaxed place. Like we’re sharing a drink at a party or something.

    Before I forget I need to tell you the joy your game “Divine Divinity” brought to my life. Will never forget that. It was like discovering a magic place. That world became so real. So many wonderful places, people and things to discover.

    To this post. It’s refreshing and beneficial to see how you use self-criticism in such a positive way. Many times I tend to avoid my own self-criticism out of fear it will only hurt me. But identifying fixable problems and improving them, even if only a little bit, makes me a better person. It can be awfully hard to do. So thank you for writing about this.

    As to deadlines — I think they’re one of the constant paradoxes of everyone’s existence. They present a great pressure and constant worry. Problem is they also provide the real fuel for getting stuff done. Which is to say that without the deadlines, stuff doesn’t get done more often than not. And whatever does get done, on this earth, is never perfect. Because this is, after all, earth and not heaven.

    Many thanks for your games and your blog!

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Thank you.

      You’re right of course – the main takeaway is that if the ideal can’t be achieved, it’s important to focus on the important stuff. Most people know that, though there usually is considerable debate about what’s important. Those discussions are actually a big part of my job.

      I’m an “old-school” developer who never doubted that you should try to be everywhere with your game because that’s what the publishers told me. I learnt that’s not always a good idea, and that you might be better off spreading your release if you can’t manage the simultaneous part, instead of hurting your development to ensure you are on all platforms.

  • AlienMind

    “make the retail box Steam activated. That way we could have a day 1 patch”
    Patch downloaders exist outside Steam, you know? Additionally, people buy retail precisely because they hope there isn’t just a steam.exe on the cd, you know?

    “we’d have been better off just releasing on Steam, and then deal with the other platforms later.”
    I have a new idea for you, just release on Steam and fuck the rest, like all the other AAA publishers do. That way you make more $$$ and can streamline the shit out of your game to make even more $$$$. You can disregard myself and a few people who bought your game precisely because you don’t do that, because, hey, we are just not your target audience anymore.

    • Raze

      Because obviously if there could possible be a slight delay releasing the game on a particular service, there wouldn’t be any point of releasing it at all, you know?
      So either Larian has to manage every distribution method simultaneously, regardless of the restrictions that places on the release schedule, etc, or it should be a Steam exclusive?

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      I think there’s a big difference between “fuck all the rest” and not rolling out simultaneously on all platforms, including retail. And yes, I am aware that patch downloaders exist, we have one. By now it’s included in all non-Steam versions that we have, but at that time, it wasn’t ready yet, and on its own, it represented an extra platform.

      Also, we didn’t force the Steam version on anybody – we included a gog.com version for people who wanted a DRM free version with their box.

  • AlienMind

    I can EXACTLY tell you how to maximize your profits:
    Read http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RaminShokrizade/20130626/194933/ (all of it).
    Implement it. Welcome to not-my-world-anymore. Actual prominent example: Hearthstone by Blizzard.

    • Raze

      The problems with simultaneously managing all the different releases, and speculation that it would have been better to focus on the largest first, had nothing to do with maximizing profits. Maybe you should read the above blog post (all of it).

      • AlienMind

        How such a giant troll like yourself can be a forum moderator for a game company is beyond me.

  • Mannerov

    How will your conclusions change the developpement of Divinity: Originial Sin ?

    I agree with what you say, and I think the best is to prevent problems before they occur.

    For example, you want a Mac and Linux release of Divinity: Original Sin. Why not using tools compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux at the same time to avoid having to do 3 times the work? I’ve heard that SDL and the tools of Steam are working well on the three platforms.

    I’m happy for you Dragon Commander got profitable, your team looked worry about it and worked hard.

  • HiPhish

    Hello Sven

    Please let me chime in as someone who prefers buying games in retail. Up until recently retail was a neccessity, not a choice. First because digital distributuin had not yet been invented and later because AAA games were too large to download, so a disc was the only viable choice. However, as internet speed increased the *need* for retail diminished, people who buy now in retail *choose* so exactly because retail is what we want. I like having something tangible in my hand, having a nice cover and a printed manual, even though it is nothing compared to what PC gamign used to offer.

    Forcing me to activate the game either on Steam or on GoG makes the whole retail box pointless. I wanted a self-contained product, not what essentially amounts to a download key in a box. And no, Steam’s auto-updater is not a good reason for Steam. Auto updaters exist outside of Steam as well, on OS X every stupid freeware app has an auto-updater built-in, one which is even way better than what Steam has to offer. The effort to implement this is minimal thanks to Sparkle Framework:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparkle_(software)
    But this is just OS X, right? What about other OSes? Well, I know there is WinSparkle, but I haven’t used anything using it, so I can’t comment on it. I do know though, that the Doomsday Engine (a source port for Doom, Heretic and Hexen) has its own auto-updater and it runs on Windows, OS X and Linux.

    I know that a company’s resources are limited and you can’t keep playing with thenologies all day, but there has to be something better than just saying “let Steam handle it all”. There was PC gaming before Steam and there will be PC gaming after Steam, and besides, you are still talking about people who are intelligent enough to install software on a PC, I’m sure we can handle a quick Google search for “divinity dragon commander patch”. Everyone complains about exccessive handholding in games, but what about exccessive handholding outside games? Have some faith in your customers.

    Another factor that keeps me from rushing to the distributon method of my choice on day 1 is DLC. I hate DLC as much as I hate DRM. i.e. it will make me not want to buy the game at all. Since I don’t know what the stance on DLC is with Dragon Commander or Original Sin I don’t want to jump in head first, I’d rather wait until there is a complete edition or until enough time has passed that I know nothing else will come. Note that I’m not talking about a proper expansion or two, those are fine if they add a good amount of content to the game. I’m talking about all those mappacks and microtransactions everyone has been doing since the day of Oblivion’s horse armour. Now, if I knew what Larian’s stance on DLC is, I would be much more comfortable about a purchase.

    This has nothing to do with Larian in particular, but I have seen so many disrespectful practices over the last years from the game industry that I simply don’t trust any company anymore until they have laid all their cards on the table. This also means that my purchase will only happen at the tail end of the game’s lifecycle, if at all.

    • Stabbey

      Larian is not a fan of DLC, especially not microtransactions. Their business model seems to be more along the lines of “make our customers happy and they’ll come back again and again” and not really “lets stick a vacuum into our customers pockets to suck out all their money”. Everyone who owned Divinity 2 on Steam (at least the DKS version, I’m not 100% sure about Ego Draconis) got a free upgrade to the Developers Cut edition of the game.

  • AlexF

    I know that this is somewhat opposite to the lessons you say you learned during the Dragon Commander launch but I think it could be a good idea to experiment a bit with the new consoles (PS4 and Xbox One). If their architecture is so similar to PC as they say then maybe it will be worth it spending a few months to port Dragon Commander to these consoles. The starting lineups aren’t very strong (as is the case with all new console launches) and there will be a lot of people starving for games for their new console.

    Of course it would need to be more than a mere port, due to controller issues. Some changes would need to be done to the RTS portion of the game in particular, like focusing more on the dragon, streamlining the building and unit construction, especially in dragon form and letting the AI handle your units when you aren’t actively controlling them.

    Personally I’m a PC gamer and I’d love to see PC being your main platform for future games as well. Even if I buy a PS4 (a few years down the line) I’ll still prefer to play multi-platform titles on the PC. However from a business standpoint it could be useful to explore the possibility of a port, not only as a means of extra revenue but also to get acquainted with the hardware and its architecture, for future titles. In short, it could be an investment of time that may not pay off right away but have substantial benefits in the future.

    • PegasusOrgans

      NO. Whatever you guys do, ignore Alex. Listen to your own experiences.

  • PegasusOrgans

    Sad thing is, any one of us plebs could’ve told you “forget retail” but it is the nature of bosses to ignore the advice of “those beneath them”. I guess we are our own worst enemies, huh? :)

    • Raze

      Actually, there are still people (myself included) who prefer physical releases. Except in places with poor internet access, though, I’m not sure how large the group is that will only buy retail, or would be terribly put off by a staggered release.

      • PegasusOrgans

        And that’s great, but when a company loses terribly doing that, it is far better to just go digital. Your money doesn’t seem to cover the costs associated with retail PC delivery.

        Would you rather the developer went broke and released no games? Cuz that’s what is being discussed here.

        • Raze

          Larian is not going to release a retail version at a loss. They have the numbers and can decide if it is worth the extra effort to go after the segment of the market that prefers or only buys physical releases.

          I thought what was being discussed was the problem of finishing developing the game while also managing multiple localizations and distribution channels, and dealing with individual issues and restrictions of each.

  • melianos

    I bought two (digital) copies of D:OS because of kickstarter.

    I still may buy a box because boxes are cool :)

  • Stabbey

    When I posted a link to this blog on another forum, someone said that they disagreed about what the biggest mistake of Dragon Commander was. Instead, they said:

    <>

    I don’t agree, and think that the game is greater than the sum of its parts, but I do acknowledge that he did have a point that each part of the game does have flaws.

    Link to the post, for the record: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3539753&pagenumber=23#post419675079

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      For sure it has flaws and we’re quite aware of them. But we wouldn’t have released it if we didn’t think playing Dragon Commander was a real fun experience, which I think it is. I played it over and over and enjoyed myself quite a lot. I aldo think quite a lot of other gamers enjoyed themselves equally. Most reviews are positive, and the few that are negative fit in the trend Fox pointed out – they focus on comparing the individual mechanics to other games that only do those specific mechanics, which is battle a game like DC is bound to lose, at least on the budget we made it on.

      That said, everybody can see that more would be possible with the DC formula, and it could probably be 10% better, but the cost of that was more than we could bear. Actually, I need to rectify that last statement – knowing what I know now, we could probably make it 10% better on the same budget. But still, I think DC as is is already a pretty good game and it offers a fairly unique experience. Its main problem is that it has so much potential that people want it to be so much more.

  • Silpheed

    I just buy games that have no third party platform connected to it, no matter if it´s digital or physical, that means all EA, UBI & Co of the last year are already out!

    STEAM is so hardcore DRM that i really try to avoid it too. What if Steam Servers go offline? Do i get a warning before? Can i download all my games before shut down? Can i even play offline then?

    I love to stack a new Collectors Edition Box to my well filled shelf, i love to “own” a game physically, i love to take the boxes out from time to time to look inside again and say, yes that was a really good game, oh my god i didn´t know that they put that inside the box, and so on….. That´s why i funded Divinity Original Sin, That´s why i bought D:DC in retail.
    I know it´s easy to fall in devils hands and loose your money in steamsales 2 times a year, really bad thing though.
    It´s also really convenient to just turn on your PC and Steam does all the updates you need…..
    but isn´t that independence you have with a DRM free copy of a game worth the little inconvenience to look for a patch in the web? IT IS, IT REALLY IS.

    Hey Swen, please don´t pact with the greedy devils, i even could convince my wife to fund your Kickstarter Project because she loves the Divinity Series and i told her you´re on the light side of studios. I mean, a studio that still exists after 15 years and still not been bought by a greedy publisher shark, Larian…WOW…that´s a name you remember, and there are not many today.
    A really good friend runs an Anti DRM Site in Web, it started short after release of EA´s Origin, and the Community there prooves the need of DRM Free AAA titles and is also willingly to spend money for it.

    So Larian, please keep up the great work, for minimum another 15 years ;)

  • Fox

    I think the most important thing isn’t necessarily to not make any mistakes, but to be able to recognize those mistakes. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think any Larian game has ever been released “perfectly” — there’s always been “something” wrong. Maybe that’s inevitable, maybe it’s not. What I can say is that what has been wrong has never been the SAME thing, which is high praise–particularly these days were we constantly see the same developers making the same mistakes again and again and again.

    In terms of physical distribution, I think the market/demand for physical products is sufficiently small these days (at least on PC) that you could probably stand to only sell physical copies via a single channel–you’re own store, for example–that way the minority who really want a hard copy will be able to get it if they want to, and you won’t be distracted trying to arrange production and distribution with multiple outlets.

    But that’s just me speaking from a place of ignorance. I’m not in the industry, I’m just a consumer. And on that end, there is one element of your post I would like to address:

    ….

    You are absolutely correct: we (gamers) have much higher expectations for Original Sin than Dragon Commander. A good part of that is because what we’ve already seen of Original Sin looks absolutely FANTASTIC. We’re not talking about it looking like a “good game,” here, we’re talking about it giving off the vibe of a true classic–the kind of high all-round quality we haven’t seen in a CRPG in more than a decade. But I also think that our expectations were pretty low for Dragon Commander.

    I don’t mean to offend, but for me, personally, I didn’t expect Dragon Commander to be remotely good. I’ve been playing RPGs and RTSs for decades, and I’ve very seldom seen a series successfully transition from one primary play mechanic to another. There’s Warcraft and that’s about it. RPGs are very much Larian’s forte, after all, so I didn’t expect the RTS gameplay to have much depth.

    Of course, then I got the game and was absolutely blown away. Honestly, it’s the most refreshing strategy game I’ve played since the phenomenal Rise of Nations, which was… yikes, more than a decade ago now.

    And I’m also not convinced that the more critical reviews were the result of early builds of the game lacking polish/patching. One thing I noticed (to my great irritation) when Dragon Commander came out was how many reviewers (and gamers) seemed incapable of examining the game by itself. They’d constantly compare it to other, more rigidly-defined genres, and criticize it for not conforming to those genres instead of considering the game on its own. I can’t even tell you how many people I saw write off the game entirely because they wanted or expected it to be more like a Command-and-Conquer RTS that’s all about base building, or a Total War style game that’s all about slow and careful positioning, etc.

    Part of that may be Larian’s fault, to be honest. I again, I don’t mean to offend, but the game was presented as an RTS action hybrid, and I think it may have been better served had the game been presented as a “tactical action game,” or something along those lines, to shed people of some of this baggage they take with them when they consider RTS games (a genre that, really, has changed very little in the past twenty or thirty years).

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      >>Or has the increased longevity of PC games thanks to the proliferation of digital distribution made those first-week sales sufficiently unimportant that any potential competition has less of a long-term effect? <<

      Yes and no. Month 1 sales remain important, but they don't fully define the success of the game anymore. For instance, we digitally sold over 25K copies of Divinity 2: Developer Cut' a few weeks ago during a weekend sale, 3 years after release. Obviously, there was a hefty discount, but 25K units is a large number. A lot of games don't sell that much in retail in a big country like Germany for instance, lifetime. Add up all those sales you can do digitally, and you get quite a lot of revenue that builds up over time and which can compensate for weaker day 1 sales.

      That said, you still want to open strong, and I think it'd be foolish to go against the other big RPGs that are coming out. There's a few, but there aren't that many. However, afaik Wasteland 2 is coming out in November ? If not, I guess I missed the delay announcement. If they delay, then I guess they'll probably pick February too, because December doesn't make sense, in January retail is still cleaning up it's stock from X-mas and there are long holidays in certain territories, so February is the best candidate, unless of course you want to take advantage of having little competition end of January. Hard on the team though to release then, because it means they'll have no X-mas. And if they pick February, it'll probably be the end of February, because they'll want to synch their release with the reviews in the magazines (which launch at the end of the month).

      I'll send a Doodle to Brian Fargo so that we can match our releases ;)

      As far as your observation about reviews and DC are concerned, you definitely have a point, but I'll get back to that in a future blog posting (I hope ;) )

  • Fox

    Oh, and one (two?) more things. Swen, I always love reading your blog. Very insightful stuff is rare enough to find when it comes to the gaming industry… but that it comes from a person whose work I so greatly respect is beyond a rarity. I absolutely love that your blogging about this stuff, so thank you.

    One thing I’m curious on and would like to hear your thoughts on (if at all possible) is the recently-announced delay for Dragon Commander. Specifically, I’d like to know what external factors influence your decisions on WHEN to release a game (external as in unrelated to the actual development of the title). Winter is usually a very crowded release window for gaming, and I’m wondering if you’re worried that the other big games–particularly other big RPGs, like Wasteland 2–being released in the same window might adversely effect sales.

    Or has the increased longevity of PC games thanks to the proliferation of digital distribution made those first-week sales sufficiently unimportant that any potential competition has less of a long-term effect?

  • denizsi

    Swen, you admit to the mistake of committing to a release date prematurely:

    “So yes, I discovered a few interesting lessons. The most important one for me was that in the future I’ll try to only commit to a release date when the game is actually done. Not if it’s 85% done or even 95% done, but only when really, it’s done. As in, ready to be released.”

    And yet you have already committed to a release date for Original Sin, 5 months in advance. Are we to understand that the game is actually practically ready or is this another mistake in the making? I understand that you intend to avoid competition so you chose a February release deliberately but then again, you also admitted to basing your decision on logical reasons:

    “Of course, every time there were logical reasons for all of this, but in hindsight, they were not good enough reasons. I should’ve guarded development more than I did because after a while, the only thing players remember is the quality of the game, not who released it or how it was released. At least, that’s what I remember when I think of a game.”

    So could you elaborate a bit on Original Sin’s February release, perhaps?

    • Raze

      In a reply to a similar question in the ‘Why Did We Stretch’ blog post, Swen wrote:

      “Hi Robert – I’m quite aware of that ;) DOS is a game that’s already in production with real contracts in place, so there’s only that much I can do, and I did the maximum I could to extend development. I hope that for our future games, I’ll be able to apply my own lessons.”

      http://www.lar.net/2013/09/26/why-did-we-stretch/

      • denizsi

        Thanks for that. I still wonder about the current state of the game in relation to the release date, though. Also, what kind of contracts, if Swen could share some details?

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

          To your last question – we discussed with our contractual partners if they would have strong objections to a move to next year, and that turned out to be rather ok. One even told us literally “we’d prefer a great RPG next year over a good one this year”.

          Regarding the current state of the game – we had a roadmap for finishing it this year, but obviously that’s now been ditched, and everything’s been re-planned in function of the extra time available, which means a number of shortcuts have been dumped, and a number of cool things that might have been scratched continue to survive.

          That said, we’re still planning to get everything in this year, and while I have no crystal ball, I know what my team can do in money-time so my hopes are high that we’ll get everything sorted out before release. Should it turn that that’s not the case, then we’ll have to deal with that then, but another thing I’ve learnt a long time ago is that it doesn’t pay to worry about things too far in the future when trying to be creative. You only discover reasons for not doing something ;)

          • denizsi

            Thanks for the information. Your contractual partners also sound like great people.