Educating players

I’m doing the press tour thing again, spending some time in the US, France, Poland and Russia, demoing the game to several media outlets. You can watch some of the output here, here or here. There’s also a big interview with me here in case you want to know about what’s driving us, where we’re hoping to go and where I think RPGs went wrong. More is coming but it’s essentially the same presentation in various incarnations.

I need to admit that I did pretty much everything I could think of to avoid this particular tour. I really didn’t want to go because I was loath to leave my family behind. They already don’t see me much these days and I cherish every moment I have with them. But our young PR manager can be a tyrant and he put a lot of pressure on me to show up at these media outlets.

“Game Informer will never write about us” I told him and he replied “Yep, if the PR manager shows up, that’s for sure, but maybe if you show your face that may make a difference”

I have to commend him because it turns out he was right.

This particular presentation was for RPS and occurred in a shady hotel room

While I still don’t know if Game Informer will write about us in their magazine, I do know that if we hadn’t made the trip to bitter-cold Minneapolis, the reporters over there wouldn’t have paid a lot of attention to Divinity:Original Sin, if at all. Now at least they’ve been sufficiently tickled to give the game a shot and play it together in cooperative multiplayer.

It seems to be a repeating pattern.

We decided on doing another preview tour this late in development (which really is the most inopportune of times) because it became clear that there are still a lot of journalists out there who think of Divinity:Original Sin as a Diablo clone or a Diablo clone with tactical combat. This despite all the videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews being out there. Better make that, despite the truckload of videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews out there.

It makes me despair some times and tbh a bit worried too.

The problem seems to be that the game has a top-down perspective and turn-based combat in its first 5 mins of gameplay. This apparently is sufficient to classify the game as just-another-generic-fantasy-rpg-clone not worth spending time on.

Honestly, I didn’t believe it when somebody first told me about this line of reasoning, but by now I do because I’ve heard it repeated so many times.

Because there are so many games coming out, an hour is pretty much the maximum you can hope for when sending out preview code. And apparently that’s already a lot.

A preview is an article in which the reporter tells his audience what the game is about, what he expects of it and if there’s anything cool to get excited over.For  a game that doesn’t have Battlefield style gfx, that takes its time building up and that relies on the player trying things out,  the one hour thing is bad news.

Reporters relying on their gaming instincts and the first hour of gameplay won’t see what our ambitions are and thus jump to the wrong conclusion. (Off topic but in that context I’d like to advise “Thinking fast and slow”’ as obligatory reading to everybody. This type of approach is an excellent example of how your fast thinking fools you into making the wrong assumptions.)

Anyway, the good thing is that whenever we do manage to grab a reporter and put him or her through the “torture” of a D:OS demo, they do eventually understand that there’s more than meets the eye, and because we usually exceed their expectations, we get some excitement.

But it does leave us with a real problem.

Despite being so long in development and talking so much about it, we still didn’t discover the right way of communicating the game’s unique selling propositions. And we’re running out of time.

I asked one of the reporters who was very vocal about how happy he was that I showed him Divinity:Original Sin’s depth what we were doing wrong. Given his excitement it was clear to me that he was part of our target audience and I was really curious how we managed to miss somebody who was clearly informing himself on what games are coming out (it’s his job after all).

He replied that he wouldn’t have tried half the stuff I showed him because he would’ve assumed that we didn’t support it and instead jump to the conclusion that the game was broken. For him, the kind of presentation I gave him was exactly what was needed in his eyes.

It reminded me strongly of something another journalist had told me. During a demo, I think at the German magazine Gamestar, I was told that we’d probably have to re-educate players because they’re not used to this type of gameplay anymore, conditioned as they seem to be by all the streamlining games go through nowadays.

I thought of this again when I watched this youtuber the other day. I cringed when I saw how he missed out on a couple of key features. I also cringed when I saw how he ended his video, which while typical, is also the reason why so much potential innovation has been stiffled by the gatekeepers at the ruling class of old, i.e. the majority of publishers.

I mentioned I’m getting a bit worried by this because eventually we will need to sell this game. At this point I’m starting to think tutorials everywhere, which is my least favourite part of development, but I do want Divinity:Original Sin to be a success, and that’s not going to happen if everybody thinks it’s yet another ARPG clone. Or wait, perhaps it will? 😉

For the first time in long I also started wondering if I’m too old for this business. It’s not unusual for me to see guys around me get all excited about games I personally consider to be too shallow. I think Ralph Koster in a theory of fun said that fun = learning and maybe I’m not having fun with these games anmyore because I’ve mastered the patterns they’re based around, patterns which still feel new to those with less gaming experience. I guess that may be the price you pay for playing too much, but on the other hand, I still do want my fun too and I do feel underserved.

A revealing moment for me was when I shocked our young PR manager. On our flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis I went through his entire collection of Ipad games, spending at max 15 minutes on each of them. I gave my biased opinion on each of them, judging right there and then what was interesting, what was boring etc… He commented that I had an interesting style of playing 😉

I realised then that I was doing the exact same thing those previewers were doing and together with them probably every gamer out there. We are offered so much entertainment content these days and sadly a lot of it isn’t very good. To survive we’ve adopted a strategy of judging rapidly at the risk of missing out on something.  We know that the alternative, to spend time on each and every offering of entertainment industry has, is bound to disillusion us.

I don’t know why I expected the previewers to act differently. Probably because I’m thinking  it’s their job, but it’s a very natural thing for people to invest time in doing the things they like, and minimise their time on things they dislike. It’s why in management you often need to put most of your effort in getting the boring parts done, and why you usually don’t have to worry about the fun things. Which makes managers … errr.. 😉

So upon realizing that this kind of behavior is inevitable, I accepted that investing time in this particular press tour is worth its while. Hopefully some of these articles and videos will amplify the message that Divinity:Original Sin has depth and is worthwhile investing time in.

This still leaves me with the problem of educating the people we’re not visiting about the merits of Divinity:Original Sin. If our current approach isn’t working we’ll need to figure out another one, and fast. I certainly wouldn’t want to find myself in the situation that we’re making a game a clone of myself would dismiss after 15 mins. There needs to be a way of telling that clone that this game is for him.

All suggestions are more than welcome!


I know there are cobwebs on my blog. I guess you can all understand I’m pretty busy these days. Stop harrassing me! 🙂

  • Ailantan

    I have an idea. Just a rought one. Instead using tutorials, use npc as a tutorial. When you arrive in Cyseal first thing you find is a body of an unfortunate that belived he can fly. As I remember Source Hunters can see and talk with ghosts. What if that young man turns out to be a ghost that stick with a player during their playtrought of Cyseal proding him to do different things. Also he was kind of fool to leep from clif becouse somebody told him he can fly, but had head concusion and he becomes witty little ghost. Or not a ghost, maybe he can be saved and that why he prods player to look everywhere for cluses. He don’t go into wild for exploration, cause he is afraid, despise that he is already dead.

    • Niklas

      That’s a great idea!

      But we need still a proper introduction, because when I played with my friend, he didn’t know what was going on or how we were supposed to be etc. etc. But the ghostguide is a brillant idea. Maybe we could summon him, whenever we have forgotten one point of the gameplay and he comments it?

    • Swen Vincke

      I do like that idea a lot, and it’s been placed on the list of options for making the tutorial part of the game better. Thank you for that.

  • Fox

    Before I say anything else: do not, do NOT, do not ever contemplate leaving the biz. Yes, there are a lot of kids in the media that don’t “get” classic games, that don’t know developers’ pedigrees, that wouldn’t recognize a brilliant game if it bit them in their collective behinds…. but they represent only a portion of the gamer demographic. If Kickstarter has demonstrated anything (overwhelmingly), it’s that there is a HUGE number of older gamers who deeply love the same kinds of games you love making, Swen. No developer is ever going make a game 100% of gamers are going to like–you’d be lucky to get 10%, and luckier still if half of that 10% actually bothered to play the game.

    ….Anyway, some thoughts on the rest:

    You can’t really blame the misconception of D:OS among less-informed members of the media/consumers entirely on some deficit in your marketing blitz. Divinity: Original Sin is not simply a game, alone. It’s part of a brand. Divine Divinity and Divinity 2 (both of which have been in the media relatively recently thanks to re-releases) are action RPGs. Divine Divinity itself was widely labeled (erroneously, in my opinion) as a Diablo-clone. For someone who doesn’t know anything about D:OS other than its name, it’s rather natural to assume it’s an action-RPG. Especially given the fact that you’re not relying on the same tired grid-based combat that EVERY OTHER SRPG IN THE WORLD is using these days.


    I wonder if some of you apprehension could be the result of Divinity: Dragon Commander’s reception–specifically, that many reviewers simply didn’t know how to judge the game without trying to fit it into a preexisting genre category that didn’t quite or comparing it to a game it had little (substantially) in common with, like Starcraft 2. If it helps, I don’t see that being an issue with Original Sin. CRPGs have made a bit of a comeback lately, so reviewers are–or ought to be–more familiar with the basic style, and D:OS fits much more nicely into preexisting classifications than Dragon Commander did.


    In terms of marketing the game, your PR guys probably no best, but it seems to me that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to market niche games due the increasingly fractured nature of gaming media these days. I really think you’ve probably got the best approach down already–going yourself to play your game with popular Youtube personalities. A recent article popped up on stating that most gamers get their news from Youtube these days, which I quite believe, so I have a feeling that you’ll probably get more mileage from sitting down with AngryJoe or TotalBiscuit than you would from visiting GameInformer, IGN, Kotaku, and every other big media outlet combined.

    When it comes to preview code, I think one of the WORST things a developer can do is send out the beginning segment of the game. You want to show off the depth and complexity of the game systems–which means you need to either start the preview code sufficiently far into the game that both the player & AI will have access to those systems right from the start, or construct an absolutely breathtaking tutorial segment (a thing, I think, that does not exist). Gamers get sick to death of having to go through tutorials before getting to the “meat” of a game–I imagine it must be far worse for reviewers, who often work under time constraints. In Divinity: Original Sin, the first combat the player is placed in is fairly dull–some nonthreatening crabs. Later, some equally nonthreatening orcs. While these encounters are good for allowing a player to become accustomed to the core play mechanics, they do very little to show off the potential of the game systems. In a word, they lack excitement.

    And in terms of exploring game systems we’re not accustomed to seeing in games these days, you’ll probably need to do more than simply point them out in dialog if you want to get a reviewer to pay attention.

    My advice? Create a special mini-dungeon or something similar just for reviewers/previewers. Give the player several spells and abilities to play with, and challenge them with similar enemies–evil wizards with similar magicks–or perhaps even doppelgangers of the heroes themselves. Find a way to give the enemy the first turn, and have them use the elemental magic on the player–and then have a dialog prompt up at the beginning of the player’s first turn suggesting how to use his/her own spells to counter the enemy’s, or turn them to his/her advantage.

    Then there could be a room w/ a puzzle that must be solved by moving items to uncover a hidden passageway, or trading an NPC for a key–something like that. Basically, slowly let the player get accustomed to the systems by treating them the way they’re used to being treated–by holding their hands.

    You could toss this segment into the very beginning of the game as a dream sequence set during the PC’s journey to their starting point. Maybe add in some kind of auto-heal function in battle so that there’s no pressure/stress.

    Basically: a simple 5-10 minute scenario that demonstrates the core game concepts and play systems at the very beginning.

    • Fox

      KNOW best. God, that’s embarrassing.

    • Swen Vincke

      I didn’t think of the brand thing but you’re right. It’s our strength but also our handicap, so it’s something we might have to work on. As for the opening scene – as I mentioned in my replies to others, we’ll work on that, extensively. It’s indeed the most important part of the game as it gives you the first impression, and we can probably do better than a crab fight.

      BTW – Fox, I’m not sure if it fits with netiquette but I’m curious about your background. You posts are always extremely well written and show some deep insights. I always feel bad about my own writing after reading your comments 😉

      • Fox

        I don’t know the netiquette, either. I’m very glad you found my comments at all worth reading–thank you.

        As for my “background,” I really don’t have any. I’m hoping to graduate from university in a few months, provided I can pass the linguistics course that is currently trying to bludgeon me to death. After graduation, I’ll have a BA in English w/ emphasis in creative writing and a minor in SE Asian studies. I’m really very interesting in games because they represent a true “revolution” in storytelling, particularly the RPG genre. The stuff you’re doing with Divinity: Original Sin, the stuff FROM is doing with Dark Souls, the stuff CD Projekt Red is doing with The Witcher… this is all the cutting edge of the cutting edge. You (RPG developers) are creating a brand new narrative form (a form which basically has not changed for the past 8,000 years). That’s huge.

        My big research paper for this last semester, in fact, focuses on game narrative–and of the 4-6 games I’m looking at, DOS is front and center.

        So that’s my background. Sorry I’m not, like, someone important. If you found anything I’ve said to be insightful, I’m really glad. I’d love to work in the game industry, to work on the kinds of games that I’m really passionate about, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

        Also: don’t feel bad about your writing. At all. You are, I think, more insightful than you realize. The reason I have this blog bookmarked and check in every other day or so is simply because you are really the only person I’ve found that’s really able to deliver insightful commentary on game development, media and industry. That’s a very rare thing in a media as shamelessly commercialized as this one. ~__~

  • 4verse

    How about (skippable 😉 ) introductory quests right at the beginning of the game (like “Source Hunter Academy”) that show new players UPS-kind-of-features of the game? Right now the beginning is a little bit a plunge in at the deep end, which is fine with me but maybe a little bit discouraging to others. The quest(s) do not need to be long (nor should they), just enough to whet the appetite for more.

    • Stefan Groot

      Yeah I like that idea.
      Perhaps a small tutorial area, sourcehunters academy where you can learn all the basics about crafting/cooking/fighting. Explain about how disission making can influence the relationship with your companion and all kinds other stuff. But just the basics. You could even do this like a “grocery list”
      It could contain some Lore on the source hunters aswell.
      You could end that tutorial area by starting the quest about the death of councilor Jake, message from Cyseal or something like that, with the “warning” that acepting the quest you leave the turorial area.

      • Stabbey

        Yes, an optional “Source Hunter’s Academy” tutorial section is exactly one of the suggestions I made earlier. You could teach the players a bunch about the systems early on and make them not as confused, like Sneaking, trading, combat, elemental combinations (scrolls), dual dialogues and arguments – like say a dual dialogue about “Which enemy to take on in the training area?” that opens one gate or the other.

        And yes, farther into the game you will probably have to pop up other tutorial messages as new gameplay elements are introduced. That’s just how things go. Please do also have a tutorial section of the menu like in Dragon Commander, so you can look up previous tutorial messages. It’s easy to forget things like “how do I rotate objects”, if you’re only told once by a single pop-up message on Cyseal beach.

        • Swen Vincke

          We played with the idea of a “Source Hunter’s Academy” for a long time but it’s going to be something better suited to the main storyline. At least, we’ll try it. Also, do take into account that an intro is planned before the thing that happens on the beach.

          • Stabbey

            On behalf of everyone, Swen, thanks for taking the time to reply to so many people.

            At least to me, it is clear that there was going to be some kind of intro (I assumed that the reason for starting on the beach was because of the orcs attacking from the sea).

            I hope that the “something better suited to the main storyline” will be something interesting, exciting, and gives me a stronger motivation or emotional incentive. I do like the idea of being sent in to investigate a murder – it gives some direction to the plot (and I’m a fan of mysteries).

            Once I solved the mystery, though, I was told where to go next, but I didn’t really feel emotionally involved, it was just “oh, okay, I guess that’s where to go next”. There was no “oomph” moment where something big happens that changes the story and hooked me. There was no “getting locked in Stormfist by a brat” or “village of people you knew gets torched by the bad guy”.

            One of the reasons why I thought a Source Hunters Academy tutorial could work would be that later on (about the end of the murder mystery), you could have had the bad guys taunt the Source Hunters that they just magi-nuked the heck out of the place. Now they’re on their own, facing a big (and now quite credible) threat with no hope of backup. The stakes are raised, and motivation increases.

            I did also like the earlier story idea (from the Kickstarter) about the Source Hunters being the last survivors of an attack, that sounded like it might be an interesting way to start the game, but that would mean changing a lot of the dialogue in Cyseal.

            I’m looking forward to what you come up with.

    • bledcarrot

      I think either this or hiver’s free demo idea. The benefit of the free demo is, like hiver said, people have to buy the game before they get the tutorial. Make a completely new and separate area, not in the actual game, with a bunch of fun stuff to do, moving items around to find secrets, a bit of combat, some dialogue based events that highlight the ‘relationship’ aspects…basically a self contained small area for players to mess around in, with some gentle prodding here and there. It has the benefit of enticing people to check out what the game is about and educating them while they play, all for free. Release it before the game to hopefully build some hype. In fact the more I think about this the more I think this is the way to go.

      • Stabbey

        Demos are a lot of work to make – even when you’re not building a special area from scratch, and working on them before release will only take time and money away from the full version.

        The theoretical “Source Hunter Academy” tutorial section would already be a small self-contained area designed to show off a variety of mechanics. Maybe if that gets made, it could be expanded into a demo (which would be simpler than starting from scratch.)

        • bledcarrot

          Yeah but tutorials take a lot of work to make too. I’m suggesting a demo instead of a tutorial. But you’re right, combining them could be the best of both worlds.

  • Hiver

    This is why i was arguing for using more videos that show what happens when two people play the game, like that one with the marriage proposal. I suggested this a fairly long time ago on the codex.

    Just get me to talk to that PR guy of yours and we will quickly sort that out.

    The tutorials wont help much – because in order to play them – people first need to buy the game.

    As for as that – i have this to suggest – create a small completely free demo that only has these deeper features in it. that is focused specifically on displaying those things, that kind of interaction.

    • Hiver

      In fact, i remember i suggested it through kickstarter.
      But, yeah… very busy time for you guys, thousand angles to cover and a lot of work – i understand and sympathize completely.

      I am surprised that you guys have discovered this just now, though… its been going on for years.
      well… maybe before you didnt have this kind of direct contact with this side of business and all those different types of … game… players?

      Anyway, another crucial thing to be aware of is that you should not kill yourself trying to appease the mass market. they dont really care about these kinds of features. They want first person “immersion” – and fast paced “visceral” actionZ! and things that will get them extremely emotionally engaged – explosions, blood, brutal violence and sex.

      So, just keep it real.
      You can only break yourselves if you try to please that kind of mass market. Not to mention spending money and time for nothing.

      With a more moderate approach you can bring in more people though.

      Im just sayin…

      • Swen Vincke

        Anything you send to gets to him 😉 I’ve seen the 2 people suggestions and we’re actively working on them – expect something closer to release.

        • Hiver

          Ok, great… i didnt doubt it 🙂
          (sorry, didnt see the reply right away, im starting to get busy these days, working)

          I could swear i wrote a third answer somewhere around here too, though.
          that was a good one. Just to the point. simple.

  • Infinitron

    J.E. Sawyer can sympathize:

    “Okay, I’d really like everyone to read my response to this, because it’s important to me.
    A lot of people are not great at games. I don’t mean they are terrible at them, but they aren’t great. They may or may not realize this, but when you get right down to it and see them sit down at a game and start to play, they do pretty well but some stuff just slips by. In RPGs, often that error is a strategic one that you don’t immediately get stung by. The poison bites you 10, 20, 30 hours down the road.

    I don’t know what sort of person you’re picturing in your head, but from comments that a lot of people make, I get the feeling you see a moron, a person who doesn’t really like games, who isn’t enthusiastic about them in the same way that you are. In some cases, this is true. But I’ve seen hundreds of volunteer and professional testers come and go. Most of them are actually pretty intelligent. They like or love games. They like or love RPGs and have played a bunch of them. They’re still not terrific at them. They miss a bunch of things and they make a bunch of mistakes.

    Even among hardcore PC RPG fans, there is a wide spectrum of skill, experience, and preference. When I started at Black Isle, I designed a bunch of fights in IWD that only a handful of veteran BG testers could get through. Memorably, I saw a QA tester blow a fuse because a fight in Lower Dorn’s Deep was “impossible”. When I showed him how I got through it, I started off by having my casters go through six rounds of buffs. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Uh… buffing my party?” This seemed normal to me. DUH YEAH BUFF YOUR PARTY TO HELL AND BACK LOCK AND LOAD PAY ATTENTION FFFFFFFFFF. Despite his high experience with RPGs and Baldur’s Gate, he just… never thought of it. The problem was that the entire fight was balanced around a party that was optimally built and lit up like a Christmas tree from stacked buffs.

    That’s a combat example, but it really applies across the board: conversation details, reputation loss/gain, etc. Some players really do play as hard as they say they will. They stoically accept the consequences of companion death, of a dialogue node they carelessly picked 8 hours ago, of an Ironman combat that is going down the drain. For those players, the ability to turn off the “in case you missed it…” features is important. I get that and would like to support it as much as we can.

    But again, just to be clear, a lot of actual players actually need these things. I’m not saying this because players come up to me and say, “Josh, I need this.” I’m saying this because I’ll talk to a tester (volunteer or pro) with a ton of RPG experience and later watch him or her play remotely. Or I’ll pop open a Let’s Play on YouTube from an enthusiastic player and watch how things turn out. Sometimes they ace it, sometimes they don’t. Either way, what I see on that monitor doesn’t lie.”

    • Swen Vincke

      Who’s J.E. Sawyer ? 😉

      • LC

        Josh Sawyer is the project director and lead designer for Pillars of Eternity at Obsidian and he was project director and lead designer for Fallout New Vegas… 😉

      • hiver

        haha… and they bought it too 😛

  • nobody72

    I’m mixed; it is good to know the extent of what you can do (or at least the commands to do things) but on the other hand it seems like there is too much hand-holding these days. yea I have to know that If i click this way or that way I can combined items (perhaps that is not totally obvious esp since it is done differently in other gameds I have played) but where do you draw the line. Hum. c

    As for the reviewers well they are like analysts these days what more can i say.

  • Mico Selva

    I think you are being very optimistic thinking you have one hour to sell your game to the audience. It is more like one and a half to two minutes of a Steam/YT trailer for most people. You can get away with a longer one if the trailer is really great and people will watch it for entertainment value alone (please check Battle Block Theater Steam Announcement and Mighty Quest For Epic Loot trailers to see what I mean).

    I believe you should make a trailer that shows as much of the depth and unique features of the game as it is possible, especially the environmental interactivity, interacting elements in combat, crafting, variety of enemies and environemnts, etc. How many RPGs can brag that you can make pizza in the game? How many other games can allow to improvise an ‘Orcs On Ice’ ballet? Not many. 😉 These are selling points – show them as best as you can. 🙂

    Also, you should probably prepare a demo for journalists in which they will be able to experience as many of the game’s features in a reasonable time (20-30 minutes). The beginning of the game is probably not the strongest in this regard.

    • Stabbey

      The Dragon Commander Launch trailer was a brilliantly concise summary of the game’s features and components.

    • Swen Vincke

      The one hour referred to the reporters – the players we indeed only have 30 secs with, if even that. But now try to mix depth & 30 secs, that’s our problem. We’re hoping that the initial batch of players will believe reporters who like the game as well as the people that are playing the early access version, and that then word of mouth will do its thing, because there’s no way we’ll ever manage to communicate our USP’s in 30 secs, unless we get a really brilliant idea. We know the beginning of the game needs work, but it’s going to get *a lot* of work.

  • JackDandy

    If you want to get people to see how the game isn’t a stupid Diablo clone, how about showing it off via trailers?

    The trailers you’ve released so far were nice, but they were generic as heck- these kind of “high fantasy epic” theme with footage of isometric battles and traveling. When your regular joe would see that, he’d think “yeah that’s a Diablo clone”, because that’s what Diablo consists of.

    I think you guys should try and make some more humorousquirky trailers, ones that can give people a taste of just how flexible the systems in this game can be. Quick clips of the hero equipping a bucket on his head, blowing up people in a market place after some civilian irritated him for some reason or other… General stuff that you’d NEVER see in a Diablo clone.

    • Stabbey

      Now I’ve got an image in my head: Roderick raises his sword in triumph and says “Quest complete!”, then the camera zooms out a bit to show Scarlett face-palming, then as the camera zooms out even farther, she says “Could we possibly have done that WITHOUT massacring half the town?” and you see the results of the carnage.

      That probably would just make people think it’s like Diablo even more, though.

      • JackDandy

        Exactly, something like that. Maybe.. some sort of a fake “Let’s play” where one guy wrecks his pal’s game world?

        • Stabbey

          That’s brilliant. Trailers showing “Goofus and Gallant” style players – playing together and showing that both approaches are valid and all the interactions might work really well for this game.

          • arne

            I don’t know. There are 2 types of trailers, and let’s be honest, with all those ‘lets play DOS’ already available on youtube I really don’t see the point in providing ANOTHER one. Melianos on the other hand proposes a more Action-like trailer, and while this does not sum up a game’s features, it sure leaves an impression, it has the potential to get people to buy the game even if it’s actually crap … however this kind of trailer is EXPENSIVE to create. I remember the trailer for DC was the first type … It did’nt make that much of an impression to me (to other people it might have, and I had already played beta of course).


            However, recently Larian referenced a video on their own facebook page made by Jesse (whom I’d never heard last year) that was just freaking hilarious!


            A shame it was published only this year! Supposing one would create a similar video for DOS that might just work because

            * It’s funny, thus not only people enjoy it more, it’s more likely they’ll recommend it

            * It offers the opportunity to enumerate any features you want, or to put emphasis on any misunderstandings (the diable clone?)

            * Images can be exaggerated, more fashy-flashy-shiny action, showing stuff that cannot directly be captured from in-game screenshots, flaws that are currently (or permanently ;)) existent don’t have to be mentioned

            * It’s ‘relatively’ cheap to produce

            * Obviously, it would host 2 players, like in the interviews Lar mentioned, some I-know-most-of-it-knowing guys/girls and some people who don’t know s**t about it, only this time the things that are explained, questioned, discussed or fought over and the way how can be completely scripted as it best fits

            * cartoons are innocent, so you can exaggerate quite a bit

            Like JackDandy mentioned, humor is good. Here’s another good one from Larian’s own creating. It was never mentioned to provide insights in a game’s features however, just the grand sale before DOS came out.


            So even if the trailer wouldn’t show any in-game footage, if it inspires enough then people are bound to look for more, in youtube that’s just one click away! I’d really like to see a funny video on DOS 🙂

  • cromcrom

    Make a trailer that lists the features.

  • melianos

    Maybe a couple trailers about people playing coop. Aggreeing and disaggreeing on how to do some quests.

  • Jan-Niklas Bersenkowitsch


    Agreed, a Tutorial at the Source Hunter Academy would be a great, also because you could introduce new players better to the world of Divinity and the profession of the source hunter. Just the basics: how to fight and battles, how to use your dialogoptions a little talk between the player characters (maybe they could talk about the fact, that they now have to work with each other) and maybe some choices to decide or overthink for a class.

    It doesn’t have to be that look (maybe 15-20 minutes, maybe 30-50 Minutes, if the players want to explore the area), but it would make the beginning far more and would be also a more elegant way for a introduction. But only if it isn’t to much work in the actual stage :-).

    Good luck with the rest of the PR-work and tuning the game, Swen!

    With greetings from Germany

    Niklas 🙂

  • DougNY

    Think this echos what a lot of others have been suggesting but I say you create a gameplay video that includes several teams – say 2 or 3, each playing and narrating their experience through one of the game’s situations. I am thinking of something like The Amazing Race. You can highlight how each team was able to create their own unique experience to the same situation and how much fun they could have working off each other as a team.

    • Swen Vincke

      Very much one of the approaches we’ll be trying.

  • Jaroen

    Thank you Swen for sharing this designer issue with the outside world. I can only comment from my own experience, the gamer’s side. For what it’s worth.

    I’ve played computer RPG’s since they were first released. And I still love playing them. Although I’m kind of disappointed with many RPG’s getting more like action games the love’s still there. Happily 2014 proves to be an interesting RPG year with so many ‘old-school’ isometric games being released. Combat gets more tactical and there’s more focus on a good story. Which would tell you what I like most in the RPG’s a prefer.

    So long story short, if Larian wants to sell D-OS to me, I’d be happiest knowing what makes it interesting story-wise and how combat is tactically interesting. Just telling me combat is tactically interesting and choices have consequences doesn’t help me. Because that would be sheer marketing language. If you can show me in a brief, exciting and compelling way how the choices made are relevant story-wise and how the environment is now part of combat tactics, than all people interested, and me, will have something to get excited about.

    That features page on the website is very much the thing I need . . . just. . . could you show me and not only tell. For me it’s two things, a story that draws me in and the tactics of winning every violent encounter. Stories can be small like interaction with NPC’s and epic like saving the world. Combat is equipment management and battlefield tactics. As it is now, I find it hard to judge how this works out in D-OS.

    Having said all that, I already know I’m going to play it! 😉

    • Swen Vincke

      Regarding those latter things, it’s getting better and better I think. And it’s really what we’ve been trying to show you with all our previews and videos. But apparently that’s not enough. We’ll be trying a few new things in the coming month(s) so do let us know if they are more convincing for you.

  • Bargeral

    You were in Minneapolis and you didn’t stop by? I would have given you a hug. Or made you dinner. Shaken your hand, something.

    As to the learning curve, put a challenging battle off to the side of the start area. Make it obvious, but something optional that you can completely ignore.. Make the battle heavy strategy, using the elemental attacks, using the environment requiring the player to eek every efficiency out of the combat to win, and loosing most the time. Then have a NPC or sign at the entrance that basically says, yes you can beat him at first level, you’re going to have to think and strategize but it can be done. If the player walks away and hits level two when they come back the NPS says, sorry the troll moved on. If they stay and fight and win give them a nice big reward – something ornamental maybe so it’s desirable but not balance changing. You might have to provide a scroll or two to ensure the right elemental combinations are always available. But still. Oh and make them save first – don’t want a newbee spending twenty minutes on a character loosing in the first two.

    • Swen Vincke

      If you are living in Minneapolis you have my sympathy – I was told that you’ve been having this weather for 3 months already. The thing with challenging battles at the start is that they tend to alienate players (& reporters). Even if you say it’s optional, they’ll still go for it because obviously, the easy stuff is for other players, not them 😉 We have plenty of forum posts where people are telling us the game is completely unbalanced, just because they don’t know the art of backing off when an enemy is obviously too high level.

  • Kotep

    I can definitely attest to not trying certain things in Divinity games simply because I didn’t think that that level of interactivity was there–the only trouble is that if you tell someone there’s deeper interactivity, you have to make sure it’s there all around, or it might come off as just showing off in one area!

    That said, there should be some way to introduce in-game the idea of picking up, moving, and interacting with items. Maybe showing the partner character doing some of that on their own, maybe having a loading screen message that shows up on a new game start that explains some of the control mechanisms, maybe an NPC who says in VERY OBVIOUS TONES that if only he could LIFT UP this BARREL HERE he could get to some COOL TREASURE and that while he’s too weak maybe some SOURCE HUNTERS would be strong enough to MOVE IT somehow.

  • melianos

    Another thing you might do.
    CGI trailer.

    Remember SWTOR first trailer ?
    I’m pretty sure you didn’t even need to click to know the one.

    Maybe you don’t remember the Deus Ex HR trailer as well, but it made some impression too, at the time. always does a topic for the best trailers of E3 every year.
    Make an awesome trailer, and you’ll get massive amount of interest and then people will take the time to watch longer videos.

    • LC

      The problem is that well done CGI trailers are really expensive. Of course they might help to bring in a certain amount of people who are not already interested in the game but you really don’t know.

      So yes, a gorgeous CGI trailer (maybe connected with real gameplay) could help in marketing the game but it had to follow the design philosophy of the game, it had to be done extremely well and it had to be cheap enough to stay a valid option for a mid-size independent dev studio.

    • bledcarrot

      But mightn’t something like this just compound the problem? A cinematic CGI trailer really doesn’t help educate about the features Larian is worried about players missing. If anything it might just further set expectations for just another ARPG and create more confusion/disappointment when people actually get their hands on the game and assume it’s just doing what they expected really badly. I really liked the earlier suggestion about a series of short trailers that focus on selling the features. Play up the freedom, the multiple solutions, the humour, etc. Make them short, funny, and make each video focus entirely on one feature.

      • melianos

        I think the point is to have players and press interested enough to spend time to see what the game has to offer.

        Exactly like the swtor trailer did.

        • Stabbey

          I don’t think that a million dollar CGI trailer is the way to go, especially because they’ll have to follow it up with the considerably less flashy “Actual gameplay footage”.

          • Swen Vincke

            We can’t afford this – even if it has proven to be effective for other devs.

          • melianos

            I thought so, but I thought I’d better mention it just in case.

  • meep

    It might be easier if you tell us what key features are being missed. Are the players not picking up things? Are they not exploring? Are they confused on where to go since the game isn’t telling them? Even now reading your blog, and the comments here, I don’t what Key Features are being missed, so I can’t really tell you how to help others find them. While I’m a kickstarter backer, I’m waiting for the final game, so I can’t really tell you from first hand experience. You give examples of youtubers not finding these key features, how about linking some videos that they did find these features, or some of your press videos where you actually point them out. You have a “wrong” example, do you have a right example?

    So lacking context, I’m just going to have to give some general examples. One of my favorite tweets actually came from you. “An entire generation needs to relearn what CRPGs can be – it seems all
    this streamlining made them stop daring to expect the unexpected”. You need to think of this like Plato’s allegory of the cave. Or let’s use another example, let’s say you find some poor stranger that hasn’t had a bath for a while, so you take them to a lake, and tell them “okay, you know what to do”. And they just stare at the lake utterly confused. So you decide to further prompt them “take a bath”, and then the stranger looks you with more confusion and goes “what’s a bath?” That’s kind of the problem you are dealing with here. Maybe tutorials aren’t the answer, but sometimes you have to guide expectations, even with experienced players. I’m a long time RPG Player, I’ve beaten games like Wizardry 8, or daggerfall that I hear others say are too difficult. I grew up on Fallout 1 and 2. But even with my experience, I still play Skyrim like an idiot, faithfully following from waypoint to way point, missing most of the game. Partly because that’s what the game expects me to do. I absolutely hate mandatory, unskipable first levels are only tutorials that force you learn stupid things like “press W to walk”, but it can be just frustrating to just be dropped into a situation with no instruction what so ever. I’m sick of games where the only way I can find out what the controls are is to open keyboard bindings in the option menu (and don’t get me started on games that don’t even have that.)

    There has to be some middle ground where you can communicate expectations to the player, without leading them around by the hand. I kind of miss the old shareware days where most games had a “how to play” screen, that gave you the basic controls, and features of the game in a single screen. If you tell be “click on this to pick things up” then I’m going to assume you can pick things up. If you tell me “do this to interact with objects” then I’m going assume you can interact with objects. If you let me know a feature is available, I can figure it out from there, but I do need to know it’s available.

    I like some of the suggestions here like putting gametips in the loading screen. Or maybe the gamelauncher has a link to an official let’s play.

    • Swen Vincke

      I’m the same basically – I hate ‘press W to walk’. But I agree with communicating the game’s expectations which btw is a great way to put it. It’s become clear from the feedback on this post that people are having an issue with how the game starts (which partially is normal given that we didn’t ship the intro yet) but I think that as a result of their feedback we might actually have come up with something that could exceed their expectations 😉

  • 4verse

    I just read (twittered by
    Lars). But that’s only one side; the press side. Put simple: Give the press a
    walkthrough with all USP-features and tell them why other RPGs are bad and why
    D:OS is better. This way you make journalist’s lives easier, b/c then they have
    more time to write about the features rather than having to find them
    themselves (for which they do not have time). I am fine with that; sounds

    BUT you also NEED to not frustrate not-so-hard-core-CRPG-players; i.e.
    players that are used to Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft etc. For these Larian HAS
    TO – kind of – prepare the way, b/c – just as Lars said – many players are not
    used to CRPG like D:OS and consequently might not know what to do and do not
    have the patience to find out! If those players get frustrated early they will
    not play long, they will spread their frustration and consequently their
    unfounded bad opinion about D:OS, which will keep others from buying DOS!
    Larian needs to fetch those players right from the start, take them by their
    hands and guide them through the game and its features the first few hours in a
    fun and entertaining way!

    • Swen Vincke

      Yes, and that particular balancing act is a pretty tight rope to tread.

      • 4verse

        agreed. much easier said than done.

  • LC

    “Despite being so long in development and talking so much about it, we still didn’t discover the right way of communicating the game’s unique selling propositions.”

    Swen, what is the game’s USP? Can you describe it in one sentence or maybe in two? How much words do you need to describe it? Can you even say it in a whole passage? If you can’t do that you have indeed a serious problem. But it’s not a problem connected with the audience or the gaming press, it’s a very basic problem of you, the creator. How can you make trailers or present the product to people who don’t know it yet if you don’t know how to put the strengths and the focus of the game in very few, very well understandable words?

    I think one of the best ways to sell a game to people is to compare it with games that already exist. People do that anyway which is the reason for all these comparisons to Diablo. If you lack the words and/or the tools to present the game and its USP try to compare it to other existing (and well known) games.

    Have a look at how Kingdom Come: Deliverance was described by Warhorse:
    “Our game will be like a combination of Witcher 2 and Fallout: New Vegas with bits of Read Dead Redemption and Skyrim sandbox-freeroam-and-story-wise with a combat system following philosophy of Dark Souls.”
    “We’re mixing the freedom and mechanics of Skyrim, the setting of Mount and Blade, the storytelling styles of The Witcher and Red Dead Redemption, and the tough combat dynamics of Dark Souls into a single, gorgeous package. You could say we’d like to give ArmA (a franchise many of us worked on) an RPG makeover, streamlining the systems and controls and polishing the overarching world while keeping the unique, genuine feeling of its action and environments.”

    That’s something gamers can rely to. They probably know these games and therefore they can understand quite easily what to expect from the game. The game journalists you’ve shown the game did the same thing almost automatically. IGN called it “the next Baldur’s Gate” and RPS called it “the next Ultima”. But these are only parts of the picture and it’s your job to communicate the whole thing to these people and to the fans. Your only problem here could be that some of the games Divinity Original Sin can be compared to are quite old and younger gamers probably don’t know them. But imho your target audience aren’t younger gamers but older gamers. Gamers that likely played Ultima VII, Divine Divinity and Baldur’s Gate and other classics of the RPG genre. Gamers who would understand these comparions.

    Maybe you should also try to break up this new classification of “kickstarter games” which are settled somewhere between “real indie” and “AAA” (it’s a quite shallow term but people are getting more and more used to in my experience). Show us and them that you have a BIG and RICH PC game and not some kind of small indie title for a niche audience. Everything else is selling yourself under value tbh. 😉

    • Swen Vincke

      You’re right about who our primary target audience is, but I’m sure we’re only reaching a fraction of them for the moment. Our goal right now is to expand the people that we are reaching while at the same time update the people we were already reaching. That requires us to be covered by media who are not naturally attuned to what we do, and so it takes quite a lot of work to even get some coverage. It usually ends well with most previews being positive, but I could do with finding a manner in which this process goes smoother 😉

      But you have a point about us underselling ourselves – it’s a Belgian thing and we need to work on it.

      • Pliskin321

        I’m sure LC appreciates the response, but he might be as curious as I am about how you feel about the bulk of his comment: Generating a more unified “elevator pitch” for your game and perhaps taking advantage of the comparisons journalists will make anyway. Is that something you’ve considered?


      • Fox

        Is that a really a Belgian thing? You–you mean Hercule Poirot is not indicative of the typical Belgian personality?

        You’re killing my dreams, Swen. Killing my dreams.

        ANYWAY: these few posts have given me an idea. You’ve got a problem at Larian, but it’s a problem that’s not really unique. Basically, you need more exposure. There’s a big audience for your games, but that audience is necessarily aware of your stuff. I’ve seen this myself in the forums for other crowdfunded RPGs. The people who donated money to Pillars of Eternity, or Wasteland 2–these are people who absolutely lie within your target audience. When some of them have never heard of Divinity: Original Sin, you’ve got a problem.

        But it’s a problem that I think can be fixed, with some time and effort and cooperation. It might be too late to impact the DOS launch, however as it would take some time to implement my solution.

        When I said that your problem is not unique, I mean to say that its very likely–even inevitable–that other independent development studios working on similar classic, CRPG style games are facing the same problem. Yes, you’re all making games for the same audience–but how much overlap is there? How many people who would by both DOS and POE are only buying one, because they don’t know the other exists? It could be a small number or a big number–but any number is, I think, a problem.

        So how might you combat the “weakness” of not having a huge marketing push?

        By cooperating.

        Consumer bases overlap, I think. A lot. There are a couple of ideas I have for specific methods, but essentially what could really help you out would be a coalition. A coalition of independent developers.

        Get a bunch of CRPG guys together, and work to advertise each others games. Maybe incorporate as little advertisement window/message in the main menu or launcher of your games. Not like a “real” advertisement–but more a message from the developers. Sort of like, “Thanks for playing our game, if you like it, here’s a similar game that we really like and think you would to.” That way gamers opening up something like Shadowrun Returns might see mention of DOS, or opening up DOS might see mention of SRR. This would allow you to more directly interact with the whole target demographic in a cheap, inobtrusive manner.

        You could also get together to make a single unified youtube channel. Recent reports indicate that most gamers get most of their gaming news from youtube. So, what if instead of relying on others, a coalition of independent developers produced their own channel? They could produce “episodes” where developers from different studios discuss different aspects of different games. That way consumers may choose to watch an episode for information on a game they know about, and then be exposed to something they didn’t know about.

        Well, that’s like the most basic outline of my thoughts I can manage right now. Whether or not something like that could work really depends on what the industry is like–do independent developers see other independent developers as competitors, or comrades? If you could all present a central, unified front–a definitive location for gamers to get their CRPG news, it would be much easier to communicate with and advertise to your target demographic. Ideally, you could just have a sidebar window in the main menu of a game with “letters” from the devs about game development, and/or even the videos themselves.

    • Dominic

      While I agree with creating a summary of strengths for the game, there are too many projects with the summary “It’s the best bits of every successful game from the last five years”. I think people would appreciate you showing an understanding of, for example, what made those combat dynamics successful rather than looking like you are trying to emulate some popular mechanic.

    • Nowtbutaname

      That’s the sad thing though. It’s the TL:DR mentality of the internet and all these little games sites that want to be first first first. It’s rubbing off on the whole industry and no one wants to invest any time in anything anymore. Word of mouth will sell your game. The talk on forums is very positive and this > ill-informed press articles. It is a problem when potential customers search for the game though, guess all you can do is try and bump stuff like the RPS piece. The one hour things sounds like a dragged out speed dating hell, too long for idle chat and nowhere near enough to delve into the game proper. Added to which the initial stonewalling due to misconceptions. Yeah can’t have been fun. Just know that there are people out there who are really enjoying the game, and talking about it.

  • edango

    “I thought of this again when I watched this youtuber the other day. I cringed when I saw how he missed out on a couple of key features.”

    The problem I see with this is people do not care about features. What they care about are benefits. For example, if you watch a car commercial they do not tell you about the gear ratios and engine efficiency. What they tell you instead is you get so many mpg/kpl. If a person is missing out on a feature it means they are missing out on something that is negatively impacting their gaming experience. If you notice more and more people missing out on features you need to describe the benefits they would get for using the missed feature. This will help the out there see the merits of D:OS you have not yet reached.

  • Bree

    Swen, longtime fan here.

    Here’s the first thing you need to do — take a deep breath. Stop worrying. In the end, good games that get sufficiently marketed sell. Bottom line: don’t release the game with a ton of bugs and everything will be fine.

    It will take time to “bring people back into the fold”, to get them used to how complex games used to be and the rewards such complexity offers. I truly believe that gamers haven’t really changed – they are only making do with what the market has given them. Younger gamers won’t get it at first – they have never experienced the RPG greats of old. But young kids don’t have much money and you’re never going to win them away from their Battlefields and Call of Dutys anyway.

    You have the right attitude, here. It would be easy to just tell everyone “you don’t get it? To much for you to do and read? Your loss” and alienate a lot of people (many of whom are unlikely to buy the game at launch anyway). Distill the game’s essence and convey it through as much advertising as you can afford. But for the love of the industry, whatever you do, do not release a broken game. You only have one chance to get those high review numbers from Gamespot, IGN, etc.

    You have plenty of wisdom from your many years in the industry. Trust your instincts and remain patient with what the market has become – you have a loyal fanbase and we will continue doing everything we can to spread the word. At launch, give us something we can be proud to shout about.

    • Swen Vincke

      I’m not sure about the wisdom – I tend to be too stubborn to learn but hopefully that stubbornness will help with the “do not release a broken game” part 😉 The sales guy in me is slightly worried about the “bring people back into the fold” though because that takes time and time means day n+360 sales and not day 1 sales, which would handicap our future development.

      But I’ll take that deep breath – thank you 🙂

  • Berding

    I can understand the worries you might have, the problem i see nowadays there are just so many different platforms where you can get information from about new games. Where it used to be pc magazines, nowadays it’s also webpages your already visiting (i’m checking pretty much every one you mentioned so far haha), or people on youtube commenting on the games, twitch tv, gaming events etc. There are just so many different ways to get information, which also so means that much harder to get information to everyone.
    Personally i still like a good read or interview over a trailer / youtube movie with comments. But the trend is more through trailers etc.
    Generally i’m not a big fan about trailers, they tend not to tell me a lot about games. You just get to see some area’s perhaps a bit of combat, things blowing up, but it doesn’t tell you what choices you have.
    One of the things i think might be a great way to show the possibilities / choices you have is using an interactive trailer. For example you could use the quest with the blacksmith you meet on the road with the wounded animal. Set it from when you meet them and let the viewer choose what they want (help them / kill the animal / talk to the animal / kill everyone). Beside the obvious choices you could even add a few quirky ones to show you can think outside the box.
    What i like about interactive trailers is you go back and try different options, just to see what’s possible. Downside for me with games with multiple possibilities is … i never get to see them all. And a trailer that can show me different outcomes is a great way to tease me into the game.
    XCOM had an nice interactive trailer, which made me try multiple paths. I thought deus ex had one too, but couldnt find it.

  • Warg

    I don’t know if you plan a cinematic intro video or something. It could be a nice first impression for the new player (and for us as well) and helps to sell. On the other hand you could mention some interesting features in it just so ‘by the way’ style, no boring long teaching discussions, but some hints which could inspire the player to try things out. Like little demonstrations. For example regarding surfaces helping by combat there could be a moment in the video where someone is playing with fire magic and the other stops him, telling ‘hey, you idiot, don’t you see that oil is leaking of the barrel???” Or similar regarding less visible things. Maybe such things could help a bit.
    Or maybe a cinematic trailer showing some of the key features. The problem is that many people simply don’t check on the long game-play videos you make. They see them on Youtube and the reaction is “ooops, this is 30-50 mins long, I don’t have so much time…”
    Something rather short but potent is needed here. You need to SHOUT OUT the best potentials of the game, so that it reaches the brain of the most possible player.

    There are soooo much more games nowadays, that it makes time-stress for the player to select from them, because it is simply impossible to play all of them, so they know they will miss another game for this and this makes them sad and want to see that it worth the ‘sacrifice’. This makes me sad too, almost no time after work and studies… many people have hundreds of games purchased but not even installed…
    Sorry if I repeated some comments below, didn’t have time to read all of them.

    • Stabbey

      Aside from the expense it takes to make good-looking cinematics, for too long, games routinely commit the cardinal sin of having the cinematics show things which are impossible to do in actual gameplay. Gamers are rather used to that by now, so it would actually be rather unintuitive for a cinematic to only show things you can actually do.

      Additionally, players learn best by doing things themselves, not watching.

  • Ailantan

    I was thinking about how RPG that i enjoyed handled tutoring player in first few minutes of play. Narrativ driven Torment used words, give you a companion, instead of killing zombies you talk with them and choose dialoges. Portal – you get your gun and then learn solving simple puzzles, and them combining different moves you learned. What is Divinity meat and bone? If it’s diversity to solve things – then why in first few minutes you spend playing it your only option is to pick a book or fight crabs. Why let’s say as an example, you don’t land, cause to total distruption of teleportation spell – instead on beach of Cyseal you land in cavern near thay beach, place that is filled with simple puzzles that uses mechanincs of a game, or you meet there child that talks with fishes “Never drink sea water – fishes pee in it”. Move crates that blocks your way, but crates on pressure plates, and so on.

  • H

    Just stay strong to your ideal. There’s an audience enough for what you are doing and they will communicate to understand systems and ideas if need be. What you are doing is valuable as a creative act. It deserves every success. Stay true to it.

  • CountBuffon

    If you wanted to do a short video, you could do something like The Odd Couple (rights to the theme song might not be attainable, I have no idea, but anything whimsical and mischievous would do). Show two people arguing in-game and out-of-game. It would probably take a lot of editing to get it down to size. Maybe have some drama and reconciliation at the end, or the opposite. I think it was the GameSpot thing that you showed that you could “win” an argument, but then turn around and shoot the guy in the head anyway… that’s comedy right there. Very Larian, but it doesn’t show in the screenshots. With video, you can communicate this.

    Or if you just wanted to give them a taste for what the game actually is, here’s a great example of what can be done in two minutes: (Crusader Kings II trailer). Take the coolest solution you’ve seen to a problem in the game so far and demonstrate how it works. Edit game footage for length.