The power of crowd funding

It’s now been one year since we successfully completed our Kickstarter campaign for Divinity:Original Sin , one of the most intense and rewarding periods in my game development career.

Now, as we’re approaching the moment where the game is going to be released, I think it’s safe to say that without any doubt, the two smartest things Larian Studios did this year were deciding to put the game on Kickstarter and subsequently deciding to put the game on Steam Early Access.

Having access to a pool of over 60,000 people who supplied us with feedback during development, and at the same time enabled us financially to act upon that feedback, is nothing less but a developer’s wet dream, and we’ve had the luxury of living it.

It’s something for which we at Larian are very grateful and it’s something for which future players should be grateful too, because the game experience they’ll get will be so much better because of all that feedback.

I’m aware that there’s a lot of negative out on the internet regarding Steam: Early Access, but reflecting on my earlier blog entry in which I was pondering whether or not to release Divinity:Original Sin via Early Access, I think the positives for us far outweighed the negatives, and I think our game is an example of Early Access being a boon both for the developer and the players.

Barring a disaster, we’ll be shipping Divinity:Original Sin in 6 to 8 weeks, the target date being the day before the next solstice, June 20th.

I know we lost a lot of credibility in the release date department, but this particular deadline is pretty much set in stone now, if only for the reason that if we postpone releasing again, we’ll be taking turns at the divorce lawyer. Of course there’s also that other reason and that’s that we’re slowly approaching the stage where the game will actually be ready.

It remains hard for me to figure out what the correct deadline is for this game because it is after all an RPG, which means millions of data fields, and it would be easy to continue working on it for ages. Perfectionism is a disease many of us have at Larian, and it’s something the production-minded people over here need to fight constantly.

In my feeling the game is now at a point where, barring a few thousand bugs and balancing changes, it’s good to go. Anything we put on top is icing on the cake. Don’t get me wrong, there still are a lot of extra features I’d still like to see, but I think that what we have now makes for a rich RPG experience already and more importantly, also makes for a lot of fun. I was watching these 2 guys play last night , and the experience they were having was pretty much what I was rooting for when we start out developing this game. Seeing that confirmed my feeling that we’re very close and so I didn’t pull the new release date in panic, but instead confirmed that we were going to communicate about it today.

I know there are people out there who would see us develop for another year, and while we certainly won’t be doing that, I might have some news that will cheer them up.

If you’re playing the game on Steam Early Access, you’ll see that we’ve published an impressive changelist again, with tons of features in there I’m sure nobody was expecting.

Most of them are direct consequences of player feedback, and even if we already said that we weren’t planning that many features anymore, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see some more pop up in the coming weeks.

This obviously deviates from the classic development model where you have a clearly defined start and end of a project with a specific feature set, but I think we have some good reasons for it.

You see, in our minds Divinity:Original Sin is an adventure that runs on one version of our shiny new RPG engine, an engine that btw is in dire need of a cool name. The same engine will be used for making more RPGs in the future and as such it makes a lot of sense for us to continue to invest in it.

Already, the continued development of features in Divinity:Original Sin is being done on the budget of whatever our next RPG will be, one of the truly nice but also dangerous perks of being independent. The CFO in me needed quite a lot of reassurance when it turned out that extending development not only meant that the budget would go up, but also that we’d have to wave goodbye to a lot of our guaranteed retail distribution sales. But I had good arguments to counter his pleas for some more sanity.

The core idea behind us going independent is that each RPG we make improves the quality of the next one, not only because it’ll give the studio more financial room, but also because we can draw on the work done in the previous game and don’t have to worry about any publisher *stuff*.

If better games mean better sales (which intuitively seems right, even if there are counterexamples) then it makes good sense to adopt the following strategy: make a good game, use the opportunities (both technically and financially) created by that good game to make the next game even better. Repeat. Enjoy increasing sales.

I know it sounds simple but I believe in simple ;)

Dragon Commander and Divinity:Original Sin are the first in the set of these games, and I sincerely hope there’ll be many more. Dragon Commander (which to my own surprise looks to be on course to outsell The Dragon Knight Saga) created a lot of opportunities for Divinity:Original Sin and I’m burning a candle that Divinity:Original Sin will be creating even more possibilities for our next game.

The fantastic and completely unexpected thing that happened this last year is that Kickstarter and Steam Early Access worked out so well for us, that suddenly we were able to take some serious shortcuts in this long-term roadmap.

We could never have afforded such continued development on Divinity:Original Sin without the support of our backers, and if it weren’t for them, we for sure would’ve had to release it sooner, if only because of those aforementioned distribution deals.

So in a sense, thanks to the help we received from crowdfunding, the game that ships on June 20th will be at the quality level of Game 3 on my roadmap instead of Game 2. Or put differently, the Divinity:Original Sin that will ship is not Divinity Original Sin 1.0 but instead  Divinity:Original Sin 2.0.

And because once you commit to an idea, you should commit to it fully or it won’t come to fruition, that means investing in Game 4 by putting even more into Game 3 isn’t that unreasonable.

Of course only time will tell & it could very well be that we’ll be badly burnt by this. I for sure wouldn’t advise it as a strategy if you’re meek of heart, as it does cause considerable stress ;)

I have good hopes though, and if  you are one of those 60000 fantastic gamers who backed us on Kickstarter or Steam Early Access, you have my profound thanks for letting my team and me take this path.

We’re putting a good piece of ourselves into creating entertainment for you and it’s nice to know that there’s so many of you that have so much faith in our abilities that you’re willing to fund us on a promise.

Thank you

 

  • Razzmann

    first of all: you’re welcome ;)

    It is pretty impressive how much Kickstarter and Steam Early Access had/have such a big influence on the game. Like it says in the developers journal it wa always your problem that you wanted to do more than you were able to. It looks like that you could finally work “freely” on a game without any pblishers behind your back putting pressure on you (well now it’s the beta players who do that ;) ) and this causes the game to be pretty damn good. It already feels and plays very well even though it is in beta and it already has more content than many full price games. I really can’t wait for the final game to be released :) .
    Again, congratulations on the successfull kickstarter campaign and Steam Early Acces “release”.

  • JackDandy

    This is all a great thing to be reading, I’m glad it worked out for the best- and I’m proud to be the first guy to back the game!

  • Stabbey

    “It’s still technically spring!”

    Great to see all the changes. I really did feel like my feedback made an impact on the final game, which is a rare and unusual thing.

  • Vitonofrio del Rosso

    tldr!
    j/k
    this has been a good ride, somewhatlate but in the end we get more than expected.
    Once again I trusted Lariat to be able to deliver.. The divinity saga for me it’s been a blast, with defect surely, but ripe with promise…
    This is the kind of kickstarter i want, a kickstarter where you get REAL committment from the dev, that shedding away the “publisher” components try to involve themselves directly with their crowd. And this you (larian) delivered in full, with timely update and with giving excuses when excuses were in order, where you defended your choice, etc..
    Hopefully your fanbase will expand even more with this opus magna ;)

  • Vinay Shenoy

    Awesome!! Am really happy to have backed this one, and I’m having great fun playing the alpha!! Can’t wait for the Editor as well! :D

    If you’re looking for a name, I suggest The Divinity Kit. :P

    • LC

      Larian Art Framework ;)

      • Vinay Shenoy

        Dare I say, WereKit. :-)

        • Robcat

          As undeniably awesome as the Werekit does sound, I’m another one for the Divine Engine. It sounds sublime, is descriptively accurate and would promote the series every time it is mentioned, let alone if other studios were to license it.

          • LC

            Divine Engine sounds nice but also very pretentious. I wouldn’t vote for it.

            The only Divinity game with Divine in the title wasn’t even develop with this engine so it doesn’t make much sense anyway. ;)

          • Robcat

            Fair enough, I find it interesting that you see it that way though I don’t quite understand why. It doesn’t strike me as pretentious. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would take the name so seriously and literally. To me engine names are pretty playful. I mean, the Unreal Engine is obviously pretty real, yet its name humorously makes claims to grandeur. Well whatever the case, it’s definitely important if a significant amount of people would share your impression from it.

            I do think it makes sense in promoting the series as the word ‘divine’ would form associations for people just as effectively as ‘divinity’. The two words are pretty closely related… Besides, I actually prefer Divine over Divinity here precisely because it isn’t such a direct translation from the titles. So it isn’t like calling it the Elder Scrolls Engine or something.

            But whatever, Larian can call it the Monkey Butler Engine if they wish, as I’m sure they will.

            Err, not call it the Monkey Butler Engine that is, but call it what they wish ;)

          • Robcat

            On second thoughts, I think you have more of a point than I could see at first. When I tried to imagine a company I didn’t like naming their engine ‘divine’ after a series of games I didn’t care for… I felt a bit put off by it. So I think this may have been a case of personal affection towards Larian biasing how I would view such a name. Thank you for broadening my perspective here ;)

            I can now see how it could be perceived as a presumptuous name, particularly by those unfamiliar with its makers, especially as we live in such a cynical world/times.

            I still like the name and think it fun and fitting if taken in good spirit, though now I agree that it probably isn’t appropriate for Larian to name it so.

          • Fox

            I disagree entirely. All of the connotative meaning you fear from attaching “Divine” to the engine name is already attached to every other game in the series: clearly, no one cares. (Divinity is just another form of the word, “divine,” you know–and then there’s that first game).

            Frankly, these days the word “divine” is seldom used literally, so I don’t see it as being an issue with anyone beyond Bible-thumpers. You might have a fraction of a point with this idea that people who are unfamiliar with Larian’s work viewing the use of ‘divine’ as an adjective negatively… if engine names were public and common. They’re really not–very few people know the names the engines their games use, and fewer still care.

            Did you know that The Witcher uses the Aurora Engine, for example?

            Most developers choose generic terms for their engines that have very little to do with the games they produce. Larian has an opportunity here to give their engine a name that resonates with their work, and that’s a very rare thing–and not something, I think, that should be squandered outside of the misguided fear that a tiny fraction of people might take offense.

          • Robcat

            Well, I think the word will have different connotations to different people; the contexts of a video game series and a game engine are different again. It’s safe to assume that some people would be put off by it (to varying degrees)… though I don’t know that LC is an example of a ‘bible-thumper’ ;)

            I knew that CD Projekt licensed the Aurora Engine to make the first Witcher, but I think that’s beside the point. It doesn’t matter so much how familiar with engines people who share a similar adverse reaction are, as whether some of those who do might ever consider using (modding) or licensing the engine. How much would it detract from a marketing perspective overall? At this point it’s pure conjecture. We’d need a marketing survey of the appropriate demographic with sufficient sample size to safely say.

            Really I agree it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, if I wasn’t clear about that previously. I doubt it’s something Larian would lose any sleep over; if they like the name they won’t let anyone stop them I’m sure. I did say I like the name myself. I’m just not as sure that it’s clearly a good option. Feel free to disagree entirely though ;)

            It isn’t a good idea to conform one’s actions to popular opinion, but to be informed by it.

          • Fox

            That’s the thing, though–you’re talking about marketing, but in my entire life I’ve only ever seen the name of an engine come up ONCE in marketing media, so I really don’t think it’s relevant at all.

            (That “once,” by the way, is the half-dozen or so times Square Enix has claimed to have developed a wonderful new game engine to use to speed up Final Fantasy development times–White Engine, Chrystal Engine, etc., etc.)

          • Robcat

            I’m more than happy to keep arguing/discussing :) but should we take this to the Larian forums, rather than camping out in Swen’s blog? There’s a thread there about the name (Original Sin – General), so if we’re lucky we might even get some other people shedding more light on the subject. Or you could PM me, I’m Robcat there as well.

  • LC

    Thank you, Swen, for creating a game like that! :)

    I really hope that all the effort comes to fruition and you will be able to continue to develop games like that in the future. And whenever needed, you’ll have my backing again.

  • Texoru

    Thank you for taking allot of our important feedback Swen and I’m glad the release will be on late June as it’s more time to help you guys to make this a huge success when released!

    Thanks for everything, Swen. You and your company have made me for the “FIRST” time to give great feedbacks, suggestions and reporting bugs. I can see as a gamer that this game is truly made with the heart and allot of potential, it’s also one of the games that no one has created before since the early days of Ultima and Baldur Gate.

    You are also the only “ONE” I know that you used the “Steam Early Access” perfectly and properly, as every update you guys do the game changes dramatically from system, story to visuals! – It made me feel like I’m playing a different game!

    I finally can enjoy a wonderful game that made by true real developers. I will continue to support for future games and expansions!

    Thanks for everything! – The update you are doing today might be my last feedback as I can tell you guys are heading into the right direction.

    Tex

  • zodd

    Thanks. Keep up with the good work. Your team has done a great job!

  • fabrulana

    Very awesome, I can’t wait for June!

  • BillyJoeBob

    It’s really great to hear things have worked out so well for you! I’m certain Divinity will be absolutely awesome and I’m looking forward to your next kickstarter campaign ;)
    By the way I really love that you went to turn based combat – I hope the next Divinity will also feature that – I’m not a fan of Diablo style hack-and-slash. In any case I’ll keep an eye out for your projects – your team is just so unique and it’s really obvious that you are creating games with passion!

    Let’s all hope D:OS will sell as well as possible so the next Larian project will be even better ;)

    Cheers guys!

  • spif2001

    Congratulations with the launch date, and it is nice to see people in this business taking risks and come out on top. I also think it is great when different independent development teams try to promote each other. Ex when you are “kicking it forward” in your kickstarter updates. It just feels like you are taking care of each other, and just do what is best for you and as a result of that, for your customers.

    Keep up your excellent way of running your business!

  • Windemere

    The satisfaction of the Kickstarter is mutually shared. It has been eminently clear from the beginning how this project has been a labor of love. The updates have been detailed, entertaining, and forthcoming all along the way. My friend and I chuckle at how we feel like Larian are our friends despite never having met and that’s a testament to how you have run things, Swen. The game is coming along great and I really hope it catches on and people see what a gem is awaiting for them here. Happy Anniversary to all of us. :-)

  • Darthdavy

    June 20th? Really? You guys at Larian Studios really want me to spend my summer inside. :-) Nevertheless I am also proud to have been part of this as a Kickstarter backer and if you would do it again I would back you guys again in a hearthbeat. Also, my thanks for creating a game like this and the independent studios are the more likeable ones ;-)

  • Arne

    Don’t overdo it with DOS! If you’re makeing this game TOO good that means you’ll have more than enough funds for your next game, implying you won’t be in need of crowdfunding anymore, and we kickstarter backers won’t get our friday reports anymore … And that would make me sad!

    (just keep on killing those last bugs and have that patch for backers only ;) that should keep the scores low enough)

  • Fox

    As usual, I feel I have to comment with a bunch of really disparate points. I may verge ever-so-slightly toward hyperbole, but I am completely sincere.

    ——————————

    In terms of a name for the D:OS engine, I humbly suggest the following:

    -Divine Engine
    -Divine Instrument(s)

    Particularly the former. It’s simple and to the point, and clearly attaches itself to your big, big, awesome, awesome IP.

    ——————————

    “Dragon Commander (which to my own surprise looks to be on course to outsell The Dragon Knight Saga)”

    This one sentence really struck out to me. Would you mind elaborating, somewhat? Are you looking at a sale curve (IE comparing how much DKS sold in a a finite amount of time to how much DC sold in the same amount of time) or lifetime sales? And which version of DKS are you looking at, on which platform?

    If DC is looking to outsell DKS, considering it’s a PC game and DKS was PC/Xbox 360… and the DKS saw several re-releases… that’s enormously impressive (and well deserved)!

    Also, while I’m much more keen on CRPGs, I really enjoyed DC and would love it if its success translates into some sort of follow-up in the form of an expansion or sequel.

    ——————————

    The Divinity: Original Sin kickstarter has been an enormous success–obviously, from your perspective, but also from the consumer perspective. Compared to the other big RPG crowdfunding projects, I feel like Larian is the most communicative and transparent. You seem to follow a very open development philosophy that really encourages a lot of trust.

    The frequent update videos really helped drive home a sense of “communal development,” even if that wasn’t necessarily the case–they presented at atmosphere of collaboration between developer and consumer that… really resonated. With me, at least.

    And it certainly didn’t hurt that the update music was just fantastic… such a happy, jubilant melody. I really, really hope that music is somewhere in the final game.

    ——————————

    In terms of development cycle, I’m curious as to what you intend to do after D:OS releases. Personally, I’m already very much looking forward to subsequent expansions/sequels utilizing the same engine and core gameplay mechanics. What I’m wondering about, though, is whether or not you think you’ll use Kickstarter again. Ideally (from what you’ve said in prior posts, Swen) the goal is to make enough money from one game to pay for development of a subsequent game–but at the same time, if you can get additional funding from Kickstarter to make the game bigger and better, that’s a good thing, too, right? But is that really sustainable? So far, there has not yet been a follow-up kickstarter to a successful (released) crowdfunded game (to my knowledge) so who knows.

    ——————————

    Well, I’ve said way too much. Sorry: it’s a bad habit. But I there’s one final thing I’d like to share.

    Several years ago, I distinctly remember finishing Dragon Knight Saga for the first time. I loved it. I immediately set out to play Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity, and quickly found myself absolutely enamored with the series. I remember coursing through the Internet, desperate seeking any sign of a sequel.

    When you finally demonstrated D:OS at E3, I was terribly excited. Perhaps more than I should have been. At the time, the WRPG seemed a dead genre. Few WRPGs even attempted for greatness, and those that did inevitably fell short. This made that early build of D:OS more exciting than, perhaps, its own merit warranted.

    Today, the market is in a very different place. Classic top-down style CRPG and turn-based tactical games have seen a monumental resurgence in popularity. The competition is, perhaps, steeper now than its ever been. By all right, D:OS should have been lost in the crowd.

    But it wasn’t. The Larian team has clearly invested an enormous amount of effort, love, talent and skill into developing and refining the game. Today, when I look at D:OS I don’t see a promising game, I don’t see a good game–I see an inevitable classic. D:OS has the potential to be one of the absolute greatest roleplaying games of all time–and much of that potential is already realized.

    Frankly speaking, without any trace of irony and with full knowledge of the pun, I can only describe what Larian has down with Divinity: Original Sin as a miracle.

    For myself, at least, Larian has earned my life-long, unwavering faith and loyalty. I cannot wait to see what astonishing games you all create in the future.

  • Robcat

    Thank you Swen, thank you.

    I only hope, as many others, that there is justice and Original Sin gets the reception it deserves. But even failing that, no one can ever take away what Larian has accomplished here… the quality of this game (such as it is to be seen) will stand immortal, far above the petty triflings of budgets, popularity and sustainable business practice ;-)

    Though honestly, there are plenty of reasons to believe it will do very well indeed. Not just because I really, really like the sound of more games like it but even biggerer and betterer.

  • Jan-Niklas Bersenkowitsch

    Why don’t you call your engine something like 2D (Divine Dragon)-Engine or D&D (Divinity and Dragons) Engine? Just a tipp, because you guys got big with Divinity and really love your dragons, so why not combine it?

    And yeah, thank you for this wonderful game so far and being a good example for using your Kickstartermoney really good!

  • DarkBlueDestiny

    I’ve tried D:OS beta for an hour yesterday. I’ll back your next Kickstarter with my eyes closed.

  • Caio Pontes

    This one is easily my best kickstarter purchase. Incredible feedback, great updates and a wonderfully stable and fun beta. Larian should do more crowdfunding, you have my money already on whatever game 4 is.

  • http://blog.raptor2101.de/ Raptor 2101

    Till now the D:OS campaign was one of my promising KS-campaigns I participate. Looking back i only pledge cause it is a Turnbased and supporting Linux (btw when will the Linux version off the game will be announced).

    What i get till now is fare more then from the most other Kickstarter/Early Access Campaigns. Larian successfully give me the feeling, that my feedback counts *G*

    Hopefully within the next years, Kickstarter and EarlyAccess get better integrated and more sustainable. There are lot of people out there, who not only trust in you, to be a cashcows and a betatesters, some of them maybe want to be a part of the development. Maybe this movement takes the same way like the open-source development: a mix of professionals and volunteers

    • Idealista

      I’m waiting for Linux port to :)

  • Grochu

    I regret that I didn’t pledged to this game on Kickstarter, but it was announced soon after new Torment which took all my money… Anyway, I’m definitely going to buy this on release (or shortly after, depending on my funds).

    Your game could be one of the best things this year for me. Fingers crossed.

  • Mark Knopfler

    Very cool. Kickstarter is a great way to get things going. Game looks amazing!

  • Rodney Hahoo

    Butt penis.

  • Андрей

    June….very soon. Swen, you really want me to spend my summer near PC :<

  • Jan-Niklas Bersenkowitsch

    I remembered something: If I remember correctly you published all your games in the summer, isn’t it true? So you could consider it something of a tradition^^.

    And another Engine name: Ullar (Ultimate Larian) Engine?

  • Bree

    As a backer who has made strenuous efforts to avoid spoiling the game for myself, the above video and a walk-through video I found on YouTube have just absolutely blown my mind. I never expected you guys would get this much into the game in this polished a state. You guys are machines. Only a little more than a month away… I think you guys are really going to hit it big this time.

  • ynotdoitndalton

    Very nicely put… thats how i always thought it was done in the first place.. but i guess publishers really are ruining gaming as a whole.. stay independent and have faith and you will succeed. I know i will continue to buy your products in the future.

    • ynotdoitndalton

      And keep the engine name Divinity Engine.. thats perfect.

  • CountBuffon

    D:OS has really come along. I hope we can get more of your thoughts here soon.

  • Washington Irving

    Looks like you were 100% right!