Sunday, July 30, 2023
Raising the bar
I don't actually follow Twitter. But Twitter so reliably brings out the worst in people, that by following general news there are usually some stories about what is going on on Twitter. Which currently is game developers from other companies bitching about Larian Studios and Baldur's Gate 3. In different version they are all trying to persuade the world that Baldur's Gate 3 is some sort of crazy anomaly, and should not be used as a yardstick to measure other games by. In other words, other game developers are afraid that Baldur's Gate 3 raises the bar so high that they can't follow.
Larian Studios is a privately held company founded 1996 in Ghent, Belgium. Tencent bought 30% of it, but Larian Studios CEO Swen Vincke owns 62%. While Baldur's Gate 3 will probably raise Larian Studios into the ranks of triple A video game companies, it wouldn't have been considered triple A before. They financed their Divinity Original Sin games via crowdfunding. Fewer people worked on Baldur's Gate 3 than worked on Cyberpunk 2077 or Starfield. And the 400 employees of Larian Studios are just a fraction of the 17,000 employees of Activision Blizzard or the 13,000 employees of EA, and in the same order of magnitude as the 600 people working at Bioware or Bethesda. Suggesting that Larian Studios has exceptional resources that no other game development studio has is laughable.
One argument used against Larian Studios is that they have an unfair advantage, because the people who made the previous Divinity Original Sin games are still around. Part of that might be Belgian worker protection laws, but in general I would say that a game company wanting to retain talent would be able to do so by treating their employees better. "We can't make such good games, because everybody who worked on our previous game left" isn't a great excuse, but a sign of horrible company culture.
The fact that Baldur's Gate 3 was in early access for three years isn't an unfair advantage either. Yes, it guarantees that BG3 will be fundamentally working better at launch than Cyberpunk 2077 or Redfall did. But the only thing that prevents other game developers to use early access is a lack of courage; if your game fundamentally stinks or doesn't work, you want the customers to find out as late as possible. We had a bunch of game releases lately that suggest that the game testing in other companies is deeply flawed. Early access game testing can certainly be hard on the ego of a game director, but it gives better results than a closed system in which the developers and testers know the game sucks, but don't dare to tell management.
So, if Baldur's Gate 3 turns out to be the success that is currently expected, it is only fair for players to expect other large game developers that make large cinematic games to be compared to this. Nobody expects a small indie developer to make games with a similar scope, but the developers bitching on Twitter weren't indie developers. And BG3 isn't even unique, not even for 2023, as Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is very comparable in scope, development time, and success. There are so many great games being released this year, that the various excuses of developers making boring cookie cutter or live service games are getting pretty thin.