Tobold's Blog
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.

It's hard to believe that Larian are not somehow behind publicity like this!

Though I haven't seen any of the complaining first hand - it's possibly a bit overblown by the media.

As for the game, I couldn't cope with any of the Infinity Engine games except for Planescape: Torment, and that was despite rather than because of the engine. It's turn-based all the way for me - something like Wasteland 3 for example. Maybe I'll take a look at BG3 down the line if it's really as good as people say.
Really good article. I think you’re on to something re the hidden cost of treating your workforce as disposable. Do you have any links to the critiques? I looked on Twitter and saw a ton of excited fan comments but couldn’t find the dev criticism you were mentioning.
Link to an older news article from the start of that discussion, which has gotten more heated since then.
So after reading the actual tweets that started all this internet drama and watching the guys follow up videos I get the point he was trying to make and I'd even say he is technically correct. In the modern gaming industry a studio like Larian and a game like BG3 are indeed an anomaly. The mainstream game industry just isn't set up to support projects like BG3 and it takes a Larian or a From Software or a Nintendo to pull off projects like them. The large AAA studios aren't the innovators of the industry and I'd argue never really have been.

His point was terribly worded though and another example of Twitter not being a good medium for conversation.
If an experienced team of 400 developers has been allowed to work on this game since 2017, that is atypical. It's atypical that they treated their employees well enough to stick around that long, and atypical that they actually gave the team enough time to finish what they set out to do. Neither of those would ever fly in an American studio, because that flies in the face of "short term profits first, everything else second" as a development strategy.
What would you say if for example car companies worked like that? “Sorry our latest model sucks, but all the engineers who worked on the previous cars left, and we didn’t give the new guys enough time to design a car.”. The argument here is not that Larian isn’t atypical, it is that it *shouldn’t* be. And it is in the nature of capitalism that badly managed companies go under, and better managed ones rise up.
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I'm not sue if that was directed at me, but I completely a agree with you. That was kind of the point of my post.

The fact that it is so atypical is beyond idiotic. Why the hell most gamers are willing to put up with it eludes me. There are very few other industries (I can think of exactly none) where such consistently shoddy product releases are tolerated by consumers.

I personally never buy any game the month that it comes out unless it's from Nintendo or one of a small handful of other studios that don't actually engage in that insane bullshit. By waiting six months to a few years to buy any given game, I get a version where all the luanch era issues have been ironed out and I pay a lot less.

I suspect that with most gamers "fear of missing out" is such a strong force that they will put up with damn near anything to be there at launch, just to be part of the conversation. I did it too when I was younger, though back then quality control on console games was pretty good since there was no possible way to update most of them. Regardless, now that I am older I see that as a really stupid way to spend your time and money.
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