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Project Eternity and the future of game development

Dren Sokić

You might consider this article a bit late, after all, the Kickstarter phenomena really kicked off (pardon the pun) after the Double Fine adventure. And after that, Wasteland 2, which you might place in the same category as Project Eternity, and let’s not forget the stunning 8 million dollars that Ouya brought in.

If none of this rings a bell, let me bring you up to speed real quick. Kickstarter is a website where people who have an idea, but no money, can crowd source funding directly from interested people. They fund these ideas without any possible profits but instead get rewards based on their donation.

You might have recognized the name Double Fine as the studio belonging to Tim Schafer, of Psychonauts and Brutal Legend fame. Not having been very successful commercially he had trouble finding funding, especially because the game he wanted to make was an adventure game. This apparently being a genre that publishers felt was so niche that it wouldn’t make any money. And then people gave Schafer almost three and a half million dollars to make the game.

For a while, the internet exploded, finally a way for studio’s to circumvent publishers, get funding directly from the gamers and not have to submit to a publishers meddling and scrutiny. Anyone who has followed infinity ward’s struggle with Activision will understand, even if it is only slightly, why developers would want that.

Then came Brian Fargo, and his idea for Wasteland 2, a successor to Wasteland, a game from 1988 which was the spiritual ancestor of the Fallout series. Another game type, the isometric turn based rpg which was, by modern day publishers, considered to be non profitable. They raised 2.93 million dollars.

And then there was Ouya, an android based console. People gave them over 8 million dollars.

Another surprise hit was Planetary Annihilation, a rts game developed by the people who made Total Annihilation. They explained that since there wasn’t a big market for rts games these days, unless you’re Blizzard of course, and thus they would be unable to secure funding in another way. They got 2.2 million dollars.

Seeing a trend here? Games and related things that publishers felt were doomed to fail, found a surprisingly large following.

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And now there is Project Eternity. Obsidian, a studio which, these days, is known for its ambitious RPG games which tend to ship in a state which can be described as nearly unplayable. Looking back further in time there is an impressive pedigree there, games like Planescape: Torment and Baldurs Gate 2 are amongst the games on the resumes of the people working there. Not counting Ouya, that’s a commonality all these games have, they’re being made by people who have garnered fame for older games (Schafer with Grim Fandango and Monkey Island, and Fargo with Wasteland and Fallout) and now want to go back to what you might call their roots.

Another thing they have in common is that the projects are relatively small, while those amounts might seem big, by today’s standards of game development they really aren’t. Budgets aren’t really publicized, but sources put the budget of for example Modern Warfare 2 around 50 million dollars.

But Project Eternity is different somehow, not just because it hit its funding goal in a little over a day, but because of the people behind it.

After Brutal Legend failed to do well commercially, Double Fine has mostly brought out smaller titles, like Stacking and Costume Quest. Not that these games were bad, but they were hardly on the scale of Psychonauts or Brutal Legend. Brian Fargo has a similar story, his most recent bigger game, Hunted: Demon’s Forge was a flop, and InXile Entertainments best received title, The Bards Tale, dates back to 2004, and this was hardly a triple A title either.

On the other hand there is Obsidian Entertainment. They have consistently worked on high profile games, KotOR 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3, not to mention the currently in development South Park game.

Like I said before, these games were all ambitious in their own way, but launched with a variety of bug problems. These all got fixed eventually, but that’s hardly the way to build a reputation. And while Obsidian has claimed that Q&A was the domain of the publisher, the average gamer doesn’t know that, and doesn’t care, only that the game which he/she has bought doesn’t work properly.

Still, Obsidian is an established studio, and them seeking the aid of gamers directly can seem to be a bit weird.

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