It’s now been two months since Divinity: Orignal Sin launched and Larian Studios’ founder Swen Vincke has written a post mortem of the game’s development and success. The sandbox RPG has sold more than 500,000 copies and their “debts have been paid and we are now in the profitable zone.”
Vincke reveals how it was touch and go towards release as many of the studio’s creditors lost faith in the game, almost leading to the team running out of money before launch, and that at one point in development they “dumped more than half of what we had.”
Vincke has come away from Divinity’s development firmly in the belief that their game has performed well because of the rich content and the amount of time they spent polishing it, aided by feedback from the community in Early Access. However, it caused them no end of struggle.
Larian found that they couldn’t just throw things into their game because “bad content means players will have no motivation to invest themselves in your game.” The best thing to do if you find rubbish content is to “cull it.”
“Don’t release it, even if it causes extra delays and it brings you to the brink of bankruptcy,” Vincke states. “Bad is bad and players will recognise bad. Fix your content first. At some undisclosed point in development, we dumped more than half of what we had. It was the best decision ever, even if did tarnish the end result a bit and caused a lot of extra stress.
Because of that ethos the final months of development were a time of constant crunch for the team. That and because of their “decision to listen to the feedback we received through our Kickstarter and Steam Early Access communities. This meant extra delays, which in turn meant a need for extra budget.
“Steam Early Access was getting us some money but unfortunately that wasn’t sufficient. We needed to pay back our creditors who were all under the conviction that the game would be out sooner. When, to my surprise, it turned out that they didn’t share our belief that everything was going to be ok and even better if we listened to the feedback, I had to engage in a lot of fun conversations. Between “it’s ready when it’s done” and actually following up on that mantra, there unfortunately lies a big gap that can only be bridged with financial stamina.”
He admits that “we would’ve continued development even longer” if the creditors had been willing to supply more funds. However, when he had to “dash to a far away place where lived the one last bank director who still wanted to give us sufficient credit to pay a part of what we owed to another bank, it was clear that we needed to finish.”
The long, intense development took a severe toll on the team, too. When they eventually shipped “a lot of us were exhausted.” There was still work to be done but the tiring schedule meant they had to take a break. Vincke describes it as being “completely worn out, both mentally and physically, and I needed to detox myself from ‘the game’. I’d been waking up and crashing down with it for so long that I had a hard time getting used to ‘normal life’ again.”
Larian discovered that, as well as wearing them out, the crunch schedule had another effect: “we didn’t have any review code to share with reviewers prior to release. It meant that anybody interested in the game would have to either wait or check what other players were thinking.”
Vincke doesn’t paint this as a negative. Instead he wonders where “there was any correlation between our ultimate review scores and the user reviews, but the latter were really good and when you went to the Steam page on the day of release, it was loaded with over 1500 user reviews, 93% being thumbs up. I think that fuelled a lot of the initial success of the game and I also think it made some reviewers pay a bit more attention to the game.”
The weeks following release saw frequent patches and hotfixes to solve the bugs the vastly increased audience were discovering.
With the bulk of that work done Larian are now free to look towards new features. For one, they’re experimenting “with controller support to see if a big screen version with cooperative play would work well.”
Vincke also thinks that the team won’t return to Kickstarter to fund future games. Not because they’re “ungrateful” but because “the crowdfunding pool is limited and it should be fished in by those who really need it.” However, if it makes sense and a future project demands it they will look to using it again. Despite this, they’re absolutely certain that they want to get players involved early as they have with Divinity.
All that work paid off. Fraser absolutely loved Divinity: Original Sin.