Danny O’Dwyer, founder of video game documentary channel Noclip, has tried to analyze the reasons behind the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 and why games like this are so rarely released. He also spoke with the Larian publishing director to get more context about bringing a AAA RPG to today’s market.
O’Dwyer’s video is the first episode of By Design, a new project made for the A16Z GAMES YouTube channel (owned by the gaming arm of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz).
One of the main parts of the video is an interview with Michael Douse, director of publishing at Larian Studios, about the release of Baldur’s Gate 3 and whether there is a broader market for RPGs that most folks in the industry don’t see.
Speaking about the sales for Baldur’s Gate 3, Douse said they are within expected projections, but “it’s very important to understand that these projections are foundationally defined by support from our core audience, and what we learn about who they are.”
One of the secrets to the game’s commercial success is that it appeals to both players who though they’d like it, and people who thought they’d never like it.
Douse admitted that Larian itself doesn’t use the term CRPG, because Baldur’s Gate 3 is not a computer RPG as it can be played on PS5 (and Xbox Series X|S in the future), and there is also a version of Divinity: Original Sin II for iPad Pro. “If you consider CRPG to mean ‘classic’ RPG, I promise you that BG3 is not a classic RPG but a modern RPG,” he said.
It has a lot of depth, but it's doing things most RPGs aren't able to do. The latter is a big reason for its perceived success. Every time we release a 'CRPG', we know that the 'CRPG' audience grows. The only reason — at least on the industry side — that people think this audience is 'small' is because there isn't a big enough pool of data to pull from. How well should BG3 do? Well, what other 'CRPG' with AAA production values are you going to look at to project from? It's a blessing, and a curse.
director of publishing at Larian Studios
And what about the Bear scene from the last Panel From Hell event? Of course, it played its part in generating more hype in the pre-launch marketing campaign, but it only worked because Baldur’s Gate itself was a great game. In other case, it would just be a meme that dies after week or two.
According to Douse, Larian decided to show the Bear because it was the right moment for marketing to bet a little broader. “The truth is that it’s the core audience who help present & propel the game to the broader audiences,” he explained. “They are the custodians of our content, to a degree. We do our thing as well, but the world decided together that it was time to start looking at what BG3 is in its final form.”
Douse believes that the game gained momentum when all its systems were finally put together, and Larian was able to present Baldur’s Gate 3 to the audience in its final form.
He added that the Early Access period helped the studio form the community around the game, which then allowed the devs to get a “microcom of a broader audience.” With BG3 spending nearly three years in EA, Larian could better understand what resonates with the players and always stay in touch with them, shaping the final version of the project together.
O’Dwyer also reminded viewers that it takes an enormous budget to make a game with this level of quality and production in 2023. “Successful games come from both small teams and large teams,” he said. “But both of these are usually in need of some funding.”
“Given the time it takes to make AAA games in this modern era, just the level of capital investment required is simply out of reach for most. Making games of this scale and level of quality requires smart business planning. And while Baldur’s Gate 3 was likely not financed from the CEO’s savings account, it is the CEO’s vision that made this game possible.”
For more details about Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian Studios, and popular streamer CohhCarnage’s take on the CRPG genre in general, watch the full video below.