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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Feargus Urquhart - Future Of The Industry and Obsidian at KRI 2013

Default Feargus Urquhart - Future Of The Industry and Obsidian at KRI 2013

May 23rd, 2013, 12:08
Feargus Urquhart gave an interesting perspective at a Russian game developer conference called KRI 2013. The topics covered the future of the mid-sized developers, and also on Obsidian's specific strategy for the future.
Thanks go to Gamebanshee for translating and posting the story.
Given that the talk is rather long and there's quite a lot of Russian in there, a language a sizable portion of our reader is likely unfamiliar with, I'll try to summarize the salient points of Feargus' speech:

AAA is growing bigger in terms of budgets and team sizes, making this a much less relevant prospect for developers of Obsidian's size, and also making big-budget titles less innovative (because publishers want to be assured their significant investments will wield some profit)

In the future mid-sized developers will have to look at alternatives, and he points out a few of these:
- making parts of games (again, linking back to the swelling team sizes, that make it more difficult to handle everything in-house)
- making free-to-play titles (which he compares to TV, while AAA is akin to movies) and smartphone/tablet titles
- funding game projects with Kickstarter

Feargus also explains that games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are actually exceptions to the trend of bloated budgets and teams he explained earlier, and are actually relatively cheap to develop, certainly cheaper than what people believe

Feargus then goes on to point out the strategy Obsidian is adopting to tackle future challenges:

First of all, the company won't devote any further resources in developing their own engine, Onyx (which powered Dungeon Siege III and the upcoming South Park: The Stick of Truth, and which was also used as the tech backbone for the ill-fated Aliens: Crucible), and will instead license third-party tech like CryEngine 3 and Unity.
However the tools that have been developed for Onyx, like Obsidian's proprietary dialogue tool, will continue to be used and integrated with the third-party technology Obsidian will employIterating on tools and having them be as efficient as possible is something he stresses Obsidian is putting a lot of focus on, echoing the thoughts of Todd Howard from whom he's borrowed the expression "ninjas and tools"

Obsidian is going to make an effort to get games in a playable state earlier in the development cycle for the future, something he acknowledges has been difficult for the company in the past due to the sprawling nature of their games.
In general, the company is going back to their roots and look more into PC and tablets in the future. Feargus acknowledges that there's not exactly a wealth of deep RPGs on tablets, but sees it as an opportunity, as they can take the genre in that space.
Feargus was also gracious enough to elaborate further on his thoughts on the AAA marketplace for us, and whether Obsidian will stop looking into it altogether:
More information.
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May 23rd, 2013, 12:11
- making parts of games (again, linking back to the swelling team sizes, that make it more difficult to handle everything in-house)

Yeah, I don't really buy that claim about how AAA games require hundreds of people to make. Especially when they're only providing a dozen hours or so of content. And extra especially if they're licensing a game engine from a third party, which nearly everyone seems to be doing these days. I think it's more a case of big companies using human wave development techniques because that's what big companies do. As they get bigger they get greedier and more ambitious and they start taking on more staff because their existing staff can't handle all the projects they've got planned, and the new staff is both inexperienced and not as talented as the old staff, which is a problem that can only be resolved by hiring more new staff to help the other new staff, and so on… just kinda snowballs that way and nobody knows why. The temporary solution is to buy small and successful developers and run them as independent development labs for as long as you can, but then of course there's the urge to reduce redundancy and move your own people in to key positions in the new acquisitions, fire the uppity senior folks, and scalp their talent for "temporary" assignments elsewhere in the company. And so on. Software development has been like this at least 30 years, and not just in the entertainment segment of the industry.

- making free-to-play titles (which he compares to TV, while AAA is akin to movies) and smartphone/tablet titles


Yeah, but smartphone/tablet apps are currently being done by one guy with a "brilliant" idea. Until the tech advances sufficiently that something besides dumb luck will guarantee at least moderate success, it seems like a medium sized development house could waste a lot of time and money on tablets and smartphones.

- funding game projects with Kickstarter

Is the problem funding, or is the problem inability of small good teams to compete with large mediocre teams? Not quite the same issue, are they? If it's funding, then once a medium size company has a couple hits under its belt it likely won't remain a medium size company for long. See above. I suppose if it doesn't get those big hits but at least pleases the "investors" it could continue indefinitely as a medium size kickstarter outfit, as long as nobody gets greedy and ambitious. But that's a hell of a "as long as…" given the history of the game industry, isn't it?
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May 23rd, 2013, 12:24
Sounds like they're desperate to survive at all costs.

That's understandable.

I wonder, however, if they're not better served by dissolving the company and restructuring with a smaller and more focused team?

Why waste time and energy making meh title after meh title? That can't be why they got into the industry in the first place.
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May 23rd, 2013, 14:45
Originally Posted by CraigCWB View Post
- making parts of games (again, linking back to the swelling team sizes, that make it more difficult to handle everything in-house)

Yeah, I don't really buy that claim about how AAA games require hundreds of people to make. Especially when they're only providing a dozen hours or so of content.
AAA games require lots of artists: 3d modelers, animators, cinematic designers, texture makers, writers, etc. The game might only be a dozen hours long, but it still have hundred of textures, models and lines of dialogs in it. That is because the time to create stuff have increased over the years. A 2d sprites can be done in a day, a 3d models can take a months for the most complex ones.

As an example, one of the Mass Effect BioWare dev said it took them 6 months to make one level for ME3. The game have a dozen of levels, so let say you have 10 guys working on a single level (writers, programmer, level designer, artists) and you are making 6 levels in parallels, well it mean you need a team of 60 just for making those 6 levels. Then you have to add the engine programmers, main campaign writers, combat designers, multiplayer devs, QA, etc.
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May 23rd, 2013, 19:15
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Sounds like they're desperate to survive at all costs.

That's understandable.

I wonder, however, if they're not better served by dissolving the company and restructuring with a smaller and more focused team?

Why waste time and energy making meh title after meh title? That can't be why they got into the industry in the first place.
I'm really not reading that in the posting; they're just taking a logical approach to focus resources on what they do best. Most companies do that, or they go out of business.
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May 23rd, 2013, 22:44
azarhal, that's the part I don't buy. I've seen startups do a better job with all that graphics and engine stuff than the AAA titles are able to manage, too many times. One example would be King Arthur the Roleplaying Game vs Total War. King Arthur just looked better. The user interface was better. The Total War franchise has always pissed me off because it's always been ass ugly and crude, though I've always liked the actual gameplay in the franchise. Even look at the big ticket item for Empire, the naval combat. How is it that Akella (Pirates franchise) did a better job with that, and did it earlier? And Akella wasn't the only one to do the same thing better, Flying Labs Software did it better and sooner in Pirates of the Burning Sea, as well. As far as dialog, by which I assume you mean voice acting, that's a money issue not development effort issue.
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May 24th, 2013, 18:05
Originally Posted by CraigCWB View Post
azarhal, that's the part I don't buy. I've seen startups do a better job with all that graphics and engine stuff than the AAA titles are able to manage, too many times. One example would be King Arthur the Roleplaying Game vs Total War. King Arthur just looked better. The user interface was better. The Total War franchise has always pissed me off because it's always been ass ugly and crude, though I've always liked the actual gameplay in the franchise. Even look at the big ticket item for Empire, the naval combat. How is it that Akella (Pirates franchise) did a better job with that, and did it earlier? And Akella wasn't the only one to do the same thing better, Flying Labs Software did it better and sooner in Pirates of the Burning Sea, as well. As far as dialog, by which I assume you mean voice acting, that's a money issue not development effort issue.
Azarhal is right - look at the upcoming GTA and MMOs such as GW2 & Elder Scrolls online or any Bioware game - then it's easy to see where all that money goes. Whether it's all worth it or not to you is personal, after all you could just play chess. But, is a bit surreal to assert that AAA studios just flush all that money down the lavatory due to bad management techniques. That's not to say that large dev teams are always optimally efficient, there do tend to be diminishing returns the more people you add to a dev team.
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May 24th, 2013, 21:01
Originally Posted by Roq View Post
Azarhal is right - look at the upcoming GTA and MMOs such as GW2 & Elder Scrolls online or any Bioware game - then it's easy to see where all that money goes. Whether it's all worth it or not to you is personal, after all you could just play chess. But, is a bit surreal to assert that AAA studios just flush all that money down the lavatory due to bad management techniques. That's not to say that large dev teams are always optimally efficient, there do tend to be diminishing returns the more people you add to a dev team.
Saints Row 1, 2 and 3 were at least competitive with their GTA counterparts when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and several other MMOs done by small or medium sized studios were at least competitive with World of Warcraft when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. What's surreal is you telling me that isn't so.
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May 24th, 2013, 22:04
Originally Posted by CraigCWB View Post
Saints Row 1, 2 and 3 were at least competitive with their GTA counterparts when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and several other MMOs done by small or medium sized studios were at least competitive with World of Warcraft when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. What's surreal is you telling me that isn't so.
Do you even know the team size difference between the games you mentioned? You might be surprised.

It's not about better gameplay or slicker interface. It's not even about how good the engine is (although, crappy engine usually mean more time required on them). It's about how much time it take to make something for the game.

A TB strategy game made out of stickmen will have more units than one made of 100k+ polygons models, simply because making stickmen take a lot less time than making 100k polygons models. That is all there is to it.
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May 24th, 2013, 22:12
Originally Posted by CraigCWB View Post
Saints Row 1, 2 and 3 were at least competitive with their GTA counterparts when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and several other MMOs done by small or medium sized studios were at least competitive with World of Warcraft when it comes to the technical aspects Azarhal has mentioned. What's surreal is you telling me that isn't so.
You do realise that Mythic was taken over by Electronic Arts before they released Warhammer Online? And even so (too late) it didn't come close to matching World of Warcraft in polish or content, despite some interesting PvP ideas, which they never had the funding & time to complete (not to mention EA changing the direction of the game). Similarly Conan was very buggy on release and had little fleshed out content beyond the first few levels. Those games are particularly good examples of why you need lots of $$$ to make AAA titles.
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May 24th, 2013, 23:17
azarhal,

Do you even know the team size difference between the games you mentioned? You might be surprised.

It's not relevant.

It's not about better gameplay or slicker interface.

Slicker interface is exactly what this discussion is about.

It's not even about how good the engine is

How good the game engine is also exactly what this discussion is about.

What you said: AAA games require lots of artists: 3d modelers, animators, cinematic designers, texture makers, writers, etc. The game might only be a dozen hours long, but it still have hundred of textures, models and lines of dialogs in it.

Own it.

It's about how much time it take to make something for the game.

Meaningless criteria. It's not about TIME it's about RESULTS.

A TB strategy game made out of stickmen will have more units than one made of 100k+ polygons models, simply because making stickmen take a lot less time than making 100k polygons models. That is all there is to it.

I provided 5 different examples of games made by small or medium size companies that had similar or superior production values compared to AAA releases, and you ignored them all. I could provide a dozen more examples off the top of my head and you'd ignore those too, wouldn't you? Because you think your wrong opinion is "all there is to it".

覧覧覧覧覧-

Roq,

You do realise that Mythic was taken over by Electronic Arts before they released Warhammer Online?

What's that got to do with the size of the team that made the game? If you're suggesting that it was EA who made the game and not Mythic, then I'm going to need some proof of that. And by the way, why not a peep about the other 4 examples I provided? Is it because they didn't get bought out by a big bonehead software company?

And even so (too late) it didn't come close to matching World of Warcraft in polish or content

Polish or content? We're talking about raw production values, and Warhammer in particular had WoW beat flat out on that count.

Similarly Conan was very buggy on release and had little fleshed out content beyond the first few levels.

Again, on production values, which is what we are debating, AoC had WoW beat. Flat out. The one area they dropped the ball was on voice acting which was very scarce indeed after the prologue area. However, as I pointed out very early on in this discussion, voice acting is a money issue that's unrelated to software development. As far as content, that's got more to do with the talent level of individual designers and it's irrelevant to a discussion about team sizes. You are aware that even the big development houses only have a few people doing quests and area scripts, aren't you? And just for shits and giggles, how would you compare the amount of content in AoC or Warhammer to Star Wars the Old Republic? Isn't SWTOR the most expensive MMO ever made? Lack of content was my biggest gripe with that game and it's what caused me to walk away from it after only a month playing.

Those games are particularly good examples of why you need lots of $$$ to make AAA titles.

That's not even the topic. The topic is manpower.

覧覧覧覧覧-

It's pretty obvious to me that you guys have an agenda and a personal bias that is causing you to distort the facts and twist the discussion. I'm not interested in participating in that.
Last edited by CraigCWB; May 24th, 2013 at 23:32.
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May 25th, 2013, 10:57
AAA is growing bigger in terms of budgets and team sizes, making this a much less relevant prospect for developers of Obsidian's size, and also making big-budget titles less innovative (because publishers want to be assured their significant investments will wield some profit)
Innovation requires means. All these big titles have means, and possibly means in excess. They can allocate means in excess to innovation, regardless of the reception of the audience.

As shown by many KS projects, a reactionary movement has taken that funding platform over. Very few innovative, experimental projects were funded, the mass of customers want the same old, same old. When means were in excess, they are not used to introduce innovation. Wasteland 2 used means in excess on stuff like SCI FI reviewing etc Expected as the mass of pledgers want the same old.

AAA projects might show a lack of innovation but you cant expect innovation from those middle budgets or KS projects. Innovation is nothing to compare AAA projects and other projects: there will be a lack of innovation in video gaming in all budgets size: big, small and middle.
It is useless to point the lack of innovation in AAA projects since most of the other projects show a lack of innovation.

Feargus also explains that games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are actually exceptions to the trend of bloated budgets and teams he explained earlier, and are actually relatively cheap to develop, certainly cheaper than what people believe
The difference for Skyrim? The ES series is led by a strong concept whose integrity is guaranteed by a fistfull of influential members within the developpment team. They dont listen to the customers on those points (customers will soon get rid of the concept) and they keep working through multiple iterations to improve the delivery of the concept.

The budget is irrelevant.

Get rid of those influential team members who cling to their vision and you'll get a very different result, including with an increase of budget.
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May 25th, 2013, 11:12
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
Very few innovative, experimental projects were funded…
Inventing whole new genres isn't going to happen everyday, however games are funded. But, Kickstarter is allowing developers to innovate within genres. And there's a lot more room for innovation in some of the older genres, where the gameplay is much deeper, than in first person action games.
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May 25th, 2013, 11:27
CienAboyeur I don't know whether to call you a genius or a crackpot, but you do speak with wisdom sometimes.

Though I have to say unless anyone works in the industry your,mine,and any others opinions are irrelevant. We can speculate and give theories all we want.

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May 25th, 2013, 12:02
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
As shown by many KS projects, a reactionary movement has taken that funding platform over. Very few innovative, experimental projects were funded, the mass of customers want the same old, same old.
Your POV is inflammatorily simplistic. What the bigger KS projects have delivered (or, in fairness, promise to deliver) is fine-tuning the design of games built on the experience of previous games. P:E isn't Baldur's Gate, and TToN isn't PS:T. It takes some research and a bit of a discerning eye to appreciate the ways in which these games will be different from their spiritual predecessors; there are subtle changes in the way things work, but these changes are profound enough to make some traditionalists cry out loud ("this isn't what I pledged for!").

If it were as simple as you claim it to be, there would be only two ways: offer completely new products tailored to today's gaming habits (like social games), or really deliver the same old, same old. What the bigger KS nostalgia projects are doing is neither of these. You have people with vast industry experience honing and improving their craft against what people believed to be the odds (in today's gaming market). That's the great thing about KS, and something I doubt could ever happen in console territory.

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May 25th, 2013, 17:15
Originally Posted by Roq View Post
Inventing whole new genres isn't going to happen everyday, however games are funded. But, Kickstarter is allowing developers to innovate within genres. And there's a lot more room for innovation in some of the older genres, where the gameplay is much deeper, than in first person action games.
Please give a short list of that innovative KS. I dont speak of genres. Simply of gameplay. Which games are about.
If you could also pinpoint what makes those games innovative, that could help too.
Thanks.
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May 25th, 2013, 17:22
Originally Posted by Sacred_Path View Post
Your POV is inflammatorily simplistic. What the bigger KS projects have delivered (or, in fairness, promise to deliver) is fine-tuning the design of games built on the experience of previous games. P:E isn't Baldur's Gate, and TToN isn't PS:T. It takes some research and a bit of a discerning eye to appreciate the ways in which these games will be different from their spiritual predecessors; there are subtle changes in the way things work, but these changes are profound enough to make some traditionalists cry out loud ("this isn't what I pledged for!").
Save you remake a video game identically, no game is going to be the same as another.

The redone Baldur's game that was released lately is not even the same as the original BGs and they wanted it a remake!

You take any game of the CoD series and you can apply the very same reasoning of yours. Yet that series is often touted as being non innovative on this site.

What is the position toward the CoD, Battlefield etc series? Are they perceived the same as those KS games? Just wondering.
If it were as simple as you claim it to be, there would be only two ways: offer completely new products tailored to today's gaming habits (like social games), or really deliver the same old, same old. What the bigger KS nostalgia projects are doing is neither of these. You have people with vast industry experience honing and improving their craft against what people believed to be the odds (in today's gaming market). That's the great thing about KS, and something I doubt could ever happen in console territory.
So when the same old is delivered, it is not the same old delivered, you must wait for the same old to be really deliver?
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May 25th, 2013, 17:25
Originally Posted by Couchpotato View Post
Though I have to say unless anyone works in the industry your,mine,and any others opinions are irrelevant. We can speculate and give theories all we want.
The customers decide. Even the opinions of developpers are often irrelevant. They are only relevant when the developpers manage to insulate themselves from the demand of the customers. And a forum like this one is nothing but a recipient to opinions. So…
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May 25th, 2013, 17:32
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
The redone Baldur's game that was released lately is not even the same as the original BGs and they wanted it a remake!
Weak semantics. Comparing P:E to BGEE is ridiculous. Have you even looked into the specifics/ goals the companies are going for with their "nostalgia projects"?

So when the same old is delivered, it is not the same old delivered, you must wait for the same old to be really deliver?
I don't even

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May 25th, 2013, 17:41
Originally Posted by Sacred_Path View Post
I don't even
Don't bother I don't think you can even reason with him or understand him half the time anymore. Just let it go man.

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