Larian's Roadmap to the RPG That Will Dwarf Them All

23 Jun 2012

Larian Studios' Swen Vincke has his heart set on building an "RPG that will dwarf them all", and given the loftiness of that goal, there are years' worth of preparations to consider in order to achieve it. And it's those steps form something of a roadmap for the studio, which Swen covers in a candid new blog entry that outlines the difficulty of what they're seeking to achieve:
If you have a 40 man team, and the employer cost is say 6K€, then one year of development will cost you 2,88M€. Given that most games take a few years to make, this means you rapidly end up with a need of over 5M€ to fund one game. That means that if you want to fund your own game with work for hire, and your game needs 40 people for 2 years at 6K€/month, you need to earn 5M€ before you can afford to spend 2 years on your own game. So, if you do work for hire for 2 years for somebody else with your 40 man team, you need to earn 10M€ to actually earn the freedom needed to develop your own thing. In the current market, that’s actually a tough proposition and rare are the jobs in the games industry where you are paid double the employee rate, so the reality is that you probable need to do even more work for hire.

It’s the very trap Larian allowed itself to be caught in for many years, and it took me quite some time to muster the courage to try to escape from it. There’s a certain reassurance to be had from money coming in as it goes out, rather than just seeing it go out. To reach escape velocity, I had to attract investor money and draw upon all of the resources we’d built up over the years, and to be honest, not a day goes by without me questioning if it really was the right decision.

And here was a guy telling me that all that wasn’t going to be sufficient, because the burn-rate of my team would continue to burn to such an extent that there’d never be enough profit to fund the next growth step.

The scary thing is that he might have a point. In order to do my thing, I need to get something like a 100 man team for say 3 years. That’s the equivalent of over 20M€ in funding, which clearly is a lot of money. Yet, it’s the type of budget not uncommon for the really big games. These budgets are justified by selling over a million units, so if we actually want to have a shot at making my very big RPG, the shortest route would be for our new games to do exactly that – sell over a million units. Otherwise we indeed run the risk that the funds we generate are sufficient to let us survive, but insufficient to let us grow significantly.

Over one million units really is a lot, and to be honest, I don’t think we’ll manage that, not with the gameplay experiments that we’re doing. My expectations are that we’ll need to release a few more games before reaching that point, but then again, we just won best RPG of E3 on jeuxvideo.com with Divinity – Original Sin – so that’s a start, right ?
I really hope Original Sin and Dragon Commander are profitable enough to get them closer to their dream game. And if they are, perhaps the remaining capital could be raised through IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, or another crowd-funding source?