Feargus Urquhart Talks Future of the Industry and Obsidian at KRI 2013

Speaking at KRI 2013, a Russian game developers conference, Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart has given an interesting perspective on the future of the mid-sized developers and also on Obsidian's specific strategy for the future.

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 employ
  • Iterating 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:
I was talking in general about the large budget AAA games. I do see there being a reduction in the more mid-budget AAA games. I don't think that they (mid-budget AAA games) will disappear, but they will have to have a very specific focus or market. For instance, games like Dark Souls and XCOM have a specific group of players that they are making the games for. While they will not sell 20M units, publishers could feel that the can depend on sales of 2M, 3M or 5M units. Knowing that they can depend on those numbers (due to the dedicated audience) they are willing to invest in a more mid-range budget game.

As for Obsidian, I don't think we will stop making AAA games and even fairly large AAA games. But, I recognize that it has become more and more challenging for independent developers to create them due to the amount of people that need to be managed and the expectations of gamers, the press, and publishers. All of us need to look at ways to make our games better in order to make sure what we put on our name on is something we are proud of and makes our fans happy.

Thanks to Obsidian forums user C2B for bringing the video to our attention.