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The folks at Polish games conference Digital Dragons have published on YouTube a recording of the speech Feargus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian Entertainment, gave at the conference this year. You can find the video embedded below:
The talk focuses on Urquhart's career and the lessons he's learned during it, most specifically when working at Obsidian, and by its nature contains several interesting anecdotes and snippets of info on the company and its games, some previously unreleased.
For example, Urquhart revealed that, during the development of Neverwinter Nights 2, Obsidian invested $1 million from its own cash reserves into the game, and that, perhaps partly as a result of that, the company risked going out of business right after the game's release.
Urquhart also revealed that Pillars of Eternity II is in development (something we're well aware of by now) and that, while they could have moved into production faster, the studio decided to overhaul the game's development tools first, to make sure that the game could be developed as efficiently as possible. Hopefully those overhauled tools will include the expanded AI tools that were mentioned back in a PAX Prime retrospective last year, because both the companion and enemy AI could use some work.
To stress the importance of toolsets, Obsidian's CEO noted that Fallout: New Vegas could only be developed so quickly (18 months) and with such a small team (50 people) because of the tools developed by Bethesda. And speaking of schedules, one project that took longer for Obsidian than initially anticipated was The White March pair of expansions for Pillars of Eternity. According to Urquhart, part of the reason is that the initial schedule for the expansion didn't take the time and manpower needed to support the base game.
Other mistakes were made when developing the expansions, as Urquhart noted that, for example, the price point was simply too high for the target audience, especially when they had to contend with older AAA games that were flying off the digital shelves for as little as $9.99. For future Pillars of Eternity projects, Urquhart stated that post-release content will be developed in a much different form, one that is much closer to Fallout: New Vegas' smaller but more frequent story-based DLC.
It's also worth noting that, during the talk, Urquhart noted that Armored Warfare -- Obsidian's free-to-play tank MMO -- is being worked on by a team of roughly 130 developers. Considering the fact that the company is currently employing slightly more than 200 people (as stated by design director J.E. Sawyer on his personal Tumblr blog), that means that more than half of the company is busy on the project.
In practice, I can't help but wonder if, for all intents and purposes, an enthusiast website like ours shouldn't consider Obsidian a smaller company than it used to be, as counterintuitive as that might sound, simply because so few of its developers are currently working on RPGs. I'm well aware that it's not that simple and that developers can be shuffled between projects among other things, but it's certainly something worth pondering over.
As a final note, during his talk Urquhart revealed that he's been closed to resigning several times and made no attempt to hide the fact that he's been frustrated at being unable to bring the company where he wanted several times in the past. However, it looks like he's currently in good spirits, which hopefully means the company is currently on solid footing.