The partnership between the two independent companies will allow the Kickstarted Pillars of Eternity flourish, according to CEOs Feargus Urquhart and Fredrik Wester.
Earlier this week, the CEO of Paradox Interactive Fredrik Wester and the CEO of Obsidian Entertainment Feargus Urquhart met on stage and announced their partnership to distribute the RPG Pillars of Eternity. Paradox is mostly known for making its own strategy games like Europa Universalis, but they have a robust publishing arm and a lot of marketing muscle behind them. Obsidian is fresh off the heels of shipping South Park: The Stick of Truth, but the company had no idea how it would fulfill the Kickstarter promise of Eternity on its own. The deal just makes sense for both companies. Obsidian can make the game, spending the $4 million dollars raised on Kickstarter, while Paradox will benefit from future sales by marketing and setting up distribution on channels like Steam and GOG. I spoke with both Wester and Urquhart directly after their announcement at GDC 2014 and they both agreed that this kind of partnership might be the only way a niche game concept like Eternity might actually get installed on players' computers.
"The word 'niche' is an evil word at a lot of the bigger publishers. I've had games rejected because 'this feels too targeted towards a niche.' And welp, isn't that what a genre is?" Urquhart said. That's why he's super excited to work with Paradox. "It's ok to make these games. Would me and Fred love it if ten million people bought Pillars of Eternity? That would be incredible. But our business doesn't depend nor do we have to make decisions based upon games having to sell five million units just to break even."
"I want us to be more crazy with the game concepts that we make," Wester said. "We've had the indie revolution in 2009 to 2012, now the channels are clogged again and people are going back to making these safe bets and safe games. We should be able to make some crazy bets and make some crazy shit."
Urquhart has been around the block with working with different publishers like Zenimax, THQ, BioWare and EA on games like Fallout: New Vegas and Knights of the Old Republic II. He described a courting process were everyone is happy, says how this is going to be so fun and the whole situation is really positive. "Then you sign the deal, and everyone is immediately frightened," he said. "We're in a different world now [with Kickstarter] where we can try stuff."
The culture surrounding Kickstarter is still relatively new and developers that have received significant backing like Obsidian and Double Fine are in territory that no game companies have explored. Donating money to a project like Pillars of Eternity may feel like you are signing a complicit agreement with the creators, and bringing in outside help could be construed as a bad thing. Urquhart doesn't think that's the case, and I asked him what he would say to a backer that'd be upset with the partnership with Paradox.
"I would try to convince them that this is a good thing for the game," he said. "This [partnership] allows us to focus and spend every dollar on the game. Let people who do distribution and marketing for a living, do it, instead of us having to split our heads. We didn't want to spend one hour thinking about the game, then the next on distribution. I'm a somewhat eloquent guy, I don't know how to convince people that this really is it. But it really is it. It really is focus. This lets us focus."
For Wester's part, he is clearly thinking beyond Pillars of Eternity to a new golden age of RPGs. "This is a great way for two strong independent companies to focus on what they do best and reach as many people as possible," he said. "If we reach 2 million instead of one million [with Pillars of Eternity], that would be a great achievement. We would build this community and hopefully, make more games like this. Everyone gains from more people being reached because there's a global audience for people who want to play these types of games."
"That's what RPGs are all about," Urquhart said. He talked about how when he was Black Isle and making games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, they were always talking about how to extend the stories. How to make trilogies. "We want to make Pillars of Eternity as much of a success as possible so we can make bigger stories."
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Is Pillars of Eternity the first game in a planned trilogy then? Urquhart and Wester laughed. "No," they both said.