If you hang around gaming forums — and, yes I admit I do visit them on occasion — you’ll see a rather large number of disgruntled gamers who pine nostalgically for the great old role-playing games of years past such as Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Unlike today’s dumbed-down action-based RPGs, they argue, these older games offer first-class storytelling and characters, a high level of customization and a deep element of choice that shows players the consequences of their in-game decisions. But for a long time, these gamers have lacked a company that’s willing to create a game that specifically tailors to their needs… until now.
Obsidian Entertainment, a video game developer best known in recent years for releasing the popular Fallout: New Vegas title, launched a Kickstarter project last week dubbed “Project Eternity” that aimed to raise $1.1 million over the span of a month to develop an old-school RPG in the mold of the Baldur’s Gate series. The results so far have been spectacular: In just four days, Project Eternity has raised over $1.5 million from more than 39,000 backers and is well on pace to quintuple its original funding goal by the end of the month.
Surely, other independent gaming companies are taking a look at this success and thinking, “Why not us?” Indeed, we can expect to see plenty of copycats posting their RPG ideas on Kickstarter over the next several months as small developers try to catch the same lightning in a bottle that Obsidian appears to have found. Unfortunately for them, however, their prospects probably aren’t as good.
The reason Obsidian’s Kickstarter project has been such a smash hit is twofold: First, the company’s development team has a lot of credibility among gamers for creating deep, immersive RPGs such as Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale and the aforementioned Fallout series. And second, Obsidian has tapped into a big well of pent-up demand for old-style RPGs that isn’t being met by any other developer on the market right now with the possible exception of CD Projekt RED and its Witcher series.
Even so, Obsidian’s success has to be encouraging for many game developers who didn’t think it would ever again be possible to make money by creating a complex game that isn’t a simply shoot-’em-up/slash-and-hack affair. If Project Eternity is a hit, it may do for gaming what The Sopranos did for television at the start of last decade: That is, show large media companies that there is a vital market for intelligently written content that relies less on action and more on original storytelling and compelling characters to provide entertainment.
Anyone hoping to see a renaissance in the gaming market should root for Project Eternity to succeed.