Bringing turn-based tactical RPG Divinity: Original Sin to consoles took more effort than Larian Studios had anticipated, says Swen Vincke, CEO and creative director of the studio. But with critical praise and solid commercial performance, he says the effort behind Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition was worthwhile.
Vincke explains the challenges of bringing such a PC-centric game to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and has sound advice for studios looking to target the console market.
What kind of market research, or just general research, did you do in deciding whether you should do a new version of the game? What did you see out there that made you think this is a worthwhile thing to do?
Swen Vincke: The fact that nobody did it was pretty much the reason. We didn’t know whether or not there was an audience for it. There was nobody else doing an RPG like this on console, so we figured there were people who liked “traditional” RPGs, if you’d like to put it that way, that exist on PC. We thought if we made it for them, they might want to pick it up.
In general, when you’re in crowded markets, you tend to look for what’s called the blue oceans. You want to go somewhere where there is no competition. We saw that there was no competition for a game like Original Sin on console. We knew we had good content, because people on PC liked it. So we managed to convert it to console in order to appeal to people who like this type of game.
On top of that, we had a feature that was very special for console, that being the split screen co-op, a very key part of it. That feature was actually part of the original vision for the game—a game that you can play together on one screen.
What do you think is keeping other PC-centric developers from launching a game on a console, or remaking a game for a console?
The thing is it’s pretty hard! If we were going to have to make a game like Original Sin from scratch, targeting both PC and console at the same time [at launch], I don’t think we’d have managed to make as good of a game as we did. We spent a lot of time and work making the Enhanced Edition. It was not something that was straightforward.
If you’ve played the PC and the console version, there’s quite a bit of transition between the two. It’s a completely different UI. We didn’t compromise on any of the gameplay systems. But it did take quite a lot of work before we got to something that was working well. So the investment you have to do for that is quite high. Plus, on top of that, you have to add all of the typical console things, like TRC, a lot more QA. It’s a very expensive operation. And you’re not exactly sure if you make something PC-centric, if it’s going to work or not.
How long was development on this again?
We started right away [after the June launch of the original Divinity: Original Sin], and we ended last month. And we’re still working on it because now we’re doing the patches. About 40 people worked full-time on this.
Now that it’s launched and you’ve seen how it’s performing in the market, are you seeing that it was worthwhile, financially, for the company?
Well we had a publisher for the console version [Focus Home Interactive], so that gave us some freedom. In that sense, we’re sure that the bills are paid for development.
"We didn’t know whether or not there was an audience for it. There was nobody else doing an RPG like this on console."
I think it’s going to be profitable, because it scored really high with the critics. It’s scoring an 89 on Metacritic for PS4. For a turn-based RPG on console, that’s not a given. So I’m really proud of the team for that.
We achieved a whole bunch of things at the same time: critical recognition and validation that you can do this kind of game on a console, and it doesn’t have to suck. Also, now our engine supports console, and a controller. Original Sin 2 is running the same engine, so if we see it’s worthwhile, we’ll be able to port it to consoles. Our engine is a lot leaner now because of the port—it’s a lot faster, and we can do much more with it. I think it was a good move—I’m quite happy with it.
It was an interesting business decision to give the Enhanced Edition away to people who already own the original version on PC. Why did that make sense for you to do that.
You have to see that for us, this was a new game on console, then obviously you could reverse the port and bring it back to PC. So we had to think about what to do for the existing customers who have already bought Original Sin. Those are the same guys who make a lot of stuff possible for us—so are we really going to charge them for a vastly enhanced edition of the game, even though there’s a lot of investment that went into it?
Since we already recuperated on the console market, we figured that would be too much, charging existing customers full price. We’re not really fans of DLC and upgrades, so you know what? We just made this for a new audience [on consoles], and we’ll also give it to our fans, and hopefully they’ll appreciate it, play it again, and help us out when the next game comes out.
What advice would you give other PC-centric studios who are considering doing something similar—studios that are thinking of releasing a game on console?
Treat [the console version] as well as your PC version. Don’t try to make a quick port—go and rethink it completely for a console controller, rethink it completely for a television. If you look at Original Sin on a TV screen, you’ll see that everything has been made more readable from a further distance. That’s expensive, and it takes a lot of time. If you don’t do that, then you shouldn’t bother, because console player won’t like it anyway.
Console players need to feel like the console is an important platform to you. This is thing that PC players have always been complaining about with console ports, right? That [console ports] don’t adapt well to PC. Well, the same thing goes vice versa.