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What does the Baldur's Gate 3 "standard-setting" discourse mean for devs?

Developers and experts weigh in on the strange phenomenon of the Baldur's Gate 3 "standards" discourse.

Kamiab Ghorbanpour

September 13, 2023

7 Min Read
A promotional image for Baldur's Gate 3 featuring Shadowheart, Wyll, and Astarion.

Baldur’s Gate 3 has become a smashing success since its launch on Steam, winning praise for the sheer breadth of content made by Larian Studios that fulfills the tabletop role-playing fantasy.

But the sheer amount of content in the game has sparked a conversation online about the state of the video game industry. It’s a multi-layered discussion that speaks to the high demands of players and the amount of time and money developers need to sate those demands. In advance of the game’s release, Larian revealed that the game contains over 174 hours of cinematics—a metric that documents the sheer volume of content the game possesses.

An IGN video titled “Baldur’s Gate 3 is Causing Some Developers to Panic" sparked controversy and unusual discourse around the game, with arguments that were either shaky or built on incorrect premises.

We wanted to hear from developers and experts about the scope and scale of games like Baldur’s Gate 3, and how these shifts in the market impact their work. Here’s what they had to say.

Why are some saying that Baldur’s Gate 3 is “raising standards?”

Since the discussion around Baldur’s Gate 3 raising the standards of RPGs was started, many raised concerns over player expectations. Some have said this new 'standard' might put unreasonable pressure on developers—especially indie ones. Others have argued that if Larian could do it, players should expect other big studios to produce engaging RPG games with similar scope.

Larian CEO Swen Vincke addressed this conversation in an interview with Game Developer, rejecting the idea that the game’s success should be a standard for other developers to aspire to.

Damien Crawford, the developer of Purgatory Dungeoneer and Labyrinth of Wild Abyss, also offered some context: “Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game that's been in development for 5-6 years, using a name that carries a significant legacy. Players are hoping for this title to set a new standard of RPG when few game franchises/companies can claim such a history or survive such a long development cycle.”

Something strange about the ongoing discourse over Baldur's Gate 3 is how some commentators act like the game sprung out of nowhere. The legacy of the Baldur’s Gate and Dungeons & Dragons franchises and Larian’s successful Early Access launch, combined with other contributing factors like an extended development cycle, culminated in what feels like the closest digital experience to a tabletop D&D campaign.

Baldur’s Gate 2 is still one of the biggest RPGs ever, and the same can be said about spiritual successors like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous,” points out Felipe Pepe, author and curator of the CRPG Book Project.  “What is amazing is that Larian managed to replicate this gigantic scope with a level of presentation and polish that few triple-A studios can deliver. We have never seen a game of this scope with such an impressive presentation.”

He notes that the significance does not solely stem from the game’s sheer volume of content—it’s comparable to many previous entries in the genre. However, what sets it apart is the level of visual presentation, reminiscent of triple-A titles such as The Witcher 3.

Mathew Kumar of Future Club was not as impressed with Baldur’s Gate 3’s scope, noting, “It’s the sequel to one of the most legendary RPG series, the titles that created the Bioware-style of RPG for fair or for foul. I don’t think it is that unusual, it’s experiencing the same kind of credulous press cycle that, say, Cyberpunk 2077 received.”

That opinion was shared by Evan Torner, director of the University of Cincinnati game lab. “Baldur’s Gate 3 was in development for a long time with an enormous amount of resources. It is, in this respect, no different than Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. If you pay a dedicated team to focus on a long-term project like this, then yes, the quality of the game will be substantially improved.”

“What was also important in Baldur’s Gate 3 is the relative non-interference of the C-suite in the final game product,” he adds. “Developers could modulate the scope of the project according to its needs and their needs, rather than the arbitrary needs of others. The payoff of giving workers autonomy can be found in their resultant game designs.”

How I learned to stop worrying and love Baldur’s Gate 3

A question lingers in many people’s minds: Will Baldur's Gate 3 create a standard that would be difficult to match by other similar titles?

My favorite RPG from last year was Expeditions: Rome, made by Logic Artists, a studio that underwent some drastic changes after the game's release and unfortunately, no longer exists. My most anticipated RPG, as of writing this, is Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader, developed by the incredibly talented Owlcat Games, known for their skill in bringing tabletop experiences to the digital world.

However, I cannot help but wonder if the existence of Baldur's Gate 3 would pose a threat to all these wonderful experiences. While they may not have the same level of presentation, they are no less amazing, and I would hate to see them wiped out in the market.

Crawford mused that landing a publisher for a game based on tabletop role-playing systems might be "tougher" now that Baldur's Gate 3 is dominating the space. “For those making similar games based on TTRPG systems, Baldur’s Gate 3 could set unreasonable expectations. There are always some expectations when making a game that's similar to others on the market that you have a ‘unique selling point,’ something that makes people want to play your game over others, and it's tough to compare to something that's had that many people and that much money spent,” he said.

“I'm not just talking from a player perspective, but also getting a publisher for your game in that space is going to be tougher.”

Pepe indicated that only the largest developers are likely to feel pressure from the impact of Baldur's Gate 3: “It sets a high standard for future Triple-A RPGs but, unless you are a giant studio like BioWare, CDProjekt or Bethesda, I don’t think there’s really a new pressure. The Witcher 3 left a similar impression in 2015, and you didn’t see people pressuring all future RPGs to look like that.”

Torner also distinguishes the triple-A games from the indie scene: “Discerning gamers know the difference between triple-A and indie, and non-discerning gamers can still be convinced by a strong indie game vision.” He points out that Disco Elysium soared to critical success with a million words in it, but that didn't lead to commentators slamming other developers for not matching that word count.

“There’s always going to be a core of the audience with unrealistic expectations of anything, and if you’re working on an indie RPG and you’re worried about this I think you’re being distracted by the wrong things,” says Kumar. “As with everything, it’s about making the best version of the project that you are trying to make, and if you’re comparing your work with Baldur’s Gate 3 and you don’t have a 6-year development cycle and 400 staff you’re making a rod for your own back for no clear reason.”

Kumar highlights the less restricted experience that Baldur’s Gate 3 provides as its central selling point: “Without buying into the hype too much, it sounds like what people are reacting to is the promise of open-ended experience that allows them a large amount of freedom to play the game the way they want to play it, and if BG3 is successful at that, it’s not going to because it’s got more content, but because the content has been designed with sufficient breadth to support that.”

Rather than casting every other game in a poor light, Baldur’s Gate 3 could introduce players to similar games, such as the Pathfinder series, and encourage others to create more engaging role-playing experiences in video games.

The discussion around Baldur’s Gate 3 can be formulated in many ways and from varied angles. Unreasonable pressure from different sects of the audience will always exist—but it is important that such pressure dictates the game development process.

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