Sponsored By

Larian Studio CEO Swen Vincke pushes back on Baldur's Gate III being "standard" for games

Larian Studios' creative director talks the launch of the hit CRPG, and why its success isn't about setting a new standard for the genre.

Alessandro Fillari, Contributor

September 6, 2023

7 Min Read
Baldur's Gate III character contends with a mysterious device

Larian Studios' Baldur's Gate 3 became a massive hit following its full launch in early August. With over 5 million downloads, the long-awaited sequel to BioWare's classic Dungeons & Dragons-inspired CRPG has achieved crossover success, putting the sub-genre into the spotlight for its open-ended approach to storytelling and player choice.

There's been plenty of discussion regarding the game's approach to gameplay ideals, depth of content, and whether this will set new expectations for role-playing games. So much so that developers, games media, and players alike engaged in a lively, viral debate on where RPGs go from here following Baldur's Gate 3's release.

In an interview with Larian Studios CEO and creative director Swen Vincke just ahead of the PS5 release, he reflected on the success and lessons learned from the game's 1.0 launch following years in early access and spoke about the recent online discourse surrounding the game.

The Baldur's Gate III Discourse

To recap, the larger discussion began when independent developer and writer Xalavier Nelson Jr. posted comments on social media praising Larian Studios' game while also expressing that it should not be the new standard for games moving forward. These comments came in response to Nelson Jr. seeing commentary from others online who were "taking that excitement and using it to apply criticism or a "raised standard" to RPGs going forward."

In his thread, he explained further that Baldur's Gate 3's success with a multi-year early access period, a known IP, and a clear vision resulted in the game we have today—which is not always possible for other developers. Other creatives, such as Josh Sawyer from Obsidian Entertainment, who previously worked on CRPGs such as the Icewind Dale series and the Pillars of Eternity games, also agreed with Nelson Jr.'s assessment. However, there was significant pushback from the player community, which then led to a much-watched op-ed video from IGN that took the discourse to a new level.

That went viral, with some content creators misrepresenting key points and stating that developers were "afraid" of Baldur's Gate 3. Suffice it to say, some of the nuance of the initial discussion was lost on readers, especially if they only caught on after the op-ed video sparked the next round.

Vincke touched on some of the discourse when we spoke just after the game's launch, agreeing with Nelson Jr.'s thoughts but also taking time to disagree in some areas.

Baldur's Gate III character against a cavern background

"Obviously you shouldn't try to make a game like Baldur's Gate 3 if you don't have the resources to do so, but there's other developers there who have more resources than we have," said the Larian Studios CEO and creative director. "So I am sure that they will be making games after BG3 that will be bigger and better. It all really depends on where you invest your resources. So it's up to you as a developer. I mean, like we're about to see Starfield come out. So I expect that to be huge, right? So I think that has probably more and more resources than we had to put in there."

"It all really depends on from what perspective you're looking at it from, if you're looking at it from the perspective of a smaller developer, you'll focus on different things [when making games], but that doesn't mean that you can't come up with fantastic gameplay for a smaller game in scope," Vincke continued.

"Some of my favorite games were made by indie developers, and likewise, if you're making very big games, there's lots and lots of ways that you can make them that work for you. So I think that I had an issue with people saying that these are the "standards"—because I don't think there are real standards in video games. I think there's a lot of evolution, which is one of the fantastic things about this medium. Things always get bigger and better, or not necessarily bigger, but definitely better."

While the discourse led to a period of rowdy discussions online, it did cast much-needed light on some of the realities that developers have to contend with when managing projects of a certain scope—which the developers on Baldur's Gate 3 have been transparent about since its debut. The making of this massive CRPG, first released in 2019 in early access, was a significant step up from Larian Studios' previous game, Divinity Original Sin 2. Their previous game was made with crowdfunding support on Kickstarter, which ensured that the developers kept a tight ship throughout development. However, working on Baldur's Gate 3 led to more work on managing an expanding scope, which led to more challenges, but ultimately a higher payoff.

The Reality of Making A Large Scale CRPG

Vincke also spoke about many challenges the developers faced when making a game of this scale—and how the early access approach was a massive boon in refining the game. As he puts it, working on a CRPG, where choices result in so many minor and sometimes drastic changes, can lead to "chaos and entropy" setting in when trying to manage all the data and different scenarios for the story.

"We're just at the end of the development of it, so we still have to parse our biggest lessons learned," said Vincke. "But, I will say you're dealing with large amounts of data to contend with, so chaos and entropy will set in. So you need to ensure you're ready to deal with that [amount of data and different permutations]. It's unavoidable when you're dealing with so much information that there will be a level of entropy. So, building systems to deal with that is very, very important. And so this is, I think, my biggest takeaway from it with how it all worked out for us."

Baldur's Gate III combat against a dark creature

For now, the developers at Larian Studios are still working on refining the core game, with the next big update looking to refine gameplay mechanics, fix performance issues, and even give characters some expanded stories to fit their arcs. The developers were also prepping for the release of the upcoming PS5 edition of the game, launching today. Vincke stated in our interview that the big focus from the developers is ensuring that the base game keeps up with regular updates and hotfixes, and that any plans for expansions and even a definitive edition for BG3 are still a ways off.

Vincke is satisfied with how their CRPG revival turned out, and he ultimately credits the decision to stick with early access as the only way Baldur's Gate 3 as it is now could have been released.

"I don't know for now what the future will bring for us; that's always a difficult one to say, but I certainly don't regret going with early access again for Baldur's Gate 3," he said. "The game we have now would not have been possible without early access, so I think we should continue with it."

"It's really hard to say what we're going to do for our next game, but I am still learning and studying how things go. I do recommend early access, if you can do it. If you have the time, you're ready to listen to your community, and you can integrate those responses into the game during early access—you're going to end up with a much better game to be honest."

Baldur's Gate 3 is an interesting game not just for its unique development process but also for how it ended up being a massively successful revival of what was once seen as a niche sub-genre of role-playing games. It captured a particular moment where audiences and other developers alike can examine the current way that creatives handle large projects and the "entropy" that comes along. It's a firm reminder that the process of game creation is a complex one that, when done right, can lead to a remarkable game that can make a lasting impression on players.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Alessandro Fillari


Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 12 years. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like