PoE II: Deadfire Update: How to Make a Million Dollars

In 2012, faced with financial troubles and the threat of closure looming overhead, Obsidian Entertainment threw a Hail Mary pass when they turned to crowdfunding for their next project: Pillars of Eternity. It was a covenant that Obsidian was entering into with their fans: support us in our time of need, and we promise you will be rewarded. And indeed they were: Pillars was both a critical and financial success, and Obsidian got the shot in the arm it needed.

So when Obsidian announced a sequel – Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – and kicked off a crowdfunding campaign to fund it, it was hardly surprising that Obsidian’s fans would continue to show the developer their faith and support. The surprise was just how supportive they were: in less than 24 hours, generous backers had pledged enough money to exceed Obsidian’s initial fundraising goal of $1.1 million, and there was still 29 days to go.

This impressive fundraising is the topic of an extensive article over at Starting Things UpAccording to the article, the secret to Obsidian’s crowdfunding success – and, they argue, any good developer’s fundraising strategies – is to offer a project that is new and exciting that showcases “an idea distinctive enough to be worth following.” By giving fans something to get passionate over – combined with unique rewards to entice backers and previewing how the funds will be used – Obsidian is winning the crowd, making fans more passionate and, as a result, more generous:

The basic idea is simple here: to give people a sequel to one of the best games they’ve played. When it comes to the details, however, it’s much more nuanced than that. There are different kinds of sequels and I think that we can all agree that it’s never the best idea to give people “more of the same”. Although such strategy can work in the short run, in the longer it’s bound to fail and disappoint (the Assassin’s Creed series is the perfect example). Thus, a studio has to maintain the proper balance between “the old” and “the new”: a thing that Bethesda does right with its flagship series The Elder Scrolls (and Fallout). In other words, the idea has to be distinctive enough to attract fans attention.

Indeed, as the article explains, crowdfunding of computer and video games in particular have been so successful due to the innate passions of gamers and fans. Such passion creates something of a built in market for crowdfunding: gamers are already hyped for new projects and already predisposed to spending time – and money – on the internet, so the trick is turning that hype into funds:

Games are no longer niche. Funding one is getting easier, easier, and easier. The numbers that could have been surprising in 2007 are completely unsurprising in 2017. $4 mln for the new Torment; $4 mln for the first Pillars. Star Citizen, anyone? ($150 million.)

So. The backers are there, the potential ones; lots of them indeed. And in most cases it’s much easier to convince them to participate in a crowdfunding campaign than anyone else! The gamers are already used to acquiring stuff (namely games) via the Internet. The truth is that they’re one of the pillars of e-commerce. It’s not a problem for them to pay for e-version of the product; they already know it’s all right. Thus, it’s easier to convince them to back a crowdfunding project (compared to, e.g., furniture aficionados, who may not be into e-commerce this much and may require more convincing). For gamers, backing a crowdfunding campaign is not that different from pre-ordering a game; hence, these campaigns are often so successful. The target audience is already prepared.

The article covers the successes of Obsidian’s crowdfunding rather thoroughly, yet also posits an interesting question toward the end: have we entered a kind of “renaissance” for classic roleplaying games? Pillars of Eternity was a success, but how much of that success was because it offered a new world with an intriguing story and interesting gameplay and how much of it was the nostalgia for games such as Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale? According to the article, it may be too soon to tell how durable this trend is:

I honestly don’t know if “the renaissance of classic roleplaying games” is becoming a fact or not. Certainly, there’s more of them; but will there be more? There’s Torment: Tides of Numenera; there’s Tyranny; now, there’s a sequel to Pillars of Eternity. Some may mention Divinity: Original Sin, and some may mention Siege of Dragonspear, too. But it’s still not all that much; we need to wait a little bit longer.

That being said, the demand has increased, that much is obvious. The conclusion comes not only from the number of games, but also from their sales, which exceed the expectations. The first installment of Pillars has sold in 900,000 copies – and, from what we can tell, it’s still selling pretty well. There’s no data on the sales of Tyranny, we can presume they are high enough, though, as the game isn’t getting any cheaper (and it’s not all that recent release). Deadfire is expected to do just as well – or even better. Thus, it’s no surprise that the studio has made so much money on their crowdfunding campaign already; it was rather to be expected.

As we near the halfway point of the Deadfire crowdfunding campaign, Obsidian has released additional updates and stretch goals. One of the more detailed new goals is “Fulvano’s Voyage,” which is a “backer-unlockable Island Chain that players can visit and explore” that will have more content added to it as more backers pledge funds:

For every 1,500 additional backers from today, we are adding or expanding another leg in Fulvano’s voyage. Spread the word about Pillars of Eternity II and let’s see how many islands we can add! When we hit 22,000 backers — we will learn more of the story of this part of the Deadfire, and Fulvano will head out on the next leg of his journey.

And if you were interested in learning more about the lore behind the Deadfire archipelago, the new setting for the Pillars sequel, Paul Kirsch – one of the Narrative Designers at Obsidian Entertainment – has posted a look at the geography and culture of the region, including this little tease:

Of course, the Deadfire is populated by uglier monsters than just imperialists. Strange and exotic creatures call the archipelago home -nagas, grubs, imps, unforgettably deadly beetles, and – of course – dragons.

If nothing else, let these facts draw a treasure map for the type of conflicts that the Watcher can expect to face in Deadfire. And I haven’t even mentioned the rampaging god.

The Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire crowdfunding campaign ends on February 24. Interested fans can check out more information, updates, and pledge support at their Fig site.

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