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Josh Sawyer says he failed with Pillars II, would direct a third game if he can figure out why

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Josh Sawyer says he failed with Pillars II, would direct a third game if he can figure out why

People News - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 November 2019, 15:52:22

Tags: Josh Sawyer; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Most people realize by now that Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire was a commercial disappointment. The possible reasons for this have been debated over dozens of pages on our forums. Now Josh Sawyer himself has come clean about his game's failure, first in a post on his super secret goon forum two weeks ago, and then publicly as a response to a question on his Tumblr Q&A blog this weekend. His main problem is that he's not sure why the game didn't sell, which makes him a poor candidate to lead development on a sequel.

That is not something that I get to decide, but I do think that the relatively low sales of Deadfire mean that if we consider making another Pillars game in this style, we’re going to have to re-examine the entire format of the game.

It is difficult to know exactly why a sequel sells worse than its predecessor if both games review relatively well. Is it because the first game satisfied the existing need and the audience just wasn’t interested in the second? Is it because awareness was lower for the sequel? Is it because despite the strong reviews and the strong sales for the first game, people didn’t “really” like it? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

The problem is that without really understanding the reason(s), it’s hard to know how to move forward. It would be easier in some ways if Deadfire were also a colossal critical failure and we could point to the massive screw-ups that we needed to address. Players did criticize the low difficulty at launch and the main plot, which I think are fair and reasonable, but those problems alone don’t really explain the difference in sales. And while player reviews were weaker for Deadfire than for Pillars 1, professional criticism tended to say that Deadfire was an improvement over the first game in most areas.

(Yes, Deadfire has an 88 Metacritic and Pillars 1 has an 89 Metacritic, but IMO Pillars 1′s review scores benefited from a nostalgia bump.)

Players who hate RTwP combat will say that it’s because Deadfire continued using RTwP combat, in contrast to the phenomenally better-selling (and better-reviewed) turn-based Divinity: OS2. Even if that’s true, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which generally had lower review scores than Deadfire, sold better than Deadfire and had RTwP combat.

I’m sure some of the people reading this think they know precisely why Deadfire sold worse than Pillars 1. I don’t have that confidence, which is one of several reasons why I am leery about trying to direct a sequel. I couldn’t give our (Obsidian’s) audience the game that they wanted and without understanding where I went wrong, I would be guessing at what the problems are and how to remedy them.
Josh followed this up with some additional contemplation on Twitter. Faced with this sudden outpouring of agony, many people assumed that he'd become depressed about the whole thing. So it was a bit of surprise when in response to another question on Tumblr today, Josh announced that one of the games he'd be interested in directing is...Pillars of Eternity 3. But only if he can figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

Most of the games I’m interested in making now aren’t ones that would have very large budgets.

I would like to make something akin to a Darklands spiritual successor at some point, though I would be less likely to cleave to Darklands’ mechanics than I was to stick with IE-ish mechanics in Pillars. I just like historical fantasy, especially in late Medieval/early modern Europe.

I’m still interested in making a game about running a bike shop in Chicago. This one is kind of a combination of a sim game and social interaction game, dealing both with the practical realities of running a bike shop as well as the social dynamics of how communities and bike shops interact.

I think the postbellum rise of Chicago is really fascinating, too, and I’m interested in some sort of game focusing on paranormal investigators during the height of American Spiritualism.

I would love to make a Pillars Tactics-style game that focuses on small set piece encounters and a strong, relatively short story with a lot of choice & consequence.

I’d love to make a medieval/early modern European murder mystery in the vein of Name of the Rose or Cadfael.

As awful as some people might find it, I’d really like to make a deeply cynical near future squad-based tactics game in the vein of Jagged Alliance, but you’re playing as some dickhead VP running a PMC cleanup crew and fucking them over to maintain your profit margins.

And I would be interested in directing Pillars 3 if I can figure out how to make it something I would enjoy that there’s an audience for. It may be that someone else would do a better job at that than me, though.
So what is Josh Sawyer up to these days, anyway? It looks like he's arrived in London for X019, so maybe we'll find out soon.

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