How Divinity: Original Sin almost bankrupted Larian Studios


Larian Studios has been trying to make Divinity: Original Sin, in one form or another, since 1997. Founder Swen Vincke gave a great post-mortem on the development of one of our favorite games of 2014, focusing more on the business side of game development than the creative side. Or, more specifically, how business and creative clash and overlap. To make their dream RPGs in Divinity: Original Sin, Larian went independent, borrowed money from the bank, got outside investors, raised nearly $1 million on Kickstarter, sacrificed Divinity: Dragon Commander and still nearly ran out of funding. If Original Sin hadn’t been a serious success, that could’ve been the end for Larian.

But it was a success, which Vincke credited to Larian’s philosophy in developing the game: not compromising its vision. He recounted a history of previous games, like Divinity II, that reviewed and sold poorly because they released too early. For Original Sin, Larian built its own technology instead of relying on middleware that couldn’t support the features they wanted. Larian tried to make a co-op RPG for years, dating as far back as 1997, but inevitably cut the feature from multiple projects because it would be too difficult or time-consuming to implement.

Divinity II's premature release left Larian in debt, so the studio decided to go all-in on its next project. To keep the entire team of 30 or so developers together, they started two projects: the RPG that would become Original Sin, and strategy game Dragon Commander. Interestingly, Dragon Commander was meant to be the bigger project, while Original Sin was a smaller RPG that would be released first.

But Larian fell in love with the RPG, and decided not to release it until it was completely finished. In Vincke’s words, Larian “murdered” Dragon Commander—releasing it before it was really done—to focus on Original Sin and pull in some badly needed funds.

Divinity: Original Sin

The talk was remarkably candid: Vincke admitted how many mistakes and desperate decisions the studio made to continue developing Divinity: OS as long as possible. They delayed tax payments to spend more on development and spent money they didn’t have to add voice acting to the game later in development. They missed releasing some languages at launch by a day, after crunching on localization for three weeks with an emergency staff of 20 translators. And when Original Sin finally hit Early Access, the developers added thousands of bug fixes to their tracker and made significant gameplay system changes based on player feedback.

Larian initially had 1.5 million Euros to spend on Divinity: Original Sin and hoped to build it on a budget of 3 million. In the end, the studio spent 4.5 million Euros. After listening to Vincke talk, it seems almost miraculous that Larian didn’t collapse, and that the game made it to release with its openness and co-op multiplayer intact.

Vincke closed the talk by mentioning that Larian is working on two new RPGs, as we reported yesterday. Original Sin’s success hopefully gives Larian the leeway to develop those games without nearly going bankrupt.

One final fun tidbit from the talk: Larian’s commitment to open-ended gameplay means you can kill every NPC in Original Sin. If you’re hankering for a replay, consider trying out the mass murderer route.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).