Four Things We Should Learn From Baldurs Gate 3

Read Time: 5 Minutes

It's late to the game with more Baldur’s Gate 3 hype.  Don’t get the wrong idea. I finished my third playthrough in November, but from a developer’s perspective, I continue to be fascinated by the game.

There is something here for all of us to learn from. What has impressed me most from Larian over the past couple of months hasn’t been the glamour, the publicity, or the awards. It’s the subtle things like

-Their attitude toward players with patches, bugs, and mistakes.

-How they interact with the audience regularly and the quality of their coms

-The deliberateness with which early access was a part of their approach to building.

-The technical and organizational choices for stability and flexibility.

Today, I will focus on four key areas that Larian has crushed that can help us all with our strategic approach to developing great games.

Use Institutional Knowledge to Your Advantage

It’s not a coincidence that Baldur’s Gate 3 comes after several large-scale tactical/turn-based RPGs (The Divinity series). 

People often referenced this in the context of “Larian had all of this knowledge, and THAT’S why they could pull this off.”

Therefore, “This is an unreasonable expectation for most game developers.”

We started here….

I see things differently. It is a highly effective strategy that we should applaud them for.

It’s easy to look at an actor who had a massive break in an Oscar-winning film and think it’s unreasonable for someone to attain that. But it’s also easy to dismiss the hundreds of auditions, crappy movies, cereal commercials, and time spent as an extra to get to that point. To continue to build on your strengths and learn is a skill every studio should internalize. It’s just good business.

Then took a stop here…

Finding player resonance is the hardest part of building an IP or game from scratch. If you’ve found some (or a lot) - you’d be foolish not to find a way to leverage that in future products.


  1. Reflect on what’s working and do more of it. Reflect on what’s not working and do less of it.

  2. Re-use technology anywhere that it’s reasonable to do so.

  3. Create records of institutional learning, especially in complex areas like design, engineering, and player resonance.

  4. Choose products, strategies, and genres that play to your team’s strengths.

And ended up here (the thing most people have seen)

Build Testing and Iteration Into Your Strategy Early

When I look at the story of BG3, I see a clear bias from Larian toward testing, iteration, and player engagement early on.

I loved hearing that Larian had a substantial internal debate early on about early access and the associated risks, then moved forward with focus and poise.

"We've seen that in the past, other games were very successful in early access, and then on the day of release, they didn't sell much more because they saturated already," he said. "That was my biggest fear, that that had happened. It was a thing I worried about, because it is Dungeons & Dragons and a more complex ruleset, so getting people on-boarded is not the easiest thing in the universe. That was one thing where I said if there's a risk, that's it, people saying, 'I'm not doing this Dungeons & Dragons stuff.’”

- Swen Vincke (From Wes Fenlon of PCGamer)

The courage involved in these sorts of decisions can’t be oversold. These were risky decisions. Everything was on the line. Games had failed with this approach before. Clearly, on principle, the value was there; it fit into the strategy. They took the calculated risk and executed.

Larian built technology that allowed them to find issues quickly and decide where to focus effort.

"…the game still has to pass the 'World Tester.' The World Tester is a sort of AI super-gamer that plays through the game at incredible speed, stress-testing everything and pushing it to its limits. This super-gamer is currently playing through, and the results are looking good but not perfect yet. We know that if the super-gamer doesn't break the game, there's less chance you will.”

- How an AI Called the "World Tester" Helped Make 'Baldur's Gate 3' a Reality (Patrick Klepek from Vice)

Notably, the organization was set up to respond rapidly to issues post-launch with patches and updates.

"We set up our studio so it can work 24 hours. We have our studio in Malaysia and our studio in Europe. Then we have our Canadian studio, so we can basically pass on work... this means that, if somebody in Europe made a feature, by the next day they'll know if it worked or not because it went through QA [somewhere else]."

“Thanks to this efficient system for distributing workload, Larian Studios has been able to offer regular updates at speed, ensuring that, when a bug is reported, the studio can promptly react. "That allows us to be very reactive to what we're seeing in the community."

- Swen Vincke (From Harvey Randall at Yahoo Finance)

After Larian had a lousy patch release and had to roll back…

"To avoid this from happening in the future," the studio continued, "we'll make sure that any change made to future version candidates - no matter how small, or innocuous - will always go through our full and comprehensive QA pipeline, which include a global in-house QA team, automated testing, unit tests, and save-game compatibility testing.”

- Larian

Own the problem, be transparent, and commit to a better system. Perfect.

There’s a lot to take away here.  I’ll boil it down for you.

  1. Don’t let the fear of “spoiling the game” be what stops you from learning and collecting valuable player data. A good balance is what BG3 did - just put “Act 1” in early access.

  2. You will experience fear when making bold decisions with clear risks attached. Leaders must help the team lean in, acknowledge the consequences, and move forward.

  3. Work with engineering to build tools & technology that increase the team's speed in identifying & resolving issues. Generally, the longer a bug takes to find, the more expensive it is to fix.

  4. Build your organization (culture, team setup, responsibilities, etc) to be able to manage the workload and deliver patches frequently and expediently. Most studios won’t be able to setup across 4 offices, but there are many changes you can make within “one office” to maximize patching speed.

  5. Communicate transparently & honestly with players and take ownership of mistakes. This will build their tolerance for frequent updates and their trust in you. Both of those “metrics” are key to rapid iteration and learning.

Make Trade-offs and Let Things Go

I love to see things on the “cutting room floor.” When there are remnants in the code base of incomplete features, unused lines of dialogue, and other evidence of things “not done,” it is the sign of a studio that actively makes decisions to let things go when needed.

I do not overstate that one of the biggest mistakes I see studios make over and over is refusing to prioritize, letting things go, and cutting lower-value features. The obsessive need to “do it all” will kill your game.

In BG3, there are a lot of deliberate trade-offs the studio made to manage scope.

  1. Levels not going beyond 12 (things like counterspell get crazy, creating an N-squared problem with spells)

  2. Questlines for some companions like Minthara being reduced/cut short.

  3. Tons of dialogue was deliberately removed from the game (for now)

As I said, I love to see it because it means hard decisions are made in the name of expediency, quality, and focus.

- Start with an opening line that explains the header.

- A paragraph about what you learned about the header.

- A paragraph about how to put learnings into action.

Honor Your Audience With Confidence

This quote sums it up better than I can:

“Larian walked a thorny path before getting a chance to make an RPG like Baldur’s Gate 3. There were plenty of ups and downs along the way, but one thing remained the same — respecting the audience the studio creates its games for. As Vincke summed it up, ‘The most important thing to the team actually is players and their reactions.’”

- Evgeny Obedkov of Gameworld Observer

The conventional wisdom for a game like this would certainly NOT be that it would have this broad appeal. Because of this game, people are becoming familiar with D&D for the first time. It validates my strong opinion: Players will climb over walls and through mud for a truly remarkable experience.

Again, not without anxiety and risk!

“That’s why Larian eventually put the dice in plain sight so that they are everywhere in the game (even if they are not constantly visible), from damage numbers to all kinds of checks. Visualizing d20 checks inside the dialogues was a really unique decision, which, at first, even made some team members worry that this would make BG3 too hardcore.”

- Evgeny Obedkov of Gameworld Observer

And My God, An institutionalized culture of player empathy!?! (you can’t see it, but I have hearts in my eyes)

“We have a lot of player empathy within the studio, thinking about what it’s going to be like, they care a lot,” he added. “That’s why during development and post-launch support, Larian tries not only to stick to the creative vision it chose for the game, but also listen to what players think and care a lot about their feedback.”

- Swen Vincke (Evgeny Obedkov of Gameworld Observer)

I find fascinating the industry’s constant focus on whether a game is too “hardcore” or “mainstream enough.” It’s not to say there isn’t a legitimate concern there, but there’s mounting evidence that…

  1. Respecting your audience’s intelligence and trusting they’ll “get it.”

  2. Knowing your niche and serving them well (dance with the one that brung you)

  3. Understanding how to thoughtfully make a game more accessible without watering it down.

Lead to the best outcomes.

Wrapping Up…

Remember these 4 things:

  1. Find ways to build and leverage your knowledge over multiple products.

  2. Build testing & iteration into your strategy early.

  3. Make Trade-offs and Let. Things. Go.

  4. Find ways to broaden your appeal without dishonoring your existing niche!

See you all next time.

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“You can only do it very well if you remove all barriers between developers and players as much as you can.”

- Swen Vincke

“This is a gift; I won’t forget it.”

- Astarion, but also me, to the Baldur’s Gate 3 Development Team.