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Chris Avellone alledges Obsidian almost silenced and forced him to never work on RPGs again

Oct 25, 2017
385
#1
This comes from his comments following a larger interview on RPG Codex found here: http://www.rpgcodex.net/content.php?id=10894
I didn’t get anything when I left Obsidian. There were no share payouts, no equity, and this was in addition to the other logistical problems around the departure – the sudden cancellation of my health insurance, problems with my 401K, errors in Obsidian’s accounting, and several existing independent contracts they refused to uphold.

Realizing my family issues and the debts therein, however, they did make an attempt to leverage that into a far more confining separation agreement that would remove my right to work on RPGs, and my silence on all issues that could pertain to Obsidian or any other company they were involved with or the CEO had a % in (Fig, Zero Radius, Dark Rock Industries, etc.). This included an inability to critique games I’d worked on – much of my critiques on my own games tend to be blunt, and not being able to speak to them felt unnatural to me.

The company involvement silence worried me more, however, as it meant that if anything illegal happened with any of those companies (these could include serious charges like accounting issues, silence on harassment issues with regards to employees, perjury related to company documents and payments), I couldn’t speak about the issue, even if I felt strongly against what was being revealed.

While all this is good for Obsidian's upper management and is what is sometimes considered "good business," I did feel it showed a lack of ethics.

Still, that attempt at leverage did cause me to re-evaluate aspects of my life. Realizing debt was affecting my decision, I instead focused on working as hard as possible to make up for the amount Obsidian tried to use as leverage to force a signature – and succeeded.

When that happened, I realized I was free of the situation – completely free, for the first time. Feargus and the owners had no hold on my voice, my time, and my creativity any longer. And it was great.

When they made me an offer to contract me to write for Tyranny (which might seem to be an olive branch, but it turned out to be something they needed for contractual reasons with Paradox, but no one had ever communicated it to me), these were the reasons I refused – I didn’t wish to be part of Obsidian’s upper level development process and their pipelines any longer, as these processes were coming from a bad place, and it showed.

Also, realizing there was no restitution for the issues mentioned, I made a promise to myself that nothing I would do would ever cause Feargus and the owners any further financial gain. If my silence was that important to them, then there's no need to be silent because that right hadn't been signed away. Simply put, I like the developers at Obsidian very much, I work and correspond with many of those who are there or have left, and I would work with the developers again. I do feel upper management at Obsidian has serious flaws that need to be addressed, and I stand by that statement.
http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/inde...erarchies-and-more.121588/page-8#post-5590121
Waaaaaaaaait a minute. "Sudden" cancellation? Why it would be sudden if you'd planned on resigning?

Chris, were you fired from Obsidian?
(I realized I didn’t answer this.)

No – after raising some questions about company finances and other issues, Feargus de-ownered me (which I didn’t have a choice in) and then told, “but don’t worry, we’ll still allow you to work on Tyranny for us,” and my response was, “that’s okay, you can work on it by yourself.”

Before this seems unusual, de-ownering was actually a common threat tossed around, so it wasn’t specific to me – if any owner raised objections to events going on, the response was often, “you don’t sound like you want to be an owner anymore” and never addressed the actual issues being brought up.

Not surprisingly, this shift in being de-ownered coincided with taking place shortly before the first royalty payments from Eternity came in, which meant that the surviving owners got a much larger share with me de-ownered (I don’t mind that, as I didn’t want royalty payments from Eternity, but I don’t think the other owners deserved royalties, either, except maybe a set amount for Darren for the Backer portal work he put in – the team deserved all of it). It was a good business decision, but not good ethics.
http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/inde...rarchies-and-more.121588/page-69#post-5594637
This is rather shocking behavior coming from Obsidian, the company which Chris helped found after Black Isle.

Update: Thanks to Sinatar for going through the thread and finding responses from Eric Fenstermaker and more posts from Chris
Eric Fenstermaker chimes in:
Eric Fenstermaker said:
  • I don’t like discussing anything remotely negative about coworkers in the press. No one comes out looking worse than you when you do that. But here, I think I need to get more detailed than I would want to in order to clear something up.

    To the suggestion that Josh “interfered” in the process involving cutting down Durance and the Grieving Mother, everything he did was professional and warranted by the circumstances. The budget on those companions was blown, not just a little but a lot. Very late in development. They were unimplementable in the time we had, and the company had promised them to the Kickstarter backers. So while I’d have preferred to have just worked it out between myself and Chris, at that point in production it was unfortunately not what the situation called for. A high-level decision needed to be made, so more people had to be looped in.

    The interview characterizes ownership as having gotten worked up over something they didn’t know the specifics of, and I won’t speak for them, but if I were in their shoes, faced with this development, I would have been concerned. None of the potential outcomes looked rosy.

    It’s been thrown around that objectionable subject matter was the reason behind the cuts. Sexual violence is dealt with elsewhere in the game, and there is swearing all over the place. So there was no looming censor. I don’t want to get into criticism here, but there were some choices that Chris made later in the writing that I thought bore more consideration, and in better circumstances if we’d been able to keep the thread, I’d have liked to discuss a different approach in some specific places. I believe it would have been possible without altering their story or defanging the material. It ended up being beside the point – the easiest cuts to make by far involved that story thread, and so it was left on the cutting room floor.

    I did have a role in things turning out this way and I did apologize to Chris for it. I gave far too little oversight, thinking that a set of constraints and approval of an initial design, with periodic email check-ins would be sufficient. Chris was often offsite, I was swamped, and it was all too easy to backburner communication. I thought more regular feedback would only have been a hindrance to someone who’d made a lot of his reputation off of so many well-liked companions. If I had caught the issue sooner, we could have made the cuts sooner, in a much better context, and in that regard I should have done better. He did put genuine effort into the creative aspect, and that made the outcome that much more regrettable. I don’t know what Chris thinks about his own responsibilities and missteps in the matter, but I hope he recognizes them.

  • The PoE story was approved by management not because of poor judgment but because it was time to say “good enough” and hope for the best. We had something that was a completed draft that incorporated many of the best elements from previous pitches. As a place to start, it was workable. An independent developer can only pay its employees to spin their wheels with nothing to work on for so long. I suspect that the story wasn’t far off from something that was more deeply satisfying, so I don’t think it was a bad bet to make, even if the end result was flawed. Sometimes in development, we get the story figured out well in advance, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Here, it didn’t.

  • There’s kind of a strange insinuation in the interview that maybe I got a bad employee review because of the PoE story (?), and the phrasing almost seems to imply that this might have been related to my departure. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I always found Obsidian to be forgiving of mistakes as long as you were earnest in your efforts to learn from them, and I tried to be that. I appreciate the owners and my managers bearing with me.

    Chris’s experience with Obsidian is his own. But it’s just that, one experience, filtered through a particular point of view, selective in its memory, and biased by its nature. So is mine. No one perspective should be taken for gospel. Me, I liked it there, enough to stay for more than a decade, and I wasn’t without more lucrative options. Good people ran the place. Good people (besides a few genuine personality disorder sufferers) worked there when I was there. Josh was a good director, the owners were good owners. I strongly disagreed with them many times, but it was never because they were coming from a place of bad intentions. Everyone’s just trying to navigate an insanely difficult and stressful business, and for that alone I think you have to approach the profession with a lot of forgiveness in your heart.
  • There were a lot of other corrections I wanted to make or explanations I wanted to give about this or that, but looking at it now, I don’t think they’re important in the scheme of things.
Oh damn, Eric Fenstermaker (who just to clarify has also left Obsidian and has no reason to stan for them at all) is continuing to go in on Chris Avellone:

In response to this post:
Eric Fenstermaker said:
Like I said, I'd have liked to just solve it between us but it was well too late for that. I didn't like that it escalated, but looking back, if I thought it was avoidable I was kidding myself. Just being willing to make cuts didn't solve the problem. It was too late. The physical work of cutting the dialogue down in the tool, refactoring all the scripting, and everything else meant that even with the companions brought down to proper length, their implementation time was still far beyond that of any other companions. There was time allocated to implement two companions who were written to spec in the first place, no more. Had to make a lot of sacrifices to the narrative schedule and pull a lot of overtime to get it done, and I was fixing Durance bugs long after all the other companions were set. It cost us up and down the game in terms of polish time at a vital stage.

I would thank you to kindly never speak on my behalf. You do not speak for me. We are miles apart on our perspectives. Some of the events you've discussed here, my recollection differs greatly, and I don't support your accounts.
Chris Avellone's response
Chris Avellone said:
I may post a longer critique to this in the Eternity Codex forums, since this is an Eternity thing, including how to approach narrative management in general.

For the rest of this, though, it’s indicative of the overall process and pipelines in place, some of which Eric is not responsible for or even knew about.

Get ready for a lot of carriage returns. Also tldr; this is an example of a flawed process in place.

Based on the fragment quoted in your post, I’ll take that as a, “yes, I agree with the points the fragment is referencing.”

As for the rest of your response, I can sense the frustration. I’m trying to feel bad for your sacrifice and overtime – and under different circumstances, I would.

But if you scripted and implemented something you didn’t even review (especially when it’s 10x easier and faster to make comments and edits before implementing, let alone fixing those same errors, not to mention it’s part of a Creative Lead’s job), well, that’s on you.

It’s not what I would have done – and if I had, I would accept the responsibility for reworking the elements. That's not even a game industry lesson, it's a life lesson.

If it’s easier to blame me for putting the cart before the horse, all right, but I don’t know what else to tell you except that sympathy wasn’t the emotion I felt reading this, only confusion (“well… why did you do it that way then?”).

I’ll be blunt and say sympathy certainly wasn’t the emotion the other people doing overtime and sacrifices for the narrative felt, and I’m not even talking about the Tyranny team - but the sub-leads on Eternity who weren’t in support of it, either.

In those cases, however, I told them they should bring it up with you and give you a chance to address it before escalating it to me (which I consider bad form, as it was sometimes clear they just wanted an excuse to tell you “an owner said you were wrong”).

But even if that didn’t work out, they shouldn’t take it to me – it should go to the Lead Designer next and get his take, and so on and so forth. Some had, but not all.

Other Thoughts!

Although you’ve blamed me for this in the past, it certainly wasn’t my decision not to give you additional support or personnel to get things done in a timely manner – but one issue with being an owner of a multi-owner company is you get to share the blame for all owner decisions, even ones you have no idea have been made.

If it were up to me, I’d have look for ways to downscope (like with the intermittent VO) and if that failed, sacrificed funds to get the team to a proper size to do the game properly, and I’ve said as much about sacrifice in the past – it’s an investment for the future, and it reduces bugs and overtime.

I don’t think any developer should be working more than 40 hours a week, and if they are, the pipeline is likely mismanaged, overly ambitious, has feature-itis or tweak-itis, or is broken in some other respect. It may also be the fault of the actual developer to put more content in than intended, or doing work outside their discipline and/or that's clearly too much for them.

It’s unfortunate the PoE editor can’t handle chunk deletions well if it wasted that much time – the edits I provided were chunked accordingly. I doubt that’s a programmer oversight as the programmer who worked on the dialogue editor while I was at Obsidian I’ve always thought was exceptional and did a great job (I’ll leave him nameless to keep him out of this, but he knows who he is).

As mentioned in this thread ("MF", I believe, I don't know how to mark his user name because I am old), it seems odd for a pipeline to be unable to do that – but I’m not familiar with how exactly you did it or what process you used except that you specifically promised you would handle all the scripting so I could return to Tyranny. I took you at your word.

I do feel in light of PoE1, being able to do chunk deletions easily might have benefited the narrative presentation.

But before you think I’m blaming you for PoE1’s overall word count with that last sentence, I’m not. The over-abundance of text in general is a larger issue. Sure, I can edit my text, but for the rest, something else is going on. So let’s get to word count in general.

For example, according to localizers, PoE2’s word count alone ended up double the word count expected and double the amount Obsidian budgeted for. This has nothing to do with VO, this is word count. This also seemed to be a surprise to some.

So to be clear, it’s not all on you for too much wordage for PoE1 or even PoE2. You did a companion for PoE2. I didn’t work on PoE2. It is a larger problem across both games that was unaddressed. I suspect the lead/project lead for PoE2 was lectured for going over the word count budget, but I could be wrong.

If those figures are accurate – and they may not be - the word count bloat would have become worse when VO entered the picture, which was hinted by the team as not being their decision, but instead dictated by upper management close to the game’s end date. If it was upper management, ideally, they’d be ready to accept the budget costs involved with that decision vs. blaming someone else. I’ve already made my thoughts on VO budgeting known, but it’s expensive and it can be wasteful.

Still, to be fair, even with regards to the word bloat, they may have been able to do cuts to PoE2 word count at the end, I hope (brevity helps as well as being open to large edits). If so, I strongly suspect PoE2’s lead would take responsibility for going over budget vs. blaming someone who edited his work as soon as he was aware of his boss’s requests, especially if that person editing his own work was an owner and technically their superior.

Overall, I’d take all these examples as a lesson of overall pipeline dysfunction and poor communication up and down management through the sub-leads and back again – this is just a symptom of a much larger problem that’s either dictated, done as a de facto routine by senior employees or leads, or never discussed at all, like it was in this case.

The only thing I feel wrong with this is supporting it and saying it’s okay. That it’s good enough. That it’s acceptable. That it’s forgivable. People can be forgiven, but surrendering to the process can’t be. If the process is a problem, it’s something that should be fixed. If not, it becomes disheartening and damaging.

Subscribers to a broken system don’t elicit any sympathy from me – it’s their choice. If you’re supporting a flawed pipeline and flawed process – including one that may include several problems of your own making – and if you can do nothing to change it, then it’s best to remove yourself from that pipeline.
More from Avellone regarding the broken management processes in Obsidian:
Chris Avellone said:
That’s a fair statement and fair challenge. I did it by establishing a foundation of expectations - something no other department at Obsidian had. I did this because I thought setting expectations and benchmarks for each role would be helpful for people taking on those roles.

What I did was simple - list out expectations for every designer position, and say, “here’s the least we expect from you in this position, but we expect more, because we as a company are better than that.”

That turned out not to be the case.*

I firmly believed in these expectations, I believed in titles, lead roles, and responsibilities – not to be limited by them, but “this is the foundation of what you should do.” If you’re doing the job, you get the title (including folks like Eric, who were continuously denied a Creative Lead role due more to politics than what they were actually doing).

But - I was told 8 years into the process that this was irrelevant, and that what guidelines I established for designers and lead designers (of every category) wasn’t worthwhile – this was conveyed to me by Feargus. As he told me, giving expectations for every position was, in fact, wrong. Feargus doesn’t give expectations to his producers - nor should we in other departments, as owners. I didn’t have a good response to this at first because I was genuinely shocked.

I argued my case (since his response was a surprise – and the very late response after so many years genuinely surprised me), and I lost – he simply said to provide expectations for each role was the wrong thing to do because “people will only do the expectations you lay out” which is a dim view of human nature. And it says an unfortunate amount about who we hired.

So – to say it, and I covered this in presentations on hiring: I don’t believe “people only do the littlest required” if you’ve hired the right people and plus, assigning roles and responsibilities solves a lot of problems before they become problems. I did feel I was alone in this aspect, but it seemed self-evident to me - give people the title, the responsibility, and the least of your expectations, and good people will do amazing things beyond anything you could dictate to them.

But I was surprised by his late-term response, his lack of faith in design, and I was disheartened by it. Everything I had been coaching and trying to develop as a foundation had been struck out in one, casual and dismissive, 5-minute conversation.

It’s worth noting that after this occurred, I got accused by a number of designers as “not enforcing the expectations more.” I told them that the expectations had been overruled for every position and was now catch-as-catch-can for each project.

* These expectations, however, are now apparently in use today, because it’s not what they were about, but who speaks to them – which is a topic for another time. In my opinion, the truest test of a manager is they treat the facts they are evaluating as facts, not judging them based on the person relating those facts. True story from a DS3 designer (who left for Blizzard after Stormlands) - we did one not-so-amusing test of this during Dungeon Siege 3, where we had two people tell Feargus the exact same thing, and he dismissed one out of hand, but gladly listened and agreed with the other – even though they were both telling him the exact same thing. At that point, I did break a little inside, but I added it to my manager post-mortem of what not to do as a manager.
More from Avellone
Chris Avellone said:
First off, I'm glad you said Scrum and not Agile development.

I don’t blame Eric for not being able to change any of these things – I do think he provided guidance to a lot of new Eternity writers, and we did work to accommodate him after New Vegas.

But before you think I’m being overly magnanimous, Eric absolutely drove away a lot of talented writers (esp. John Gonzalez – Shadow over Mordor, Horizon Zero Dawn), although John likely wouldn’t ever admit to the fact that Eric hated him; also, we were forced to isolate Eric from John’s Lead Writer responsibilities (which was a failure on our part, but I wasn’t in charge of New Vegas, which had a lot of inner development conflicts across the board).

Even more after John left, we actually changed our hiring procedure to cater to Eric on Eternity, since we knew if he didn’t approve of a writer, you might as well set a torch any writer that worked with him.

Overall, I thought John was a great writer.

When I talked to Eric about the perspectives on John (since no one else had), his solution was, “let’s just divide New Vegas tasks so John and I never have to interact with each other,” which was like, that moment where all the sound evaporates from the room and all you see is the other person’s lips moving, but you can’t bring yourself to acknowledge what they’re saying. I mean, the person you're denouncing - he’s your Lead. He’s a good writer. So are you. Try to meet in the middle. But – no, that was not to be.

Despite the situation, John turned in his notice (which also broke me a little more) and went on to bigger and better things – Mordor, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Kudos to him, but a huge loss for Obsidian in writing talent (much like George Ziets and Travis Stout). All could have been prevented, imo.
Couple more Avellone posts: 1 and 2
Oh boy... this might get even uglier

Regarding if he's worried about blowback from this:
Chris Avellone said:
No, but good question.

Aside from making up what Obsidian chose to never pay me, I set aside a legal fund to deal with any repercussions, and I will fight anything they bring to the table, tooth and nail. I welcome it.

If confronted with evil (as categorized by existing employees who will soon resign - check back in a week or two for the latest round, even though one of them dropped yesterday), I will be prepared to fight it. I guarantee I have more in my bank account than Obsidian does, since they rarely think more than 2 months in advance - and unfortunately, their very, very expensive lawyer charges by the hour, which is unfortunate, but he knows, remora-like, what to attach himself to to get the most financial gain.

But it's all okay - Paradox has already been in touch, and they aren't too happy with how Obsidian handled the work they asked for. Future revelations will likely be much more fun than mine.
In addition, Jason Schreier is following up on it:
Having talked to both Feargus (off the record) and Chris over the past couple of days, I'm keeping an eye out and continuing to listen and report but... this is a tricky one. Not sure there's some sort of smoking gun of wrongdoing here -- just a complicated dispute, multiple perspectives, and a whole lot of office politics. I like all of the parties involved and I hope they find some sort of resolution.

Anthony Davis, the Lead Programmer at Obsidian, chimed in as well.
 
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data

Member
Oct 25, 2017
801
#3
Wonder what Obsidian's response to this will be.

Strange time to be coming out with this now, but we only have one side of the perspective.

EDIT:

There is definitely more to this story than what was initially posted.

Sinatra has wonderfully scanned the rest of the forums for other posts by Chris and Eric in further posts.
Couple more Avellone posts: 1 and 2
Oh boy... this might get even uglier

Regarding if he's worried about blowback from this:
 
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gdt

Member
Oct 26, 2017
1,728
#6
Woah. Woah. Woahhhhhhh.

Didn't know all this bad blood was going on. This de/ownered shit is nuts.
 
Oct 25, 2017
747
#8
This sucks to read. I'm in the middle of enjoying PoE right now, loved what I played of Tyranny and am hyped for PoE2, but this is making me question my support of them. I feel like I read stuff in the past about their management having issues (maybe in Schrier's book?)
 
Feb 6, 2018
2,088
Berlin, Germany
#9
This also explains why he was suddenly writing for basically every upcoming RPG: he had to make money to pay off the debt (and because he's a really good writer but you get my point).
 
Oct 28, 2017
598
#14
Realizing my family issues and the debts therein, however, they did make an attempt to leverage that into a far more confining separation agreement that would remove my right to work on RPGs, and my silence on all issues that could pertain to Obsidian or any other company they were involved with or the CEO had a % in (Fig, Zero Radius, Dark Rock Industries, etc.). This included an inability to critique games I’d worked on
How would a contract like that even be legal?

NDAs I can understand, but removing the ability to “critique” the company’s work entirely? Removing the ability to ever work on a game that can be described as an “RPG”? How do you even define that in legal terms to begin with? Non compete clauses can only go so far, and are illegal in many states to begin with.
 
Oct 25, 2017
104
#15
He is in a very sharing mood in that Codex thread lol.

Also accuses Eric Fenstermaker of chasing off John Gonzalez. Also he is apparently employed by Ken Levine's studio.
 
Nov 21, 2017
3,093
#16
What kind of contracr is that? Company cannot forbid a certain person to do something especially if it is not associated to them, it violates human's right.
 
Oct 27, 2017
8,331
#17
I'm disappointed, Feargus. I thought you were one of the good ones.

Also accuses Eric Fenstermaker of chasing off John Gonzalez.
Aw, not him too.


Hopefully this warrants a response from Obsidian to some degree. This is a lot of dirty stuff to be revealed all of a sudden.
 
Oct 28, 2017
1,595
#18
Very bad look on Obsidian's front. Granted, this is one side of the story and they do not yet have the opportunity to respond. But some of the points brought up sound unethical to me and really pushes me to re-evaluate my support of the company. I've kickstarted/fig'd both PoE 1 & 2, but I'm not sure I'm in for their future ventures.
 
Oct 25, 2017
6,744
#20
Very bad look on Obsidian's front. Granted, this is one side of the story and they do not yet have the opportunity to respond. But some of the points brought up sound unethical to me and really pushes me to re-evaluate my support of the company. I've kickstarted/fig'd both PoE 1 & 2, but I'm not sure I'm in for their future ventures.
Be aware, not that im denying anything, but grains of salt might be useful, as the Codex is an Avellone fanboy haven that tends to shit on devs like Obsidian in current times and is full of honestly trash people. I mean, just browse some of the codex threads and you get a sense of the type of folk that hang out there. They have something to gain from dropping this right before Pillars 2 comes out.
 

Kuga

Member
Oct 25, 2017
362
#21
What kind of contracr is that? Company cannot forbid a certain person to do something especially if it is not associated to them, it violates human's right.
It could be part of a non-compete agreement, which can sometimes be enforceable depending on the contents and how it is written. A blanket "you cannot work on X type of game" statement doesn't sound like it would hold up on court, though I am not a legal expert.
 
Oct 25, 2017
876
NYC
#23
It could be part of a non-compete agreement, which can sometimes be enforceable depending on the contents and how it is written. A blanket "you cannot work on X type of game" statement doesn't sound like it would hold up on court, though I am not a legal expert.
Unless they very strictly define what "RPG" means (and it's honestly a meaningless term these days), it's far from enforceable. The legal threat is enough to make most people double-take, though.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,713
New York
#27
It would be helpful if you included responses from others at Obsidian like Eric Fenstermaker who was Narrative Lead on PoE, now a freelance writer himself:
  • I don’t like discussing anything remotely negative about coworkers in the press. No one comes out looking worse than you when you do that. But here, I think I need to get more detailed than I would want to in order to clear something up.

    To the suggestion that Josh “interfered” in the process involving cutting down Durance and the Grieving Mother, everything he did was professional and warranted by the circumstances. The budget on those companions was blown, not just a little but a lot. Very late in development. They were unimplementable in the time we had, and the company had promised them to the Kickstarter backers. So while I’d have preferred to have just worked it out between myself and Chris, at that point in production it was unfortunately not what the situation called for. A high-level decision needed to be made, so more people had to be looped in.

    The interview characterizes ownership as having gotten worked up over something they didn’t know the specifics of, and I won’t speak for them, but if I were in their shoes, faced with this development, I would have been concerned. None of the potential outcomes looked rosy.

    It’s been thrown around that objectionable subject matter was the reason behind the cuts. Sexual violence is dealt with elsewhere in the game, and there is swearing all over the place. So there was no looming censor. I don’t want to get into criticism here, but there were some choices that Chris made later in the writing that I thought bore more consideration, and in better circumstances if we’d been able to keep the thread, I’d have liked to discuss a different approach in some specific places. I believe it would have been possible without altering their story or defanging the material. It ended up being beside the point – the easiest cuts to make by far involved that story thread, and so it was left on the cutting room floor.

    I did have a role in things turning out this way and I did apologize to Chris for it. I gave far too little oversight, thinking that a set of constraints and approval of an initial design, with periodic email check-ins would be sufficient. Chris was often offsite, I was swamped, and it was all too easy to backburner communication. I thought more regular feedback would only have been a hindrance to someone who’d made a lot of his reputation off of so many well-liked companions. If I had caught the issue sooner, we could have made the cuts sooner, in a much better context, and in that regard I should have done better. He did put genuine effort into the creative aspect, and that made the outcome that much more regrettable. I don’t know what Chris thinks about his own responsibilities and missteps in the matter, but I hope he recognizes them.

  • The PoE story was approved by management not because of poor judgment but because it was time to say “good enough” and hope for the best. We had something that was a completed draft that incorporated many of the best elements from previous pitches. As a place to start, it was workable. An independent developer can only pay its employees to spin their wheels with nothing to work on for so long. I suspect that the story wasn’t far off from something that was more deeply satisfying, so I don’t think it was a bad bet to make, even if the end result was flawed. Sometimes in development, we get the story figured out well in advance, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Here, it didn’t.

  • There’s kind of a strange insinuation in the interview that maybe I got a bad employee review because of the PoE story (?), and the phrasing almost seems to imply that this might have been related to my departure. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I always found Obsidian to be forgiving of mistakes as long as you were earnest in your efforts to learn from them, and I tried to be that. I appreciate the owners and my managers bearing with me.

    Chris’s experience with Obsidian is his own. But it’s just that, one experience, filtered through a particular point of view, selective in its memory, and biased by its nature. So is mine. No one perspective should be taken for gospel. Me, I liked it there, enough to stay for more than a decade, and I wasn’t without more lucrative options. Good people ran the place. Good people (besides a few genuine personality disorder sufferers) worked there when I was there. Josh was a good director, the owners were good owners. I strongly disagreed with them many times, but it was never because they were coming from a place of bad intentions. Everyone’s just trying to navigate an insanely difficult and stressful business, and for that alone I think you have to approach the profession with a lot of forgiveness in your heart.
  • There were a lot of other corrections I wanted to make or explanations I wanted to give about this or that, but looking at it now, I don’t think they’re important in the scheme of things.

As well a response from Anthony Davis, Lead Programmer at Obsidian:

 
Oct 29, 2017
3,673
#30
Be aware, not that im denying anything, but grains of salt might be useful, as the Codex is an Avellone fanboy haven that tends to shit on devs like Obsidian in current times and is full of honestly trash people. I mean, just browse some of the codex threads and you get a sense of the type of folk that hang out there. They have something to gain from dropping this right before Pillars 2 comes out.
RPG Codex isn't a hive mind, lol.

I don't even know what you're implying. Did they kidnap Chris Avellone and force him to criticize Obsidian?
 

Paz

Member
Nov 1, 2017
710
Brisbane, Australia
#32
I know we only have one side here but I've only ever known people to say the best things about Chris Avellone as a person and a developer, in an industry where it's surprisingly common for people to tell me that famous developer X or Y is an asshole or a hack or a political animal who doesn't really contribute to the games they are publicly credited for.

I'd give him the benefit of the doubt here, plus nobody publicly burns bridges like this in games unless the situation is truly untenable.
 
Oct 30, 2017
3,466
Denmark
#33
This isn't as big as Bungie but it seems all these companies that I think are so good and I look up to them; at the end of the day they're just businesses after all and the top-level conversation doesn't beat around the bush on that. It still sounds like this is some underhanded bs coming from Obsidian and I feel like Chris is waving his critique between the words here.

I can't judge the situation any more than any of your from this angle, but knowing Chris from his GDC talks, interviews, work in games and etc. you know he's a critical guy and in some situations one might view him as a "half-empty" sort of guy because he's concerned with quality and rational design. I could imagine many people (and I'm gamedev too) who would be closed off to that kind of attitude and it no doubt leads to a lot of arguments within a company. The thing he said about the "de-ownering threat" being thrown around sounds exactly like that, when people undercut a candid creative spirit to assure that you simply get things made. I remember in the recent interview with Mike Laidlaw at Game Informer I was a little concerned by something he said about "team-players" where some people, according to him, "create problems" when they criticise things during the project. Criticism needs a fine balance but like with Marty O Donnell at Bungie, being too openly skeptical or dismissive can lead to your coworkers turning their backs on you.

I dunno what happened, but I could easily imagine others finding Chris's work mentality tiresome which isn't a knock to him, it's a knock to nobody and just my acknowledgment that gamedev can be tough when you have to always concentrate hard and do things the right way and thereby question everything in a process.

Sorry if this is overthinking things. I know it's speculation but going by his words and knowing his personality a bit that's just my impression.
 
Last edited:
Oct 28, 2017
1,595
#34
Be aware, not that im denying anything, but grains of salt might be useful, as the Codex is an Avellone fanboy haven that tends to shit on devs like Obsidian in current times and is full of honestly trash people. I mean, just browse some of the codex threads and you get a sense of the type of folk that hang out there. They have something to gain from dropping this right before Pillars 2 comes out.
Thanks, I'm not one to jump to conclusions based on just one report or comment. I'll be looking closely at how this plays out because these are some strong assertions and I can't see Obsidian not responding to them.
 

Chumley

Attempted to circumvent ban with alt account
Member
Oct 26, 2017
4,651
#36
This is totally nuts. I can’t support the company in good conscience after reading this, Avellone’s word has always been solid.
 
Oct 27, 2017
130
#45
Wonder what Obsidian's response to this will be.

Strange time to be coming out with this now, but we only have one side of the perspective.
They'll probably ignore it and people will probably forget soon enough, especially if they have to decide between ignoring these events or playing the next anticipated Obsidian game.
 
Oct 25, 2017
990
#46
Frankly, a bunch of his story makes little sense. Can anyone with any knowledge of business law comment on the "de-owner" thing? Your ownership of part of a company can't just be removed without some form of compensation. The fact that he's airing this stuff to sycophantic white supremacists instead of any actual reporters like Jason Schrier does not increase his credibility.
 

data

Member
Oct 25, 2017
801
#48
They'll probably ignore it and people will probably forget soon enough, especially if they have to decide between ignoring these events or playing the next anticipated Obsidian game.
That would be unfortunate and if they really do choose to ignore it, that will definitely be bad for them for trying to suppress it.

Obviously, an additional perspective will help, as it's too hasty to judge this situation with a one-sided story.

Probably be a PR response. Similar to the situation with Naughty Dog and hostile work environment allegations/ hostile employees. Still better than not addressing it.