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In 1997, developer Oddworld Inhabitants released Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee to an enthusiastic response from PlayStation owners. Oddworld founder Lorne Lanning expected that his team’s hard work would release some of the pressure on the creative process. In an interview with Xbox Expansion Pass host Luke Lohr, Lanning said that he was wrong to make that assumption.
“I thought the success of Abe’s Oddysee was going to give us a little cushion or a little buffer,” Lanning told Lohr. “What I failed to forecast was that the exact opposite was going to happen. You’re now 50% owned by a public company that has quarterly profits it needs to make. And we were in a window where some of the biggest titles from our publisher, GT Interactive, were slipping out of the Christmas release window … but we delivered.”
This was Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, which was a hit on the PlayStation. With this project, Oddworld Inhabitants proved to GT Interactive that it was capable of producing hit games on time. This led GT, which had its initial public offering in 1995, to put even more expectations on Lanning and his team.
“The way the board of the publisher looked at it was ‘what were our biggest performers this Christmas, and who can we rely on next Christmas?’ — and I didn’t see that coming,” said Lanning. “I thought if we made a game and had success, we’d be afforded more confidence and leeway to make a better game.”
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And while 1998’s Abe’s Exoddus is probably a better game than Abe’s Oddysee, Oddworld Inhabitants had to develop it under extreme conditions with intensely limited time. This forced Lanning to make some tough decisions about the scope and story of the series.
“This is a three-year production we’re entering into, and they say, ‘yeah, you can get it done by Christmas — whatever you need,'” said Lanning.
So the studio got back to work.
What Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus reveals about how games are made today
Exoddus launched November 17, 1998 and was another success for GT Interactive. But today, it might better serve as an example of why modern live-service games are so appealing to developers and publishers.
GT needed Exoddus to maintain its year-over-year growth, and that’s exactly what it got. But to do so, it needed to put one of its best teams right back into the kitchen. On top of that, it spent more money to finish the project faster. This still happens today — although no major studio could follow up a game with a sequel just a year later.
But publishers have also changed their mindset to move away from the hit-driven cycle that GT Interactive (which eventually adopted the Atari name) found itself stuck in. Instead of following up a successful bet with an even bigger version of that bet, publishers are now looking to make smaller projects that can last for years as services. These games have the potential to generate reliable revenue without the peaks and valleys that product games must endure.
And if you succeed, you need to get back on that development treadmill to pump out the next game.
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