Obsidian Entertainment

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Obsidian Entertainment
Industry Video game development
Founded 2003
Headquarters Irvine, California[1], United States
Key people
Feargus Urquhart, CEO
Chris Parker, COO
Darren Monahan, CIO
Chris Jones, CTO
Products List of Obsidian Entertainment video games
Number of employees
135 (2008)
Website www.obsidian.net

Obsidian Entertainment is an American video game developer. It was founded in 2003 after the closure of Black Isle Studios by ex-Black Isle employees Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan, and Chris Jones.

Although they have created original intellectual property, many of their games are sequels based on licensed properties. Early projects include Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Neverwinter Nights 2, both sequels games developed by BioWare. The team then developed their first original game, Alpha Protocol, in 2010. Other notable works from Obsidian include Fallout: New Vegas, Dungeon Siege III, and South Park: The Stick of Truth, all also licensed properties.

Throughout the studio's history, many projects - including Futureblight, Dwarves, Alien: Crucible, and North Carolina - were cancelled, and in 2012 the company was in financial crisis. As a result, Obsidian decided to crowdfund their next game, Pillars of Eternity, which ultimately become a success and saved the studio from closure. The team's focus changed from developing licensed titles to creating original games based off of the studio's own intellectual property. Oblivion has developed a close relationship with another studio that was founded by ex-Interplay employees, inXile Entertainment, working with inXile on their Wasteland 2 and The Bard's Tale IV titles.


Chris Avellone
Feargus Urquhart
Chris Avellone (top) and Feargus Urquhart (bottom) are two of the five founders of the company.

2003: Founding and early troubles[edit]

Obsidian Entertainment was founded by Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, Chris Parker, Darren Monahan and Chris Jones. Prior to the establishment of Obsidian, they worked for Interplay Entertainment's subsidiary Black Isle Studios. At Black Isle they created several role-playing games including Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout 2, and collaborated with BioWare on Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate, and Baldur's Gate II. Most of these games were critically and commercially successful, but Interplay's financial situation was poor and the studio lost its license to produce Dungeons & Dragons-based games.[a][2] This led to the cancellation of Baldur's Gate III: The Black Hound.[3] Urquhart and most of the staff members were dissatisfied and frustrated with the cancellation, as the game has already been under development for a year and a half. Urquhart became convinced that staying in Black Isle was no longer a "viable option" for the team, and decided to leave the company. He was in his early thirties at the time, and thought that if he did not start a new company soon, he may become too old to do so.[4] Urquhart officially left Interplay in 2003 with Avellone, Parker, Monahan, and Jones, and founded Obsidian Entertainment with them the same year.[5]

At the time of the company's establishment there were seven employees, including the company's five founders. Parker, Urquhart, and Monahan invested $100,000 to $125,000 into their newly founded company.[2] When choosing the name of the company, they had prepared a short list of names for them to choose. The list included "Scorched Earth" and "Three Clown Software". The team eventually chose "Obsidian Entertainment", which they thought was strong, memorable, and felt similar to name of their old studio, Black Isle.[6]

Upon its establishment, the studio needed more capital in order to keep its operation running. The company approached Electronic Arts, but it didn't result in a project. The studio also contacted Ubisoft for a Might & Magic game, but Ubisoft instead ended up contracting with another company - Arkane Studios - on that project, which became Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. Obsidian pitched to Take-Two Interactive a game called Futureblight, which was described as a Fallout game powered by the Neverwinter Nights engine. Similar to the EA and Ubisoft projects, Futureblight was never made.[4]

Late 2003–08: The Sith Lords and Neverwinter Nights 2[edit]

Towards the end of 2003 the team was contacted by LucasArts president Simon Jeffrey. Obsidian pitched an action role-playing game set in the Star Wars universe with first-person lightsaber melee combat and that included established characters like R2-D2. Jeffrey instead asked Obsidian to create a follow-up to the BioWare-developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as the team at Obsidian was familiar with the technology that the original game used.[4] The partnership between the two companies finalized in late 2003, and development of the game, which became Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, began in October 2003.[7] Obsidian was given 15 months to develop The Sith Lords. Originally set for a holiday 2004 release, LucasArts gave the studio was given an extension into 2005, before shifting the release date back to holiday 2004 following the Electronic Entertainment Expo.[7] While LucasArts did dispatch members of its own staff to help get the game out on time,[8] a number of features wound up being cut due to time constraints. These included quests and one of the game's settings, the droid planet M4-78.[7] The cut content was eventually restored by modders, who began their effort in 2009 and finished in 2012.[9] Due to the time constraints, Obsidian did not have enough time to polish the game. The Sith Lords suffered from crashes and other technical issues. It would be the first of several heavily bugged releases, and the studio would go on to earn a reputation for releasing unfinished work.[4][9][10] Despite its issues, The Sith Lords was released to positive critical reception.[4]

From the beginning, the studio's goal was to be able develop multiple projects simultaneously, and the decision led the company to expand very quickly.[2] Soon after the development of The Sith Lords began the team expanded to 20 employees. As of July 2004 it had expanded to 27, with 18 from Black Isle, and others from Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Taldren, Totally Games, Treyarch, and Troika.[11]

Prior to the launch of The Sith Lords, Obsidian was approached by Atari. Atari acquired the license to produce Dungeons & Dragons-based games, and wanted Obsidian to create a sequel to Neverwinter Nights, which became Neverwinter Nights 2. Development of the game began in July 2005 with team of ten people.[9][12][13] The development of the game was headed by Monahan and Avellone. Obsidian became the game's lead developer, while Neverwinter Nights creator BioWare provided technical assistance.[14] While they were developing the game, the team's size grew to about 50 people.[2] The team were given sufficient time for the game's development, and Atari was willing to delay the project from its targeted Christmas 2005 to release window to October 31, 2006.[12] It received a generally positive critical reception.[15] Two expansions, Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir were released in 2007 and 2008.[16][17]

During Neverwinter Nights 2‍ '​s development, the team approached other publishers to work on more projects. Disney Interactive Studios green-lighted Obsidian to develop a prequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves called Dwarves, which was set to be a third-person action game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox One.[18] The team developed a prototype and was a year into development when the CEO of Disney changed. The change of CEO led Disney to head to a completely different direction, which making the Snow White franchise "untouchable", resulting in the cancellation of the project.[19] According to Urquhart, the team loved the game and that its cancellation was a "heartbreaking" experience for them.[4]

2009–11: Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas, and Dungeon Siege III[edit]

With the development of Neverwinter Nights II coming to an end, Obsidian was contacted by three different publishers. Electronic Arts wanted Obsidian to develop a role-playing game to compete with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and another publisher was also interested in having Obsidian develop a fantasy RPG.[4] The third publisher was Sega, who wanted the studio to develop an action role-playing game set within the Alien franchise. Obsidian selected Sony's project. The game, to be titled Aliens: Crucible, was to feature base-building, dialogue choices, and character customization.[18][20] In February 2009 Obsidian sent a prototype to Sega. Sega decided to cancel the game three weeks later without inspecting the demo.[4] The cancellation was officially confirmed in June of that year.[21] At around the same time, Atari again approached Obsidian, this time to revive Baldur's Gate III.[22] Obsidian requested a large budget, which Atari could not afford, and the deal between the two companies fell apart when Atari Europe was sold to Namco Bandai Games.[23]

Despite the cancellation of the Aliens: Crucible, Sega was still interested in working Obsidian to develop another project. Instead of developing a sequel, they were asked to develop a role-playing game based on a new intellectual property. The team came up with an idea of a "spy RPG".[24] Sega liked the idea, which would go on to become Alpha Protocol, and decided to help with the game's funding and serve as its publisher. The game's development was troubled; the team did not have a precise vision for Alpha Protocol and struggled to settle on what gameplay elements to include and what the target audience should be. As a result, the game suffered from an identity crisis and featured elements from multiple genres.[25] Sega, for its part, was also unable to make decisions quickly and the publisher cut features from the game after their completion. This resulted in numerous delays and excessively long production time; Alpha Protocol took four years to develop. It was finally was released in June 2010.[4]

Their first original game, Alpha Protocol received mostly mixed reviews from critics. It was also a commercial failure for Sega, and they decided to put any plans for a sequel on hold.[26] After the game's launch, Urquhart admitted that there was still room for improvements.[27] Even though the game was a commercial failure, it was well received by the community, which has often demanded that Obsidian make a sequel. Urquhart responded by saying that the team hoped that they can develop Alpha Protocol 2, and "do better" with it.[28] Avellone later added that they were unable to develop a sequel because the rights to the game were owned by Sega and crowdfunding would not be a suitable option.[29]

On February 11, 2010, Red Eagle Games and Obsidian announced that they would co-develop one or more games based on The Wheel of Time fantasy novel series by Robert Jordan.[30] On April 25, 2014, however, Urquhart told Computer & Video Games that the agreement between the companies had dissolved after Red Eagle had failed to secure the necessary funding.[31]

At the same time that the studio was developing Alpha Protocol, another team at Obsidian was working on Fallout: New Vegas. Bethesda Softworks had just released Fallout 3 and was shifting its focus back towards its Elder Scrolls series. It approached Obsidian with the idea of having the later studio develop another game in the Fallout series, as several of Obsidian's founders had worked on the franchise while at Black Isle. In developing New Vegas, the Obsidian looked at fan requests, which led to New Vegas giving a more prominent role to the in-game factions. When the concept was pitched to Bethesda, it was immediately approved. The development of New Vegas began soon after the cancellation of Aliens: Crucible, and it was released in October 2010.[4] It received generally positive reviews, with some critics saying that the game's quality exceeded that of the critically acclaimed Fallout 3.[4]

As was the case with The Sith Lords, the development team did not thoroughly scrub the game of bugs and glitches before it was released. Some players were unable to play the game due to constant crashes.[32] These problems were later patched and fixed. Obsidian considered New Vegas to be a learning experience; it was the studio's first AAA game, and it taught the studio how to manage quality assurance.[4] Between The Sith Lords and New Vegas, Obsidian had built a reputation for creating games with technical issues.[4][10] The team was determined to change this with future titles, and made improvements to their bug-tracking system,[4] These improvements were applied to the studio's next project, Dungeon Siege III, a sequel to the Gas Powered Games-developed Dungeon Siege.[33] The game received mixed reviews upon release in 2011, but it enjoyed a stable launch.[4] Dungeon Siege III was the first game to uses Obsidian's own in-house Onyx engine.[34]

In 2011, the company began working on a third-person open world game code named "North Carolina". It was rumored the game was being produced for the then-unannounced successor to the Xbox, the Xbox 360. The title was ultimately cancelled in 2012 by its publisher, Microsoft Studios, causing Obsidian to lay off between 20 and 30 people.[4][35][36]

2012-present: The Stick of Truth, financial troubles, and Pillars of Eternity[edit]

In October 2009, Obsidian was contacted by South Park Digital Studios to develop a game set within the South Park universe.[37] The team originally thought the phone call from South Park Digital Studios was a prank carried out by another company located in the same building.[38] Obsidian met with South Park‍ '​s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, with the two parties agreeing that it was critical that the game share the television show's construction paper-like visual aesthetic. Funding was originally provided by Viacom, the parent company of the television channel that South Park is broadcast on. In 2011, Viacom decided to let the video game publisher THQ take over as the game's publisher.[4] Shortly after THQ took over, they entered into financial crisis, eventually going bankrupt in late 2011. With THQ unable to continue its publishing and funding roles, an auction was held for other publishers to acquire their titles. Obsidian was worried about that if the project were cancelled, they too would face severe financial difficulties. Eventually Ubisoft acquired the game,[39] which was released as South Park: The Stick of Truth in March 2014.[40]

We said look, somebody is gonna try to Kickstart a game like this. Somebody is going to try to Kickstart an 'isometric 2D background with 3D characters, real-time with pause, fantasy role-playing game.' There's no way that this is going to go untapped for that long. There are enough other ex-Black Isle and Bioware developers out there, that if we don't do it, we're just gonna miss a perfect opportunity.

— Josh Sawyer on crowdfunding Project Eternity

While Ubisoft's intervention allowed Obsidian to complete South Park: The Stick of Truth, the company faced a precarious financial position. The studio received only a small "kill fee" for their work on North Carolina.[4] The team lacked sufficient resources to keep the company's operation running. According to Adam Brennecke, a representative from Obsidian, if they failed to pitch a project to a publisher in time, they would have exhausted their money and went bankrupt.[41] At that time, the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter was growing popular and Josh Sawyer, creative director of New Vegas, proposed that the studio put their cancelled game on Kickstarter and attempt to secure funding for it there. Some team members were skeptical about the idea and feared that they may not even be able to raise $100,000 through the platform. The question of whether to pursue a Kickstarter campaign led to numerous debates between key members of the company. The debates ended when Double Fine Adventure‍ '​s campaign launched and saw huge success.[42] Secure in the belief that Kickstarter was a viable funding option, the team decided to use it to fund the development a game they wanted to make for a very long time: a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. The Kickstarter campaign for Pillars of Eternity was launched in September 2012 under the working name "Project Eternity", with Obsidian requesting $1.1 million.[43] The studio approached Kickstarter with the mindset that if their campaign was successful the game could eventually be turned into a franchise, while if they were unsuccessful, they would attempt to refine their ideas and try again with another campaign.[44] Obsidian's campaign was hugely successful, raising $4 million and breaking the record set by Double Fine Adventure.[45] Pillars of Eternity was released in March 2015 to a positive critical reception.[46]

In June 2015, studio co-founder Chris Avellone announced his departure from Obsidian.[47]


Obsidian Entertainment is currently working on three projects; the westernization of Skyforge, the free-to-play multiplayer military shooter Armored Warfare, and two expansion packs for Pillars of Eternity.[48][49] On August 13, 2014, Obsidian announced that they had licensed the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to make electronic games, starting with a tablet adaptation of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens also confirmed plans for an Obsidian-developed computer role-playing game.[50]


Year Title Publisher Platform(s)
2004 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords LucasArts Xbox, Win
2006 Neverwinter Nights 2 Atari Win, Mac
2007 Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer Atari Win
2008 Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir Atari Win
2010 Alpha Protocol Sega Win, PS3, X360
2010 Fallout: New Vegas Bethesda Softworks Win, PS3, X360
2011 Dungeon Siege III Square Enix Win, PS3, X360
2014 South Park: The Stick of Truth Ubisoft Win, PS3, X360
2014 Wasteland 2 Deep Silver Win, Mac, Lin
2015 Pillars of Eternity Paradox Interactive Win, Mac, Lin
2015 Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1 Paradox Interactive Win, Mac, Lin
2015 Skyforge My.com Win
TBA Armored Warfare My.com Win


We have to answer to players, no matter what. When you work for a publisher, you have to answer to both, and the two of them may not see eye-to-eye. I'd rather the player pay me directly for something they want, and I'd rather talk with them throughout the process to make sure I'm delivering something they want as well.

— Chris Avellone, founder of Obsidian Entertainment on Kickstarter

Obsidian built a reputation for making sequels in well-established franchises including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Fallout, and Dungeon Siege. Urquhart has stated that the company is fine with developing sequels, as they are often fun to make since the studio can "get to go play in someone else's world" and further explore and expand upon the original games' ideas.[51] The studio also believes that such licensed projects are easier to develop.[52] Obsidian considered the making of these sequels as stepping stones towards eventually making original games based on their own intellectual property.[51] The studio's focus did later shift towards developing their own games, which allowed Obsidian to maximize their creative freedom and escape the constraints imposed by publishers.[53] The studio has used the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter as an indicator to see whether a game or genre is popular or not.[18]

As an independent company, Obsidian believes that they must act and react quickly to market changes and not stagnate on any certain point. While the core focus of Obsidian was still developing character-driven role-playing games, the team were willing to try out projects that are smaller and are in different genres. The decision to develop Armored Warfare is one result of this strategy.[49]

A dungeon crawler game based on the story of the company's five founders was made. The game was housed in an arcade cabinet inside Obsidian.[54]

Related companies[edit]

Obsidian Entertainment has previously partnered with LucasArts, Atari Inc., Sega, Square Enix, THQ, Ubisoft, and Paradox Interactive to publish their games.[55][56] Due to early collaborations, Feargus Urquhart has a very close relationship with the founders of BioWare, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.[11] Urquhart has stated a desire to collaborate with BioWare again on a new Star Wars game.[57] Obsidian has also maintained a friendly relationship with inXile Entertainment. Like Obsidian, inXile was founded by former employees of Interplay Entertainment. The two companies signed an agreement to share their technology with each other.[58] Obsidian assisted in the development of inXile's Wasteland 2 when its Kickstarter campaign raised $2.1 million,[59] and Avellone's participation become a stretch goal for another inXile game, The Bard's Tale IV.[60] Obsidian Entertainment was also located in the same building as Red 5 Studios.[38]


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External links[edit]