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Crafting a world together: Community's impact on Baldur's Gate 3

  • August 8 2023
  • Courtland Goldengate

Baldur's Gate 3 (BG3) has made a remarkable impact on the gaming community, with over 800k concurrent players the weekend of its release, the game stormed into Steam's all-time top 10 most popular game launches of all time. But how did this franchise go from selling 50k copies of BG1 to 5 million copies of BG3?

The success of BG3 is a story of a diverse community coming together to create something incredible. While the game developer, Larian, values diversity, equity and inclusion in its hiring practices, and representation in the character designs and story, that is now (thankfully) table stakes. The real diversity came from its early access community participation.

In this post, we'll explore the multifaceted diversity of BG3, how it made the game possible, and why it contributed to its wild success. We'll also delve into the significance of custom (dare I say, homebrew?) rules and content and why an open approach to creativity is vital for the continued vibrancy and innovation within the table top role playing game (TTRPG) community. Whether you're a seasoned game master or "D&D curious" understanding BG3's success will illustrate how democratizing creativity is the future of entertainment.

The early access community: the heart of diversity

When BG3 was announced, fans were not only thrilled about the return of a beloved franchise but also intrigued by the promise of a richer, more inclusive experience. The reason why Larian Studios was entrusted by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) with BG3 was their success with the Divinity Original Sin (DOS) games. But the secret to those games succeeding was how Larian listened to their customers. They recognized that the best way to create a game that resonated with a wide audience was to engage with that audience directly, to listen to their feedback, their ideas, their criticisms, and their dreams... those special "wouldn't it be awesome if..." ideas. DOS 1 and 2 both had very lengthy early access periods, and their evolution during those periods was so much more than bug fixes. New characters being added and woven into the story, game mechanics changing, story and character interaction changes. And BG3 was a continuation of this trend at a whole new scale.

Player feedback wasn't merely collected; it was actively sought, dissected, and used to shape the game in real-time. Whether it was feedback on character design, quest complexity, or inclusivity of narrative, every comment contributed to BG3's creation. Larian was genuinely distraught by the preponderance of white male main characters created during character creation, so they participated as members of the community to influence its direction. And it did so completely transparently. Regular updates, open dialogues on forums, and candid discussions about the design and direction of the game was the norm. No sacred cows. Players could see their ideas coming to life, their concerns addressed, their voices becoming an integral part of the creative process. It was a collaboration in the truest sense, a partnership between developers and players that transcended the typical boundaries of the video game industry. In fact, it was the sort of collaboration that might look more familiar around a table rather than on a screen... the sort of collaborative creative process between TTRPG game master and players.

Homebrew as a catalyst for community growth and connection

Creating alone lacks diversity. Taking a set of rules and lore and being unwilling to change them lacks imagination. BG3 is the counter example to that, and it learned to be different from us, the TTRPG community. They don't stick to rules as written, they change them to make it suit the medium and to suit the players. Being unwilling to change and adapt will inevitably exclude some people, and that is why we are seeing homebrew being worked into TTRPGs and the video games based on them. Take racial stat bonuses. Super exclusionary to say that based on who you were at birth will define how smart you are or can become. So that got cut from BG3 in favor of allowing any race in the game to be naturally talented in the stats of their choice.

Note that WotC has also allowed for this in their published rules. The way our hobby is headed is a game that facilitates group story telling over inflexible mechanics. Homebrew content is the ultimate expression of flexibility, and is the fuel for the continued growth, health, and happiness of our community. And you know what? I think Larian is doing a better job of this than WotC. They created something awesome, kept it from getting ruined by a bunch of micro-transactions, embraced the modding community, and are in no way trying to create a walled garden or a monopoly on what's official.

Baldur's Gate 3 is paving the way for the future of TTRPGs

Baldur's Gate is more than a successful game; it's a reflection of the wider shifts in the TTRPG community. By embracing the diversity of voices, custom content, and a true spirit of collaboration, BG3 has paved the way for a more inclusive and innovative approach to game design. It's not just about the rules but about breaking them, adapting them, and letting players create something truly their own. As we look to the future of the hobby, it's clear that the path forward is one of collaboration and openness. Baldur's Gate 3 stands as a shining example of this new direction, a beacon for what's possible when we all contribute to the creative process.

Baldur's Gate 3's success story is a testament to the power of a diverse, collaborative, and creative community. It has shown us that when we open the doors to all voices and allow players to truly shape the world, we unleash a new level of creativity and engagement. It's a lesson for all in the TTRPG community and beyond, that democratizing creativity is not just an ideal; it's the future. Whether you're a game master, player, or simply curious about the world of TTRPGs, Baldur's Gate 3 is a celebration of what's possible when we all craft worlds together.

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