The creator of Oddworld explains how success is a treadmill for game developers

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In 1997, developer Oddworld released Inhabitants Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee after enthusiastic response from PlayStation owners. Oddworld founder Lorne Lanning expected his team’s hard work to ease the pressure on the creative process. In an interview with Xbox Expansion Pass host Luke Lohr, Lanning said he was wrong in making that assumption.

“I thought the success of Abe’s Oddysee would give us a cushion or a little buffer,” Lanning told Lohr. “What I didn’t predict was that the exact opposite would happen. You are now 50% owned by a publicly traded company that has to make quarterly profits. And we were in a window where some of the biggest titles from our publisher, GT Interactive, slipped out of the Christmas release window… but we made it.”

This was Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, a hit on the PlayStation. With this project, Oddworld Inhabitants proved to GT Interactive that it was able to produce hit games on time. This prompted GT, which first entered the market in 1995, to place even greater expectations on Lanning and his team.

“The way the publisher’s board looked at it was ‘what were our biggest artists this Christmas and who can we rely on next Christmas?’ — and I didn’t see that coming,” Lanning said. “I thought if we made a game and had success, we’d have more confidence and leeway to make a better game.”

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 and in a very limited time. This forced Lanning to make some tough decisions about the scope and story of the series.

“This is a three-year production that we start on, and they say, ‘Yeah, you can have it done before Christmas — whatever you need,'” Lanning said.

So the studio went back to work.

What Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus Reveals About How Games Are Made Today

Launched on November 17, 1998, Exoddus was another success for GT Interactive. But today it might serve as a better 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 this, it had to put one of its best teams right back in the kitchen. In addition, it has spent more money to complete the project faster. This still happens today – although no major studio could follow a game with a sequel a year later.

But publishers have also changed their mindset to move away from the hit-driven cycle that GT Interactive (which eventually took on the Atari name) was stuck in. Rather than follow up on a successful bet with an even bigger version of that bet, publishers are now looking for smaller projects that can last for years as services. These games have the potential to generate reliable revenue without the highs and lows that product games have to endure.

And if you succeed, you’ll have to get back on that development treadmill to pump out the next game.

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