Baldur's Gate 3: A Surprise Triumph Despite Low Expectations

Despite initial doubts, Baldurs Gate 3 achieved massive success, defying expectations. Microsofts leaked assessment labeled it a "second-run Stadia PC RPG," but the games acclaim proved otherwise.

In the wake of Baldur's Gate 3's remarkable success, it's fascinating to reflect on how this RPG juggernaut defied early expectations. When the game first launched, it quickly amassed a staggering 800,000 concurrent players on Steam and earned the highest review score from PC Gamer in 16 years. Yet, during its early access phase, Baldur's Gate 3 was not widely anticipated to become the next big thing.

A notable example of this skepticism surfaced in May 2022 when Microsoft accidentally leaked a document as part of its legal battle with FLuzala. The document described Baldur's Gate 3 as a "second-run Stadia PC RPG" that Microsoft believed it could acquire for approximately $5 million and include in its PC Game Pass subscription. This assessment might seem surprising given the game's pedigree as a sequel in the revered D&D series and one of the most beloved PC game franchises, released during D&D's zenith in popularity. (Interestingly, Stadia didn't even survive until Baldur's Gate 3's release.)

Ironically, Larian Studios, the developer behind Baldur's Gate 3, didn't harbor lofty expectations either. Swen Vincke, Larian's CEO, voiced concerns that the game might have already peaked during its Early Access phase.

Michael Douse, Larian's director of publishing, responded to a Polygon article discussing the leaked Microsoft comment by remarking that he wasn't surprised by Microsoft's initial low expectations. He pointed out that there was no existing data to accurately predict Baldur's Gate 3's performance.

Nonetheless, branding it a "second-run Stadia PC RPG" seemed far-fetched for a D&D sequel within one of the most storied series of D&D games and a beloved PC gaming franchise. Moreover, it was released during the peak of D&D's popularity.

This assessment was part of Microsoft's deliberations on potential games to include in Xbox Game Pass. On the same list, games like EA's Jedi Survivor were deemed to have a "low" chance of inclusion, with Microsoft estimating it might have to pay as much as $300 million if EA agreed.

The catalyst for this discussion was the delay of Bethesda's Starfield, which left a 16-month gap between major game releases on Xbox Game Pass. Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, referred to this as a "disaster situation" at the time. Baldur's Gate 3 was subsequently rescheduled to release around the same time as Starfield, only to be moved up by a month, presumably to avoid direct competition with the larger RPG release.

It's worth noting that Baldur's Gate 3 received significantly more critical acclaim from both reviewers and players compared to Starfield. Wes Fenlon from PC Gamer even pondered whether Baldur's Gate 3 might be superior to Starfield, challenging the assumption that it was merely releasing ahead of it to avoid competition.

Swen Vincke, who himself had doubts about the game's potential success, humorously expressed a desire to converse with the Microsoft analyst responsible for the initial assessment. Clearly, both parties had underestimated the RPG's astounding triumph.

The leaked documents also revealed other internal Microsoft discussions, including a 2020 email from Phil Spencer, where he enthusiastically explored the possibility of acquiring Nintendo or Valve. Additionally, plans for a new Xbox controller and a refresh of the Xbox Series X were detailed.

Addressing these leaks, Phil Spencer remarked, "We've seen the conversation around old emails and documents. It is hard to see our team's work shared in this way because so much has changed and there's so much to be excited about right now, and in the future. We will share the real plans when we are ready."

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