Obsidian Entertainment says Phil Spencer’s “no BS” attitude was key to joining Xbox

Obsidian Entertainment, the venerable developer currently working on games like The Outer Worlds 2 and Pentiment, says that Phil Spencer and his attitude was pivotal to signing onto Xbox Game Studios.

Acquired by Microsoft in 2018, Obsidian Entertainment developed a solid reputation producing CRPGs like Knights of the Old Republic 2, Pillars of Eternity and Neverwinter Nights 2. In an interview with IGN, studio head Feargus Urquhart shared his thoughts regarding the acquisition of the studio.

Back in 2018, Xbox’s acquisition philosophy was to promise to studios their creative freedom and culture, and it was one of the key selling points of the deal. Microsoft was looking to acquire developers to build a roster of games that people who play on Xbox can enjoy for the years to come.

Understandably, Urquhart was hesitant to believe that being acquired by such a big company such as Microsoft would be a good move and was likely worried that the studio would lose their creative freedom when it came to making the games they wanted to.

Urquhart then had a meeting with Microsoft Studios head Matt Booty and then-Xbox senior director of business development Noah Musler who then convinced him to join the Xbox Team. But it was Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s Gaming CEO, who ensured the deal would go through with Obsidian Entertainment.

“I didn’t know Phil Spencer well at that time, I probably only talked to him once or twice up to that point,” Urquhart told IGN. “But what’s so interesting with Phil is he is this- I don’t know. I don’t want to say ‘persona’ in the end, because he is Phil Spencer and because he runs all Microsoft games. But now knowing him, and even what I knew [about] him back then, his reputation was just someone who was authentic and someone who doesn’t BS and loves games. And that was the trust in that.”

The three of them convinced Urquhart that bringing Obsidian into the new Microsoft is “one worth putting faith in”. After that, Obsidian Entertainment along with Ninja Theory, Playground Games and several other studios were brought in to help form “a new Microsoft” for developers.

Four years after the acquisition Urquhart insists that Obsidian, for the most part, is still Obsidian. Aside from the changes caused by the global pandemic and their roster getting bigger, the studio has been largely unmoved; the biggest shift Urquhart can point to is, he says, a boring one: in that he had to learn a bit more about how the finances of such a large company worked.

Aside from that, Urquhart did observe one massive improvement to an old issue from his past relationship with Xbox. That being Xbox mandating developers to work on certain kinds of technology it’s trying to push, like the Kinect.

Obsidian Entertainment Phil Spencer
Pentiment, an early screenshot from Obsidian’s Trailer.

While there’s no specific formula for their future games, Urquhart says Obsidian’s plans boil down to answering the question: “What do RPG players want? And how can Obsidian push the medium forward?”

“Every time, we need to go, ‘How do we do it better? How do we put something more in the world? How do we give [players] that emotional reaction? That thing where they lost a weekend to something we created?’… It is just always thinking about how to make that RPG experience more for someone, and not just more, but truly something that they appreciate more than what they played last time.”

The fact that Xbox doesn’t just support this much freedom or approach into making new games, but instead outright actively encourages it, speaks well to the acquisition, with Urquhart suggesting it works for both parties.

In other Obsidian related developments, Grounded will finally be leaving its early access / preview phase and going into a full release this September. Meanwhile, Pentiment, Josh Sawyer’s historical mystery experiment game is slate for release this November. Both games will be on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.