Obsidian Entertainment management is under scrutiny as their ethics are questioned by former employee Chris Avellone.
In an interview with RPGCodex, Chris Avellone details that when the former narrative designer was offered to work on the Pillars of Eternity sequel, it was an immediate rejection. He told the company he was not interested in the offer, due to allegedly several management issues prior to his leave.
“I didn’t get anything when I left Obsidian,” he said. “There were no share payouts, no equity, and this was in addition to the other logistical problems around the departure – the sudden cancellation of my health insurance, problems with my 401K, errors in Obsidian’s accounting, and several existing independent contracts they refused to uphold.”
Avellone was struggling with life and family issues in terms of cancer, medical bills and stress. Although he appreciated when Obsidian assigned remote writing tasks to him, he was concerned about the lack of ethics within management.
“I do appreciate that when Obsidian assigned writing tasks to me, they did allow me to do work via remote, and I got much more writing done as a result. Before then, I had to work nights and weekends when everyone else had left so I could concentrate, and by that time, you’re usually exhausted – it’s even worse when you’re on two projects, and one is close to shipping,” he said.
“Realizing my family issues and the debts therein, however, they did make an attempt leverage that into a far more confining separation agreement that would remove my right to work on RPGs, and my silence on all issues that could pertain to Obsidian or any other company they were involved with or the CEO had a percentage in,” Avellone outlined.
The silence on serious accounting, harassment and perjury issues was worrisome as well.
“I couldn’t speak about the issue, even if I felt strongly against what was being revealed.”
Now as a former employee, Avellone welcomes the challenge.
“Aside from making up what Obsidian chose to never pay me, I set aside a legal fund to deal with any repercussions, and I will fight anything they bring to the table, tooth and nail. I welcome it.”
In response to Avellone, Anthony Davis, the lead programmer at Obsidian Entertainment, wrote on how the company has aided him and several others in times of need, urging them to put their families first.
Davis cited his daughter going to the emergency room three times in half a year, the sudden death of his wife’s grandmother, the death of his wife’s grandfather around Christmas time, as well as a current health issue.
“I am currently dealing with a very serious health issue, the company has stood by my and told me to worry, but to focus on getting healthy,” Davis said.
“This doesn’t just extend to me. Many employees here have dealt with things that were even worse, and time and time again, the company has stood by them.”
Alleged management issues surrounding time, however, extended to shortcomings in gameplay and development.
Time ran short for promised character implementations, as some companions required two designers to implement.
“Things that could definitely have helped were refused in light of putting more devs from other projects rather than trying to fix the missing personnel.”
An editor, like management hired for Tyranny, would have been useful.
“The best-case scenario is you hire the right amount of people for both projects, and if you can’t, then you downscope or argue your case for more funding,” he said.
Although Avellone did not mind the cuts for length for the Eternity companions, he did see an issue with patterning. Wael’s conversation later on after you do his side quest was an example of this. There was also a lack of communication on why certain characters in Pillars of Eternity had voice over, while others did not, making the pattern feel random. Another issue was that creating prose before voice overs resulted in a clash between characters and their voice actors.
“I’d played the builds without voice over for quite some time before the voices came in. Then when I heard the voice over, it felt jarring because of how I had imagined them speaking from the prose, and it didn’t always mesh with the actor, so it took some characters I was cool with and made me dislike them,” he said.
If it had been up to Avellone, he would have asked management to find a consistent solution for voice acting, which would have ultimately saved a lot of time in the studio.
“I just wanted to fix whatever the problems were and move on to the next task, because there were a lot of tasks that needed doing. I had done the best work I could, and it was up to the Pillars team to decide what fit best but no one was articulating what the problems were,” Avellone outlined.
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