Customer Loyalty: How Larian Studios Upset Its Competitors


August 3rd, 2023 marked the day when a studio focused entirely on building customer loyalty finally saw the fruit of its labor.

It’s the day when the highly anticipated video game, Baldur’s Gate 3, was released by Larian Studios.

Games are released every day, though, so what’s the big deal?

In the case of Baldur’s Gate 3, the lead up to its release was full of a slew of controversy, with a multitude of videos, headlines, and commentary about Larian’s work.

Was this because of some feature within the game?

Actually, no.

In fact, the controversy was focused on the commentaries of several developers who work at a variety of other game studios.

Their accusation against Larian Studios?

Creating a game that’s actually fun, and in turn, prioritizing customer loyalty over making a quick buck.


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You read that correctly.

Early reviews of Baldur’s Gate 3 were so good that other developers began speaking out against the game, telling customers that this high quality of a product “was not the norm”.

Worse, they argued that the rest of the industry shouldn’t be held to the same standard.

For an industry with nearly $350 billion in revenue per year, there’s an important lesson to be had here.


What’s Customer Loyalty?


Defining customer loyalty is fairly simple. It comprises the entire experience a customer has with your brand, and it dictates their likelihood to buy from you again.

Better yet, customers with extremely positive interactions with your company become lifelong fans.

You’re now in the list of products or services they swear by, and their word of mouth is often more powerful than even the cleverest of marketing campaigns.

The math behind customer loyalty is fairly simple and has been worked out again and again. A repeat buyer is infinitely more valuable than a first time customer.

So it seems fairly straightforward then that every business would be invested in their customer’s experience to ensure loyalty stays at an all time high, right?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

We know not to overpromise and underdeliver… and yet that is how a large number of businesses operate on a daily basis.

Some industries – particularly ones that are unregulated – are worse about this than others.

Unfortunately, the video game industry is just one example of this.

Over the years, game development studios have been content to continue to deliver poor performing products while seeking new ways to push for more purchases from the average player.

This is important context for the drama surrounding Baldur’s Gate 3.

More importantly, it’s the key context for why comments made by other developers, and why customers aren’t buying it.


The Backstory… How Game Studios In the Past Have Tricked Their Customers


Understanding the slew of unethical practices in game marketing means unpacking decades of controversy around in-app purchases, “pay-to-win” opportunities in game, and in general a history of game companies chasing fairly scummy tactics.

It turns out a lot of studios have really great marketers, and it’s not uncommon to see a company overpromise a number of features, only for customers to absolutely hate the final product.

This isn’t a case of the mythological quote of, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This is (wrongly) attributed to Ford as some sort of implication that customers are fairly ignorant, and that you can’t really trust your buyer to know what they want.

I think many customers actually do know what they want — even if they can’t always articulate it.

In the very least, that know when the solution feels right… and when it doesn’t.

Additionally, they know when what they paid for isn’t what they received.

… which is unfortunately the norm in the game development world.

To give more clarity, here is how a multitude of companies operate when it comes to developing games:


customer loyalty bad marketing and the cycle of sales

  1. Company Announces an Absolutely Amazing Game with Features You’d Never Expect. Company furthers hypes up the game with a heavy onslaught of trailers and carefully curated content releases
  2. Company pre-sales the game, offering incentives and digital bonuses to people who pre-order
  3. Game releases to overwhelmingly negative criticism, and the Company apologizes, offers to fix and improve features
  4. Company decides to “fix the game” through future game content like expansions, paid downloadable content, and sequels

The cycle repeats.

So when a game like Baldur’s Gate 3 releases to critically positive reviews, this breaks the mold on a low standard that has unfortunately become the norm.

Some of the criticism from other developers here has involved finger-pointing and blame placed on customers for expecting too much.

I think this is a pretty awkward take – we aren’t talking about a pet rock being presented as one thing while being clearly something else.

We’re talking studios that are spending hundreds of thousands – if not millions of dollars – on game marketing to secure early fandom around its release.


Anthem Is Just one Example

customer loyalty anthem shut down


One popular game released by developer Bioware is a great example of the push for marketing and sales instead of building customer loyalty.

The game was released in 2019 – two years after a highly lauded gameplay trailer was shown at E3, a former major games conference.Still from the official Anthem gameplay trailer, released at E3 in 2019

The trailer was so captivating, it was hailed to be a “Destiny-killer”, referring to Bungie (another studio) and their highly played flagship game, Destiny (which ironically should be included in this article).

During Anthem’s release, the game grossed over $100 million in sales, including $3.5 million with in-game purchases.

However, people immediately experienced a completely different game compared to what was promised.

Core features were either completely different, or were missing entirely.

What happened to that game shown 2 years ago at E3?

It turned out that the trailer was created entirely for the purposes of marketing the game, with even the developers unaware of what features would be included in the game.

According to Jason Schreier,

“What the public didn’t know was that even then, Anthem was still in pre-production. Progress had been so slow that the demo was mostly guesswork, team members say, which is why the Anthem that actually launched looks so drastically different than the demo the team showed at E3 2017.”

One developer admitted:

“The demo was not actually built properly—a lot of it was fake.”

What was the outcome of this? Certainly not an apology from game publisher, Electronic Arts.

Bioware, the game’s studio, did however promise to fix the game… but reneged on this in 2022 when the game was shut down permanently.

With no refunds given, Bioware instead shifted its developers to its next studio project, called Dragon Age, estimated to be released in 2024 or later.

In turn, some customers rightly swore to never purchase another Bioware game again.

I don’t know if this is true — since gamers have shown time and again their short term memory when it comes to false advertising.

Regardless, did the fallout of Anthem incur a new wave of quality control in the gaming industry, with studios finally realizing the value of customer loyalty?

Not quite, as Anthem is just one example among many.


Cyberpunk and How Mediocrity is the Norm


I wish I could say the story of Anthem is a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, the past several years has seen a multitude of games go through the same cycle of market-sell-repeat.


customer loyalty cyberpunk reviews


In 2020, CD Project Red – the studio who created the Witcher game adaption  (the very same that would eventually debut with Henry Cavill on Netflix) – released what they planned to be their next big hit.

Cyberpunk 2077 released after years of fanfare full of teasers, gameplay videos, and the like.

With exponentially greater demand than Anthem, Cyberpunk 2077 sold nearly 14 million copies.

Unfortunately, the game was marred with crashes, glitches, and bugs. The game was in such a bad state that it was actually removed from the online Playstation Store and remained unpurchasable for nearly 6 months.

While some major news publishers called the game simply unplayable, one mainstream review site went as far as to accuse CD Project Red of purposefully hiding the poor state of the game.

opencritic quote

Now, to CD Project Red’s credit, they did eventually issue an apology and more importantly, offered full refunds to anyone who wanted them.

However, the truth remains the same.

A company lied about their product to get more sales – end of story.


Why Larian Studios Was Criticized


This all brings us back to Larian Studios and Baldur’s Gate 3.

Understanding the value of customer loyalty, this company apparently went all in on creating a truly great game.

At the point of this article, the game is #9 on the most played games of all time on Steam, arguably the most popular online storefront to buy and play games, with over 50,000 games offered.


customer loyalty steam charts baldur's gate 3


Interestingly, Cyberpunk 2077 is also on the list, which just goes to show exactly how insane the marketing was leading up to its release.

But unlike Cyberpunk, Baldur’s Gate 3 has a 97 overall review score on, putting it at the #15 rated game of all time.


customer loyalty baldur's gate 3 reviews


Meanwhile, Cyberpunk received scores between 57-61 for its console versions that OpenCritic described as deliberately misleading.

So how have other companies responded to the critical acclaim of Baldur’s Gate 3?

By telling customers to understand that this is not the norm, according to one developer, Xalavier Nelson Jr.


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Many other developers from various studios chimed in, echoing Nelson Jr’s sentiment.

One such developer works at Blizzard Entertainment, one of the largest game developers in the world.

By the way, Blizzard Entertainment was just in the news recently for their controversial release of Overwatch 2.


customer loyalty ow2 cancelled pve


Overwatch 2 was marketed to have a massive new game mode that drew deep fanfare to the game.

However, after selling a number of Battle Passes (an in game progression track tied to a real money purchase) for the game’s first season, Blizzard Entertainment canceled this game mode.

Shortly after, they clarified that similar game content would be coming in the future, but players would have to pay to get it – despite having marketed the original release of the game around it.

This is fairly different from Larian Studios’ philosophy on their game.


customer loyalty official bg3 dlc


The praises for Larian have been overwhelming positive, all for its decision to release a fully-functioning game.

How strange then is it that doing this seems like a baseline expectation for any of our purchases.

But in the gaming world — again, this is not the norm.


Remember – It’s about Customer Loyalty


So companies mislead their customers with their marketing… is this a surprise?

Not really.

But I’m not making a moral argument here.

Should businesses strive to be ethical, honest, and forthcoming in what they sell?


Beyond even that though, I’m pointing out that it’s not just about doing the right thing.

Going all in on customer loyalty makes sense from a dollar perspective too.

Again, you’ll make more money from repeat buyers than you ever will from a first time purchaser.

I talked about this last week when I covered Taco Bell’s lawsuit.

So how do you prioritize customer loyalty?

You deliver what you promised.

Better yet, you over-deliver on what you said you would.

Again – we understand this concept and it’s a bit of a cliche now… yet few companies are actually doing it.

And sadly enough, when one studio goes above and beyond to prioritize their customer satisfaction, it meant other companies chiming in to remind people this should not be the standard.

Nobody likes a winner among a sea of mediocrity, apparently.

But if you can take a note from Larian’s playbook, you’ll be surprised the results.

In short, here’s how you build customer loyalty:

Develop your product or services with a direct tie to what your customers actually care about… even if it’s not the most profitable move for your business.

We often think doing the right thing has to be at odds with running a profitable business.

Both can go hand in hand… if you’re willing to put in the work.


Blake is the founder of Good Advice. Good Advice clients make consistent income and do business better. Get a free review for your business here.

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