Grounded was always meant to be shaped by its community: Director Adam Brennecke told me nearly three years ago when the game was first announced.. But the size of that community and the suggestions they would bring to the (picnic) table exceeded Obsidian’s expectations. In the two years it’s been in Early Access, the small team at Obsidian that’s been working on it has learned a lot. Most of those learnings come from a dedicated player base that has been shaping Grounded since July 2020, offering suggestions on everything from gameplay additions, quality of life updates, and UI tweaks.
Now, with Grounded 1.0 scheduled to release on September 27, Obsidian is finally ready to deliver to those players, and a host of new ones, a mainly ultimate version of your survival game.
We’re going to need a bigger yard
In February, Obsidian announced that more than 10 million players had jumped to Grounded since its launch in July 2019. (opens in a new tab). The Grounded Discord has nearly 40,000 members; his subreddit has 52,000 members. “It was definitely a big surprise. Most of us are people who really like survival games, most of the people on the team have played Forest, Subnautica and a bunch of other survival games and really enjoy the genre. So it was kind of like just a group of people on the team really liked this genre and wanted to make a game within it.” explains Adam Taylor, principal QA analyst. “But I don’t think any of us expected it to be as big as it is. And it’s been two years now, which is crazy.”
Grounded blew up so unexpectedly that Obsidian hired former community manager Aarik Dorobiala after he left the studio in 2019. “The team didn’t really expect the game to blow up that much, so they called me back to Obsidian.” to help the community,” Dorobiala tells me. “They really wanted to build a game together with players in the community to make sure it was the game they wanted to play.”
At this point, days before Grounded leaves Early Access, Obsidian is clear: this game was made with its players. “I hope that the community feels that this game is as much theirs as it is ours,” says Dorobiala.
more spiders please
Grounded players also convinced Obsidian to add a photo mode to the game. “I never thought of taking in-game photos like that, and the photo mode has been really amazing. That’s definitely one of the suggestions that surprised me,” says Taylor.
But what kind of changes has the community contributed to in these last two years? Obsidian says they run the gamut from some typical UI requests, like changing the way items are named in storage, to gameplay suggestions, like allowing players to run while carrying furniture. An early update allowed players to turn on Arachnophobia mode if they wanted to avoid scares from eight-legged monsters in the backyard. The Arachnophobia Safe Mode slider allows players to determine how arachnid the spiders look, with one end of the slider giving you traditional spiders and the other end turning them into hoverballs.
However, Obsidian says that some of the most popular requests from players have been for plus scary critters, no less. “What surprises me the most are the insects that the community wants to see, like the camel spider – which is huge – or the trapdoor spider. It’s like… want More spiders?” laughs Dorobiala. “But the one we were looking for and the players really pushed for was: the infected insects in the game in the mist biome, they wanted the infected wolf spider, which is already one of the largest spiders in the backyard. But they wanted an infected version, which we put on. They want more scary bugs, which is one of the most amazing things.”
Grounded’s Early Access release not only gave Obsidian more spider work, it set the stage for players to suggest major quality of life improvements that might have gone unnoticed had the game released straight. “Early on, people developed goals on how to take down large creatures that are normally very difficult to deal with early in the game. Players would jump on a rock and just scold the bugs with arrows until they die, which might take 40, 60 arrows. In the early days of Grounded, you had to go to each arrow and press ‘E’ to collect them all, so the player really pushed an auto-collection system,” says Dorobiala.
Players also lobbied for new storage naming conventions, a “craft many” option, and the ability to move furniture instead of destroying it. “Just sitting on chairs was a highly sought after feature,” Dorobiala says with a smile. “We had chairs in the game, but they couldn’t do anything with them.”
Grounded’s long early access period gave Obsidian the space and time to adapt the game to its player base. “Because we’re on Xbox Game Preview, we can get instant feedback from our community, especially on social media or our Discord, which is where we get most of the feedback from our players. Just having that instant interaction with players and seeing what they like and what they don’t like… it’s very helpful. If we had made the game and then released it, and then tried to get feedback that way, maybe it would have been a lot harder to adapt and make changes “, Dorobiala explains.
While it’s clear that this development process was beneficial to the players who shaped the game in real time, I ask if it was equally kind to the developers. In an industry too often defined by crisis, how does a two-year early access period help people working on a game? “I’ve been on three or four different projects. And I think with Grounded, because it’s in early access and it’s a smaller team, I think overall I would prefer the workload that we’ve had through this project, Taylor he replies, “I don’t think I’d ever go back to a project that wasn’t early access.”
Obsidian is not going to leave the survival game after it leaves Early Access. Not only is the team keeping quiet about the story that will unfold during the game’s full release, but Dorobiala promises that Obsidian will support Grounded for years to come. Grounded 1.0 launches on September 27 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
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