Though Target’s listing for a Game of Thrones video game from Bethesda was most likely a hoax, another developer did have a shot at developing a title based on the popular series years ago. Obsidian Entertainment, known for its catalogue of role-playing games, was once offered a chance to work on Game of Thrones—and they turned it down.
Six years before Game of Thrones first aired on HBO, Obsidian was approached by Electronic Arts (EA Partners) to develop the game. Studio Co-Founder and CEO Feargus Urquhart was aware of the Song of Ice and Fire book series—he had been following them since the first was published in 1996—yet he still passed on the opportunity. But he believes he had a good reason for it.
“My feeling was, understanding the IP at the time, it’s about this political intrigue, and people’s connection to the IP is to all these characters – that’s how the books are written, each chapter is a person and what’s happening to them,” Urquhart told Eurogamer when they visited the studio recently.
“Other than what weird stuff is going on beyond The Wall, and the dragons, and some hint [of fantasy/magic], there are no magic users, there are no clerics, no thieves. Basically there’s dudes with swords and armour and a little bit of mysticism, but within the main land [the Seven Kingdoms] there’s no goblins, no kobolds…”
Co-Founder and Vice President of Development Chris Parker chimed in to add, “you can’t give the player a character they can play that is important in this world. All of the important characters are all clearly spelled out and you can’t even really go have a conversation with them.”
Parker’s reasoning feels a little flimsy when you think about Telltale’s take on the series, which successfully weaved together important characters from the show/books but also fleshed out their own based on known houses in the universe. Still, Obsidian’s reservations were not unfounded as jumping into a series such as Game of Thrones does pose unique challenges.
In retrospect, Urquhart said that the studio could have possibly done something similar to what BioWare did with Knights of the Old Republic.
“The only thing we could have done is what BioWare did with Knights of the Old Republic. They basically said Episodes 1-6, you can’t touch it, so we’re just going to go way back,” he said. “But even then some stuff had already been written about it in the [Star Wars] Expanded Universe. With George R. R. Martin there was no other… they talked about some history… we could have done that.”
“So maybe there could have been something we could have done. But we were starting to think more about open-world RPGs, and we wanted our players to have agency, to be important in the world.”
“Back then [real-time strategy games] were more relevant and I said, ‘I just don’t know how we could make… It just feels more like an RTS game.’ You have different factions and you put more political intrigue in there.”
It’s disappointing that we may never see Obsidian’s take on the franchise. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular series of all time, with its place forever cemented in pop culture. It was surely a different time back in 2005 when the offer was on the table for Obsidian, before the international craze that was brought about with the television show, though the books already had a loyal following. Whoever rises to the challenge of creating a AAA Game of Thrones experience, let’s hope it’s a good one.