Though the penultimate season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has officially wrapped, buzz about the acclaimed fantasy drama series is at what feels like an all-time high — which is why it’s difficult to imagine any creator in the entertainment industry passing up the opportunity to capitalize on the massive franchise. But that’s exactly what video game developer Obsidian Entertainment did: it turned down a chance at making a Game of Thrones title.
In 2005, Electronic Arts Partners contacted Obsidian, the developer behind titles like Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Pillars of Eternity, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, with an offer to create a game based on author George R.R. Martin’s high-stakes fantasy story. At the time, Game of Thrones was still six years away from airing on television, so it didn’t carry the same mainstream clout as it does today. But Obsidian co-founder and CEO Feargus Urquhart was a fan of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, and had been following it since 1996. Urquhart knew exactly what he was turning down, and had what he believes is a sound reason why.
“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’s Robert Purchese during a recent studio visit.
He then discussed the lack of magic users, clerics, thieves, and creatures like goblins and kobolds within the book series at that time. Apart from the mysticism that occurs beyond the Wall and the dragons Daenerys Targaryen raises and commands, there was only “some hint” of magic, and the novels were more focused on relationships between key characters that the first installment, A Game of Thrones, had established. Obsidian co-founder and vice president of development Chris Parker added, “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.”
At that point, Obsidian was beginning to turn its attention to open-world RPGs and ways to allow players additional in-game agency. Real-time strategy games were more relevant in 2005, and from Urquhart’s perspective, he felt that the story would work well as an RTS, using different factions and including political intrigue. But Obsidian wasn’t sure how to transform the text into a worthwhile title.
In retrospect, the “only thing” Obsidian could have done with the Game of Thrones game is something akin to what BioWare created in Knights of the Old Republic: make the title a prequel that exists far outside the core narrative. “With George R. R. Martin… they talked about some history,” said Urquhart. “We could have done that.” Given that Knights of the Old Republic is widely considered one of the best Star Wars games, Obdisian might have done well to follow that same path.
With the buzz around Game of Thrones at a near-deafening volume, it’s interesting to hear that the franchise could have branched out into other forms of media far earlier than it eventually did. It’s doubly intriguing to note that this isn’t the first developer that’s been linked to a potential Game of Thrones title this week, as it was rumored that Bethesda was making one. Reports soon shot down that speculation, with Target stating the Bethesda Game of Thrones project isn’t real. But just a few days later, it comes out that Obsidian’s game could have been true-blue.
Clearly, Urquhart would have chosen differently had he been approached with the project today. For now, it’s just a came of what-ifs for Obsidian, with players still left waiting for more Game of Thrones content from fellow developer Telltale Games.