The Outer Worlds’ faceless corporations aren’t necessarily evil

Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds features a setting where big corporations control a big chunk of peoples lives. Despite this, the studio claimed that the game would not be overtly political. Now, one of the game’s designers has explained that The Outer Worlds will put a face to these big corporations.

Senior designer Brian Heins stated as much during a recent interview with GamesIndustry. Heims explained that he drew from his own experiences working for big corporations such as EA, Take-Two, Rockstar, and of course Microsoft. From his experiences, the way these corporations make decisions doesn’t always fit in the “evil corporation” stereotype.

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“I’ve worked for the ‘big faceless evil corporations’ and on the inside they’re not faceless or evil,” mentioned Heims. “There’s always reasons for why decisions are made. Not always ones that individual people agree with or understand because a lot of the times when a company makes a decision, they don’t always communicate ‘Here’s all the reasons behind how we got to this point.'”

To reflect this, Hiems explained players will also get to see events from the perspective of the Board — the council that oversees the corporations running the game’s colonies. If that wasn’t enough, each corporation will also be represented by specific people when players interact with them. Obsidian wanted players to have someone to sympathize with when interacting with the corporations, be it the board members, or the representative’s directly interacting with them in the game.

That Obsidian is doing this in today’s politically charged climate is quite interesting. Anti-corporate sentiments from gamers have become more common as of late. It’s become hard to think Activision (and it’s CEO Bobby Kotick) as anything but “evil” after some of their round of layoffs in February. Meanwhile, EA still has trouble shaking off a reputation for putting loot boxes, which it called “surprise mechanics,” despite promising to not put them in upcoming games. And let’s not forget that Microsoft’s recent purchase of Obsidian could mean that any sequels to The Outer Worlds may be Xbox exclusive (which would certainly make it “evil” in the eyes of Sony and Nintendo fans).

That said, Heims stated that the fictional firms in The Outer Worlds don’t necessarily reflect the game companies, or even just the big corporations, of today. Rather, Obsidian is drawing inspiration from early 1900s America, specifically the robber barons and industrialists that were all fighting for power and influence at that time. The studio is specifically asking: What if the government never introduced regulations that took power away from them?

To balance out such a dark pretense, Obsidian looks to be inject some comedy into the proceedings as well. “Obviously, this world has a certain level of absurdity just because of the complete control corporations have over everyone’s lives, which doesn’t exist in our own,” stated Heims. Yes, the game will reflect certain things that players may have experienced in dealing with corporations, however Heims stated that the team wanted to “put a humorous spin to it as well.”

That said, just because it’s putting emphasis on humor doesn’t mean The Outer Worlds won’t make players face hard choices. Rather, Heims stated giving players both sides of the picture, also letting them see things from the corporations’s point of view, will make the choices hard. “Choices are interesting when they’re hard, when both sides have equal weight to their argument and you have to decide which one to go with,” explained Heims. “That’s much more interesting than if one side is clearly right, the other is clearly wrong and you don’t have to think about the choice at all.”

The challenge for the team is to find a balance between the humor and the more serious bits. According to Heims, the team actually plays through the game to both add and remove jokes when necessary. “Sometimes we’ve added jokes and been like, ‘No, that’s kinda ruining what we’re trying to say’ so we’ll just pull it out. Or conversely, there are bits where it’s like ‘Wow, this conversation is super serious, we need to lighten it up a little.'”

Whether or not Obsidian succeeds in finding this balance, players will find out when The Outer Worlds launches in PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch on October 25.