Since it was first released in 2013, Path of Exile has evolved to become a hard-hitting contender in the ARPG genre, with a dedicated fanbase and constantly updating content. But the seeds of its development were first planted in an unlikely location — a high school library.
At ExileCon 2019, Grinding Gear Games founders Chris Wilson, Jonathan Rogers, Erik Olofsson and writer Nick Kolan sat down to discuss the founding and continued success of Path of Exile from its very humble beginnings.
When discussing the inspiration for the game, Managing Director Chris Wilson recalled a time in high school where he learned coding via Microsoft QuickBASIC on the library computers. As Wilson describes it, this led to a fateful meeting with now-Technical Director Jonathan Rogers, who shared his love for coding.
The love eventually transformed into a desire to release a game after university, and in 2006, work started on what was soon to become Path of Exile. The founding principle, Wilson explained, was the thought that, “everyone was terrible at action RPGs, and [they] could make a good one.” Despite this, Wilson acknowledged pervasive feelings of being less experienced and knowledgeable when compared to giants of the industry.
In 2019, if a developer with no experience or knowledge were to come to Wilson and tell him they were making an online game designed to compete with big companies like Blizzard, “he’d tell them to get a real job,” he said.
Eventually, the pair teamed up with artist and Creative Director Erik Olofsson, who had met Wilson on an online forum, to create Path of Exile‘s vision and direction. From 2006 to its eventual release in 2013, the team struggled, but they were motivated by a desire to fill a gap in the market.
This is how Jonathan believes they survived the harder times of development, and in a rough industry landscape. “We were in the right time, the right place and with the right product,” he explained. While their original timeframe and budgets were blown out in development, and Jonathan described the development period as “rough” and “very bad”, the group continued to work, motivated by their love for the ARPG genre, and their desire to see it grow.
Grinding Gear Games knows that their path to success was wildly unlikely, and made clear that they were far less professional, experienced and knowledgeable than their industry peers when they set out to create Path of Exile, but their game arrived at just the right time.
It’s a great little story, and one that just goes to show that sometimes, you can get by on sheer determination, and just a little bit of luck.
Full disclosure: This writer attended ExileCon as a guest of Grinding Gear Games.