Thursday, 21 June 2012

Do games have to please everyone to be successful?

"In general we’re thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them."

The above is a quote from EA Labels President Frank Gibeau. He is talking about the next instalment in the Dead Space series, Dead Space 3 and the quote is in answer to the response that the game received from the gaming world during and after E3. At E3 Electronic Arts focussed very heavily on the action side of the game with new features such as unified ammo, an emphasis on action with the introduction of a cover system and two player co-op very much to the fore. There was less shown of the horror side of the game, something that fans associate with the Dead Space series. Consequently fans got a bit upset and questioned whether Dead Space 3 was heading in a direction they didn’t want the series to take. The cover system in particular had people claiming that the game was going to be action focused and that the horror elements were going to take a back seat.

Visceral Games, developers of the game, have quickly moved to quash any fears series fans might have by saying that the original horror element is still present. Senior producer on the game, Dave Altman, told Eurogamer,

"A traditional fan wants to have that alone in the dark on the couch moment. That game's there for you...Tight corridors, atmosphere, tension, horror, everything you've come to know and expect. No AI followers, not anyone chatting in your ear the whole time. It's the game that you know when you see Dead Space."

We won’t know if this is really the case; or whether Visceral are trying to keep fans onside, until the game is released in February 2013. But whoever is right, it is the comments by Gibeau that highlight a problem that I see developing in the game industry, and it’s something EA are becoming more and more guilty of.

It seems that EA and others think that all you need to do in order to make a good game sell better is to bung in a load of features - such as multiplayer and if it is a third person game a cover system - that apparently appeal to a broader audience. Do this and you are guaranteed to instantly boost sales. However, I question the wisdom of spending more money on a game series in order to try and open it up to a wider audience in the hope that it achieves more sales. I just feel that this doesn’t achieve anything.

I have no problem with developers and publishers making games that specifically try to appeal to the broadest market possible. After all they need to make money and just look how successful Call of Duty has been by following this strategy. However, I fail to see the sense in trying to take an existing series that is well liked and has a large, if not huge following, and trying to turn it into a mass market game; all the while trying to keep the series fans on board. I just don’t think it works and EA more than anyone should know this. They tried to do this with Dragon Age 2 and ended up with an inferior product that didn’t attract many new players and seriously alienated those who liked the original. Dragon Age 2 sold around 150,000 units in its first ten weeks which compares with the 250,000 units sold by the original game, Dragon Age: Origins. In total DA2 sold around 1.45m units while DA:O sold over double that at 3.79m. These figures demonstrate that all EA succeeded in doing by making the game more appealing to the mass market was to seriously impact sales, probably by driving away series fans with the precise changes that were meant to result in more sales. Now they look like making the same mistake with Dead Space 3.

Certain companies seem to have it ass-backwards when it comes to making games. They want to hit the magic sales mark, in the case of Dead Space 3 five million, because of the cost of making the game, but the game has only become more expensive because you want to appeal to more people, so you have to put extra resources into it in the hope of broadening the audience. The game then fails to hit the necessary sales mark because the publisher/developer changed the game so much that they ended up not pleasing anyone. 

Just introducing certain features like co-op or multiplayer into a game in order to make it appeal to a wider audience isn’t going to work. It’s not ‘back of the box’ features that sell games, but the quality of the product in the box. The reason why the Call of Duty series is so successful is because Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was an excellent game and the series built off that. Make an excellent game, market it correctly and the sales will come. Trying to take a pretty successful franchise and boost it into the top-tier sales wise by messing with the formula and alienating the fans doesn’t work. The fans lose out because the game changes and becomes something they no longer want to play, the publisher loses out because sales aren’t high enough and they either don’t make enough money or no money at all, and the developer loses out as they end up being closed down because the game didn’t sell enough.

I hope Dead Space 3 turns out well and doesn’t end up alienating fans - whilst failing to find that broader audience it strives for - as no one wants to see a good game fail, but if publishers continue to mess around with popular franchises in this way, then we are all on a 'hiding to nothing.' 

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