This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

There’s something wrong with the modern gaming landscape. Something just isn’t right. I don’t mean the hacking and the piracy and the arguments over the pre-owned market and online passes, either. There’s something bigger going on that people don’t really seem to notice.

Let me go back to the beginnings of this current bout of paranoia. The US sales figures for Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned were reported late last week. Both seem to have hugely under-performed. We hear stories like this all the time. Creative, imaginative games that are a bit different fail to inspire the market while iterative yearly sports franchises and incremental FPS developments storm the sales charts.

[drop]Hey, don’t misunderstand me. I like FIFA, Madden and Call of Duty as much as anyone so please don’t think this is an attack on them. They deserve to make their sales. But something about these two cases, specifically, bothers me and I think I’m only just starting to realise what it is.

Child of Eden is as much a sequel to Rez as we’re ever going to get. In all but name it is an evolution of that much loved psychedelic rails shooter. Rez is a game with a hugely vocal band of supporters who have been noisily clamouring for a sequel since shortly after it was released. They got their sequel and nobody bought it.

Shadows of the Damned isn’t a perfect game. There is a certain clumsiness in the controls and it is somewhat overstated in its general approach. But there seems to be an ever-present background noise from people moaning about games getting too serious and losing the fun. Everything from Grand Theft Auto to the Resident Evil series has been accused of forgetting the kitsch sense of style that made them massively enjoyable. Shadows of the Damned has that feel in spades. And it’s got a pistol called Boner. What more do you want?

So, why? Why did these two games, which should surely have been popular, stumble to an uninspiring sales record?

Summer is an odd time of year in the modern video game release schedule. Publishers still want their games to come out just before Christmas so they pull in the maximum gift spend possible. We now seem to have a second release spike in late February and March, doubtless to get titles that slip their intended pre-Christmas release date out before the end of the financial year. Even June, the end of another quarter, was fairly brisk for game releases this year. But July and August are very quiet. Was the apparent failure of two very decent games simply a matter of timing? Is the summer still really that quiet for video game sales?

Similarly, marketing budgets seem to be spent on safe titles. There seems no doubt that publishers have worked out that pumping advertising millions into games that are sequels in huge franchises yields a large enough boost in sales and public perception that it’s worth more money than betting on slightly less well-known titles. I haven’t seen much advertising for either Shadows of the Damned or Child of Eden amongst the pre-order banners for Modern Warfare 3 and the billboards for Battlefield 3.

[drop2]Perhaps it’s something slightly less simple though. Perhaps the problem isn’t with executives or marketing managers. Perhaps the problem is with us, the consumer. I mentioned earlier that both games seemed to fit in with an idea that I heard a lot of demand for. Either the sequel to a popular game of yesteryear or a return to the off-the-wall wackiness that we remember from the previous generation. Perhaps the problem is that the people asking for those games to be made simply don’t buy them.

Perhaps the noise being made is just a very vocal minority which gives the impression of being a driving market force but is really powerless when measured against the people who only buy the year’s Call of Duty, FIFA or Madden game. They’re even more powerless when measured against the people who only buy gift cards for Facebook credits or iTunes downloads. The people who used to fund the development and marketing of our games are now funding the development of games for someone else entirely. There must be a reason for that.

I blame the internet. We’re a separate little ecosystem online and we forget far too easily, that we’re only a small proportion of what ends up filling the profit columns on the publisher’s spreadsheets. We think we’re vastly more important than we truly are. We’re the core, after all. They have to cater for us, right?

The truth is, the average 7-year-old with his Penguin Club cards and his 12-year-old sister with her Facebook credit are probably spending more per month on games than you are. And neither of them want to play Shadows of the Damned or Child of Eden, more’s the pity.

52 Comments

  1. Good article. Thanks god for PSN and XBLA games!

  2. The truth is here, zero advertising means that people won’t even have heard of the game, therefore won’t buy it. Just like any other consumer product, a good marketing campaign is needed to make it successful. There wasn’t much “hype” on these games either, therefore, why would the masses buy it? I think the majority of people will have reservations buying an unknown game that you’ve never heard of but seen on a shop shelf with a £30-£40 price tag.

    • (That’s not to say that there are some people, mainly gamers like us, who will buy games on a whim that look different, because people that care about gaming will want to experience something new. Unfortunately, this isn’t the mass market, and this will be reflected in the charts, this happens in all media, whether it is music or film, the stuff with the biggest advertising campaign is usually what ends up at the top).

    • I agree, I think advertising plays a big part in that. New games can be successful, look at LA Noire, but if the general public don’t have it pushed in their face then they won’t buy it. The lack of advertising on some of these games is shocking, you wouldn’t put a film out quietly with a few articles in a film mag and expect it to become a summer blockbuster.

  3. Singularity is one of those games which fell to this sorry fate.

    Great game.

    • Agreed – I lump Shadows of the Damned in with that too, as i had seen absolutely no advertising for that game (in fact, i am still not sure i have seen any) & the first i heard of it was when i read the review here.

      Shame, as it sounds like something right up my street too.

    • I think the reason of myself skipping that is… oh god its another FPS… and it was quite mixed.

      • That’s exactly the trouble – A good advertising campaign would have let you know that it is NOT just another FPS & is in fact worthy of your time.

        Same goes for SotD as well i guess – Most people probably look at it & think “oh god, another TPS”!

      • Well it’s definitely not generic as Suda 51 is involved? :)

  4. There is one thing both of the games you have mentioned have in common: both are only a few hours long.

    Shadows of the Damned is probably one of the most fun games I’ve played this year, but after handing over £40 for it only to then see the ending credits 5 hours later, I knew that I should have rented.
    People mainly buy FIFA and COD for their online components, which essentially equal infinite replay value and huge value for money (well until the following year when the new sequels come out anywho).

    If I were rich, I would gladly support other under-performing games like SotD, but the sad truth is that I can only stretch my paypacket so far, meaning the games I buy have to give me a decent amount of playtime to make them worthwhile.

    • I agree. I think the reason games like these fail is the price point. I live in the US and at $60 a pop, I choose my purchases carefully. The most recent game I have bought was the new Earth Defense Force game. Three things made me buy that game: good reviews for the previous entry, couch co-op, and a $40 price tag.
      I think new, niche IPs should try to bring in production costs enough to hit a better price point. Even if you can’t sell it for $40, try to release it at $50. In both the American and European economy, everyone has to watch every dollar they spend. Sometimes, the sure franchise is the safest bet. If your the new franchise in a niche market, price accordingly. Or scale the whole thing back and release it through PSN.

  5. It’s purely down to poor marketing. I’d never heard of either of these games until this article. To show that even the mass market will buy something totally different look at games like LBP. So I don’t think the points in this article are as valid as they first appear.

  6. Too many games, not enough money.

    • I agree, THAT’s the problem. Between 29 August 2011 – 11 September 2011 – there are £200 worth of PS3 games released including Dead Island And Resistance 3 and that’s just the start of this years Christmas run.

      I bet Chidlren of Eden Ps3 does far better at a budget price – I’ve pre-ordered a copy just because its £15.

      • 24 October 2011 – 06 November 2011 – Battlefiled 3, Uncharted 3, SIlent Hill HD, House Of The Dead, LOTR, DragonballZ, Combatwings
        7-20th November – MW3, AC:Revelations, Saints Row 3, Metal Gear HD, Skyrim, NFS:The Run, Rayman

        £550 quid if you bought the lot. Stupid.

      • Thing is, fella, with CoE being at a comparable price to the likes of Resistance, Uncharted, etc, whether you have £40 or £400, it’s hard to justify when you look at what’s out there offering value for money and then some.

        CoE really needs to be in the impulse-buy banding and at £32 on the Xbox, it most certainly isn’t for this sort of game.

        However, look how you snapped it up with Play (and the PS3) for fifteen sheets.

      • Right so…er you’re basically agreing with me that games are way to expensive?

      • My exact feelings Tuffcub. I know that this Winter, my wallet is getting massacred. I appreciate all the great games getting released, but at $60 (here in the US), I just can’t support every franchise like I want.

    • Too many games, not enough time.

      (For me, anyway. I appreciate other people have other constraints.)

      • exactly the issue for me too

      • Same for me. I have to choose the games I play very carefully, because I don’t play that much. Therefore, I don’t take risks with decent games – I only play critically-acclaimed games that I know I’ll enjoy (apart from the odd PSN title).

      • Same here. I wish a day had 30 hours…

  7. Peter – random question. ‘Archer’ fan? Great article title. :-)

    Regarding Child of Eden, I seem to be in the most insane minority with my reasoning. It’s a small game. It’s a short game. A beautiful game but a short, VERY short game. It looks to be light and frothy with fun and with the short play time people can’t possibly think it’s worth £32 with the likes of Play.com. This is Play for god’s sake. The really well known retailers will be a few more pounds on top of that too. Cheese and crackers, that’s a lot of money for such a title. It should be Flower priced. Limbo priced. I simply cannot justify its cost when Limbo comes out (yesterday) for a wonderful £9.99 (let alone PS+ discount).

    I don’t quite know what they’re up to with the pricing but Play have Child of Eden down for £15 (when the PS3 version releases) so are the publishers taking notice? HMV tells me not. They’ve got it listed for £40!!!!

    Honestly, pure madness and they need to learn a lesson from this. Truly massive games like Skyrim, Oblivion, etc, CAN charge more. I’d be happy paying up to £45 (on a personal level) for a title like that. However, charge me something similar for the likes of CoE, Limbo, etc, and I will laugh in their face whilst simultaneously showering them in whatever beverage I’m supping.

    This mini-rant takes absolutely nothing else into account but it has to be one of the most serious contributing factors to CoE’s lacklustre sales.

    ANNNND relax. Exorcism performed. I am once again at peace. :-)

    • Spot on. If a game is short it should be a lot cheaper, no question. As it stands, you can currently buy Oblivion GotY, Fallout 3 GotY, New Vegas and Dragon Age Origins Complete Edition for the same price it costs to buy Child of Eden from HMV…. :|

      • We justify so much but CoE doesn’t make sense when there’s so much else out there. Don’t get me wrong, the hankering for it is pretty serious but it simply won’t overpower the desire to have money for Skyrim, Resistance, Uncharted, SOTC & ICO, etc.

    • DAAAANGER ZONE!

      • *finds new levels of respect* ;-)

        Ha! TSA just told me “You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” Not my fault. You speed up!

      • Yeeeeeeerrrrp.

    • Never heard of Archer, mate…
      The time vs money argument is a new thing. Games have always been £35-£45, at least since I’ve been buying them myself (mid-90s) and they’re not getting shorter. Sonic the Hedgehog was only 4 hours long. Metal Gear Solid 2 cost me £45 on release day and was only 6 hours long. We’ve always had short games and longer games (usually RPGs) but it’s only in recent years that I’ve heard people say they won’t pay full price for a game shorter than 10 hours (that seems to be the rough cut-off point).
      Multiplayer is a consideration but only as an additional extra. I don’t buy a game for its multiplayer, ever. Well, Warhawk, but that’s the only time. So is CoD worth more than Shadows of the Damned to me or the thousands (millions?) like me? When did one game mode become the thing we’re paying for?
      I think that digital distribution has a lot to answer for, really. Child of Eden, for example, would have been a perfectly acceptable £40 PS2 game but when it releases this generation, people expect it to be £10 and downloadable. We’ve been spoiled and now we feel a sense of entitlement. And then we whine, wring our hands and blame executives when studios go out of business.

      • I’ll turn this on its head, fella. There have been games that have been churned out like there’s no tomorrow and last generation they could get away with it. These titles were cheap to make and really not much to the game itself. What we’re now seeing are massive costs for the likes of Read Dead Redemption, and we’re comparing more than ever.

        Wipeout is wonderful. Even more wonderful to know that it’s a PSN title that had an RRP of less than twenty pound. The PSN store itself has taught us that we can have Limbo for a tenner. Flower for whatever it came out at. The list goes on. Child of Eden is priced with the last gen in mind and has failed because of it (along with other reasons and I appreciate “fail” is too strong a word).

        I know it’s unique and will be a slow burner but during the quiet Summer months they should’ve cashed in hard when people are gasping for something new/fresh. The game-style in CoE holds it own without comparison, sadly, the same can’t be said for the price.

        For the record, and on a personal note, I don’t feel I have any sense of entitlement with prices. I truly want to see games from £1 to *thinks* £70 (maybe). It comes down to what we buy. Hell, WoW subscribers are paying $150 or so per annum which makes perfect sense when you look at how much they hammer it and what they get for their money.

      • But colossal, the issue is there are many many more good quality games coming out now, way more than ever before. People can’t afford to buy 3 games a month, not in this financial climate. So maybe they’ll buy one or two, and people want value for money. It’s not about games getting shorter, or more expensive, but the age of austerity we find ourselves in.

      • Very salient point about last-gen-thinking.

        The truth is, it’s probably a complex combination of just about everything we’ve mentioned. We’ve got to be careful though, all of us, not just consumers and not just developers or publishers. The market is slipping away from us and towards casual, browser-based games that I personally – and very few people I know – have zero interest in.

        I’d hate to see the day when our choices are either the huge $200 million franchises or social networked farm building simulations that charge me 99p for a pack of carrot seeds (is that how it works?!) with no middle ground and nothing new for us because as a market, we dwindled.

        Whatever the reason for the current difficulties faced at retail (and there are unequivocal problems at retail just now – we just had the lowest ever high street sales), whether it’s failure to move with new distribution models and pricing structures or it’s consumer unwillingness to put their money where their mouths are, I’d like to see it turn around.

      • Couldn’t agree more. We’re seeing the largest change the gaming industry has ever seen. The potential end to physical media let alone the internet crushing High Street prices as well as generations of people who aren’t so internet-savvy becoming ever-more aware of the lovely trappings that comes with the likes of Amazon and Play.

        For me, video game stores in the High Street can only survive (properly) with incredible service and building the rapport that the likes of Play simply cannot compete with.

      • I must be really shit at games. Sonic is 4 hours long? MGS2 is SIX?!

        I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to complete MGS2 but it was definitely more than 10 hours. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was twice that.

        Do you play all your games on Easy or something?
        :)

      • Sonic can actually be done in less than 2, I think. I just remember timing myself when I did it once and it took just over 4. I’m not certain about the MGS2 timing but I seem to remember running through it in a day. Although I also did it about a dozen times…
        And yes, /now/ I do play most of my games on easy… my blood pressure is high enough, thanks ;)

  8. Way too many games are about, and alot of them are very average, because they have been coming out for years. So people don’t buy them. They want the best games, so in this current climate they are saving their money for something they really want, which at the moment are the bigger games. THe price for these smaller games needs to be less too, they aren’t big hitters and need to realise that, so price so its affordable. If it makes a profit, great, but you have to expect not to make huge profits on a game that hasn’t been released before.

    I don’t buy smaller/funkier games at the moment, why? Because of financial reasons and the fact I’m older and have less time to play games. Maybe thats the reason, the generation of gamers is getting older and they want different type of games to play.

  9. Child of Eden seems like the perfect download only game with a budget price but it came as a full priced game, which is probably what scare many people.
    Shadows of the Damned on the other hand… You are saying it is a game full of humor, but in the trailers I felt like they were trying too hard and didn’t quite achieve what they wanted. There was nothing in the trailer that made me want to play that game.

  10. One very common trend at the moment though is to instantly pronounce a game a commercial failure whe it fails to reach top 10 sales charts. This is a little ignorant, and the industry as a whole seems to accept this failure. But how relevsnt is it really. If profit is made, profit is made. If a game makes a loss, then the inevitable is likely and the developer, publisher or whoever is bleeding the most money goes tits up.

    But there is a middle ground. And those games that everyone loves but fail to make the charts can generally safely inhabit this middle ground.

    Charts have for too long simultaneously kept track of and dictated purchase trends. I doubt many readers here have bought a game purely on the basis of its chart position, in the same way i imagine you haven’t bought a music album purely on the basis of its chart position. But, the vast majority of consumers do, and the marketing has done its job.

    Marketing is not about getiting a critical success the commercial recognition it deserves, marketing is about taking a safe product and pitching it to the people you know will already buy it, so it gets to numbers one to ten in the chart so that the other sheep can easily make a purchase.

    This doesn’t mean anything out of the charts has failed, look at team ico’s output. Amazing, but commercial failures if you look at chart position alone. In fact most of sony’s first party work has commercially “failed”. But it hasn’t.

    Rez will have sold well over the years but i expect it would have failed to chart well even on release, never mind in the current climate of AAA release or bust…

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