We all know that developers from around the world work extremely hard to create the wonderful worlds that we as gamers can immerse ourselves in at every opportunity that we get. It’s a fact that I’ve tipped my hat to previously. Obviously it’s a major commitment for a publisher to choose to invest in a gaming title which is often crafted by a development team for years. Even though we can’t begin to understand the kind of research that goes into deciding to financially back a title and its developer, we can only imagine that it’s a decision that’s not taken lightly at all.
And so once the development cycle has taken its course and the final product is about to hit shelves globally, obviously whether gamers are going to actually spend their cash and purchase the title becomes a very serious topic indeed. Forecasts and predictions aside, it’s only now when the investor will begin to see if their investment has paid off…once the money starts flowing and they begin to see a return on the years’ worth of funding they paid out to support the development team and promotion of the title.
As far as I can tell this must be a very tricky business indeed, because I’ve seen so many games just not making the sale numbers necessary to call the project a success. Some titles fail to break even, others performances are disappointing, and yet others are outright failures. It’s difficult to know the reasons behind these results, in my years in the industry I’ve seen major advertising campaigns do nothing to increase the games’ sales, I’ve seen other incredible titles fail despite having a faithful following, and most disturbingly other titles reaching success year-on-year in spite of criticisms of lack of innovation.
It’s a fine line to walk between success and failure, and we’ve seen the sad consequences that incorrect predictions can have on a publisher. During the past few years we’ve seen development teams being made smaller, entire development teams being laid off, and publishers being forced to file for bankruptcy. The videogame industry is a multimillion dollar industry, an industry that lives, breathes and operates within an arguably tight community, but if you happen to be sitting on the wrong side of the table when a title doesn’t perform as expected it will chew you up and spit you out in a heartbeat.
Keeping all of this in mind it’s easy to see just how much influence a gamer has, and exactly what sort of impact a gamer can have based on their wallet. But is it justified that a developer or publisher pander to gamers’ demands based on this?
Over the course of the past year I’ve seen publishers and developers buckling to the pressure of the gaming community. And even though I can’t help but to have been a little impressed that they have actually listened to the proverbial ‘folks on the ground,’ I’m been infinitely more disturbed that they have done so in a way that has made gamers look a little pushy and ‘The Man’ simply allowing them to be so.
Has the cash in the gamers’ wallets become so important that they’ll do anything to keep us happy? It’s a frightening trend that seems to be on the increase in the industry, and I’ll show you a couple of examples that have made me consider this topic an important one to discuss.
The Mass Effect 3 debacle in April last year is an excellent place to start. The third instalment in this popular series was released in March and it didn’t take long for fans to demonstrate their outrage that the game’s ending did not live up to their expectations. BioWare’s reaction? Simply release a downloadable content pack to provide clarity to the ending using additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes. While certainly heroic of the development team to attempt to quell the fans’ disappointment, I couldn’t help but wondering how this whole saga made them feel that they now had to explain what they intended to show players the first time around by expanding on themes and references.
I understand that the Mass Effect franchise is close to many gamers’ hearts, but a petition and threats to sue…seriously?
Most recently the influence that gamers have on publishers has been brought into the spotlight yet again with this week’s announcement of the Dead Island: Riptide Zombie Bait Edition. The Collector’s Edition was announced for Europe and Australia, and included a resin statue of a zombie torso, described as Dead Island’s “grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture.” Initially Dead Silver commented “We wanted to provide a unique collector’s edition that was utterly Dead Island and would make a striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel.”
Yet within a few hours the gaming community was showing outrage over the statue and it didn’t take long for Deep Silver to release a press release apologising for the “gruesome” statue in the Collector’s Edition. Some have called the statue, which shows the torso of a bikini-clad zombie infected, as being over sexualised. I wonder if you also protested about Lara Croft?
The publisher went on to say that they regretted this choice, were deeply sorry about it and are committed to making sure this never happens again. This is for real. A publisher of a violent mature rated videogame that involves killing zombies is apologising for putting a statue of a zombie torso in the Collector’s Edition. Whatever happened to freedom of choice? And I can’t help but to wonder if it had been a male torso would the situation have unfolded any differently? Of course the Collector’s Edition for North America, aptly dubbed the Rigor Mortis Edition, which includes a zombie hula girl bobble figurine, a bloody zombie arm bottle opener magnet and a bungalow key with a branded wood keychain is not controversial at all. Go figure.
The controversy continued when Irrational Games revealed the box art for the upcoming Bioshock Infinite. Almost immediately gamers were up in arms about the design, with harsh descriptive words like ‘bland’ and ‘generic’ ringing out. The game’s creative director Ken Levine commented that they had expected the fan’s disappointed response, but tried to explain how the studio was aiming to spread awareness of the game among non-gamers, to entice the uninformed buyer, and to help ensure the game’s financial success.
Levine went on to say that Irrational Games needed to be successful to make the kind of games they do, and said that “the cover is a small price for the hardcore gamer to pay.” It seemed as if he was taking a hard line to these objections, but then the unthinkable happened…he revealed that they would be releasing a reversible cover as well as alternate covers.
So even though they had taken a stance and chosen to stand firm against the negative outcry from gamers, they did give in a little by creating a reversible cover for the game. Fans could actually vote from one of six alternatives to choose the reversible option, and don’t forget those other alternate covers that you’ll be able to download and print too.
The box art story goes even deeper with news that Naughty Dog was asked to push Ellie, the main female character in The Last of Us, to the back cover of the game’s box. The game’s creative director Neil Druckmann believes that there is a misconception that games will sell less if a girl or woman is on the cover. Last time I checked this was the 21st century, right?
I’m happy to report that Naughty Dog flat-out refused, and as a result Ellie is on the front cover together with the lead male character Joel. This illustrates that even developers are pressured to portray their game in a certain way, and is also a commentary on the fact that so many people still believe the videogame industry is male-orientated even when the split between male and female gamers has become much more even.
Many developers and publishers have chosen to buckle to pressure from the gaming community, but there have been a few who have not. Take Ninja Theory and Capcom for example. When Devil May Cry was first revealed and the industry got its first glimpse at new younger looking black-haired Dante there was uproar from many corners of the world. It was so serious that members of the development team actually received death threats (!). Ninja Theory took serious criticism for the new direction the series was going in, even though DmC had been called a re-imagining from the beginning and Ninja Theory had been tasked by Capcom to breathe fresh new life into the franchise. None of this seemed to matter, however, as the threatening behaviour of the fans continued despite many hands-on previews being very positive from early on.
Yet to my mind something extraordinary happened, Capcom never swayed from their decision to place Ninja Theory in charge of development duties, and they continued to support their development team 100%. Ninja Theory did not sway from their decision to create a different looking Dante, and continued to reassure fans that DmC would remain true to the Devil May Cry experience. DmC was just released this past Tuesday, and even though the naysayers remain united in their dislike of Dante’s new hair colour, gamers the world over are enjoying some of the best demon-slaying action ever created in the Devil May Cry universe while the game continues to gather excellent review scores. Even though I salute Ninja Theory and Capcom for sticking to their guns, sometimes we know that choosing the high ground does not always pay off and only time will tell if the sales numbers justify their decisions.
It’s good to see that developers are listening to us gamers and taking our thoughts into account. But do you believe this gives us the right to demand new game endings, new box art and even a new hair colour? What are your thoughts on the matter – do you think that developers should give in so easily to the pressure of the gaming community? I can’t help but think that the power of social media has perhaps gone a little too far this time around.