O.K. so I might be exaggerating a might, but Fumito Ueda, Team Ico’s director said that the low sales of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus was because the games weren’t good enough; specifically, he said the games didn’t have enough appeal. (source: Edge)
It is always refreshing to hear some up front and honest statements instead of PR drivel, but it acknowledges a major aspect of the video games business that is often overlooked, it is an entertainment business, and it’s success is based on how well it entertains. If a game fails to entertain, it is because the developer failed to entertain the gamer; it is not the fault of the gamer to be entertained by the game.
Why might a game fail? There are lots of reasons, but they don’t excuse the game’s failure.
- A lack of advertising, so gamers don’t even know the game exists, and therefore don’t know to buy it. This is a failure of the publisher to reach out to find an audience.
- Competition from other games. Gamers have only so much time and money, and they’re looking for the biggest entertainment bang for their buck; therefore it is the failure of the developers for not offering the best entertainment value.
- The game is low quality. Such a game can sell and be a financial success, but it is a short term success if the game isn’t entertaining; if a sequel appears, people who played and were turned off by the original won’t come back, and the sequel will fail on all counts.
- The game is niche. The game is good, but due to different people’s taste in entertainment, only some people will enjoy it; this is the developer failing to understanding its audience, or deliberately targeting a niche audience.
That last one is where Ico and Colossus fit, they were considered good games based on reviews, and fans herald them as amazing experiences, so it’s hard to call them failures; but if most people shrug it off as “not their thing”, or as pretentious artsy-fartsy crap, and are therefore not being entertained by it, then is it really a success?
Some developers try to blame the gamers by saying they just don’t understand their artistic vision or some such thing, that is bull, gamers know what they want and what they like; it’s not that they don’t understand, it’s that they just don’t want what you’re offering.
If you want your game to sell in huge numbers, then you have to make the games that reach as big an audience as possible; many games will never reach those lofty heights, no matter how good you make the game, because it matches a set of tastes that is uncommon to the masses. If developers insist on making these games, they have to accept the limited appeal that they have, and treat them as the niches they really are; they can’t go around blaming the audience for not buying them, because the audience simply isn’t there.
Team Ico’s next game, The Last Gaurdian is due later this year, and Ueda is promising that it will have greater appeal than Ico or Colossus; time will tell if they can create a game that can breakout into the mainstream, or if they are aiming for a slightly bigger niche.