Why Are Publishers Afraid Of Selling The Games Which Brought Them Success?
I used to be a massive fan of Eidos Montreal and IO Interactive. With Hitman: Blood Money being one of my favourite games of all time, the Thief series sitting fondly with me and being a fan of early Tomb Raider games I’ve devoted a lot of thought to the recent modernisations of these games, namely with Hitman: Absolution, Tomb Raider and the more recent Thief. While two of those games were actually pretty good, and made for good experiences, you’d be hard pressed not to find fault with them when comparing them to their predecessors. Yes, Square Enix has been the focus of my thought train in recent months, mostly because I’ve long given up all hope on Capcom ever doing anything right.
Of course the topic here today revolves around publishers in general, but I feel focusing on Square Enix may just best highlight the problem I’ve been having. It’s common knowledge that games such as Hitman: Absolution and Tomb Raider failed to reach absurd sales expectations despite actually being pretty good games. There’s more than enough debate surrounding maniac publishers who believe their previously successful game at two million units sold will suddenly jump to selling five million. Today I want to talk about something else, which is the nature of the games actually being developed.
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I want to open by asking one simple question. Which idiot declared that classics can no longer sell? Which supreme authority woke up one day and said that past successes just won’t work anymore? Perhaps it really is just as simple as blaming everything on publisher greed or the people in charge not actually being gamers, but businessman and marketers. But surely you have one soul with a brain who can look both to the past and present and see that things aren’t working? Surely Square Enix, after identifying the problems that lay before it after Hitman and Tomb Raider, couldn’t go on to make the exact same set of mistakes with the recent disappointment that was Thief?
Maybe they are just a bunch of fools in power. I understand the need for mondernisation. Really, I do. And I support it when it is needed. But sometimes, ‘modernising’ your projects equates to nothing more than ticking things off a damn checklist for publishers (boobs, cover shooting, cinematic action Uncharted-like set pieces, tacked-on multiplayer and so on) despite how many times it repeatedly fails, with reference to titles like Dead Space 3, Thief, Hitman: Absolution and more. And sometimes, modernisation is just not needed, because clearly fans are still demanding the classics they used to love. People like to say that “gamers don’t know what they want”, but for me things like Kickstarter and indie gaming often proves the exact opposite to be true. More so, those games that publishers like Square Enix say failed to meet sales expectations actually sold a great many units and would have been fantastic successes had their development, budget and expectations not been so insane.
You know, the games that actually brought publishers success in the first place.
If you don’t believe me, why not look at Nintendo? Time and time again they have proved that you can sell people what they love and they will eat it up. Whether you want to argue that Nintendo is always here with the same bag of tricks, sells you nostalgia or just can’t move away from their tried and tested IPs, the fact remains that Nintendo used to dominate one massive singular market for years because it delivered what gamers wanted. Even Kickstarter, the ginormous platform that basically sells people nostalgia half the time, continues to be a platform for success for so many indie developers.
Here’s one small example. Capcom basically killed off Mega Man, a beloved character with a big fan base. Despite fans pleading for his return in his own game or to at least just feature in titles like Marvel Vs Capcom, the publisher was too stubborn and foolish, and somehow came to the conclusion that Mega Man won’t make profits. What happened? The original Mega Man developer took to Kickstarter with a title called Mighty No. 9, seeking to bring the character back to life like the classic titles. The game initially asked for $900 000, which seemed like a huge figure. Except, it ended up making about $4 million by fans around the globe, making it one of the biggest crowd-sourced games ever, and led to it being spread to additional platforms including Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita, Wii U and Nintendo DS. Tell me how stupid you must feel, Capcom. I’d love to hear.
Leaving Capcom alone, who told Square Enix that Hitman: Blood Money, often declared to be the best game in the franchise, couldn’t work today? Why was there such a dire need to connect all the levels through some story nobody wanted? I thought Absolution was great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s clearly evident that modernisation didn’t do it justice in quite a few areas, like it’s level design and disguise system. It isn’t surprising that Square Enix has said the next Hitman game will go back to its roots and be inspired by Blood Money. Who told Square Enix that the original Thief trilogy wouldn’t sell in today’s world, and the series required a Hollywood modernisation? How much do you want to bet that if someone started a Kickstarter to bring the glory days of Thief back under a different name, it would be one hell of a successful fundraiser? Provided the project actually looked great and was in capable hands of course.
Ultimately, where I’m going with this is that I am baffled as to why publishers are so rigid and stubborn in believing that classics and the games that originally brought them success can’t sell today, despite vast evidence right in front of their faces which proves the contrary. I’m not sure what kind of market research they’re doing or who is advising them on all this, but perhaps it dose all just trace back to the fact that the people calling the shots are not actually passionate gamers, but marketers and suits. If they really loved and knew gaming, they’d see that what consumers want and buy into is staring them right in the face, and the key is making great games that people love rather than using some Hollywood checklist which doesn’t work to market games. In the end, why don’t publishers just sell the games which brought them success in the first place?