So Sick of Your Excuses

 excuses

It’s not uncommon for folks in the video games industry to say incredibly stupid things- the kinds of things that point out how clueless, in denial, and utterly corporate the business has become. Two recent items caught my eye and ire. One is a statement made by a Capcom executive during a 3Q shareholder call. The question was point blank- why did Resident Evil 6 miss its sale mark of 6 million copies sold, landing somewhere around 4.8 million? The response was typical corporate bullshit, saying absolutely nothing in a way that sounds important. There’s talk about analyzing causes, validation that 4.8 million sales indicates a popular title, and a bunch of unmitigated corporate  bullshit about how marketing and “internal operating frameworks” need to be examined to determine shortcomings (you can make your own “jackin’ off” gesture at home). The other is a comment made by Puzzle Clubhouse CEO Jesse Schell  (who?)  at last week’s DICE conference about how releasing a demo harms game sales, potentially halving them. He went on to explain that the best way to sell games is to release a trailer and provide the consumer with no possible way to try it before you buy it. Love you too, buddy.

Both of these statements put me in mind of the kinds of post-sales failure finger-pointing and “dog ate my homework” excuses that we’ve seen too often in this video games generation- like poor old Warren Spector claiming that Epic Mickey failed because they used a adventure game camera instead of a platform game camera. Or the tired “gamers didn’t get it” response.  For all of the money in the video games business, it’s just incredible that none of these analysts, developers, executives, or stakeholders has bothered to own up to what the truth about these games failing actually could be. Nobody wants to state the obvious and take responsibility for all of these millions of dollars in development and promotion squandered. So many excuses, but nobody talking straight.

It could be that your game just fucking sucked.

Or that nobody wanted to buy it for any number of reasons ranging from market saturation to the $60 price point. Or maybe people DON’T want a Resident Evil game that moves further and further away from the core values of the franchise in ten different directions. Maybe the demo showed potential buyers that the game was just BAD to begin with.

And maybe- just maybe, guys- gaming consumers aren’t Pavlovian idiots responding to your marketing. Maybe- just maybe- consumers should be respected instead of treated as marks for day one DLC scams, unasked for multiplayer, and used game lock-out tactics like online passes. Could it be that maybe people are starting to NOT want the shit you’re selling? Could it be that with more choices available, the guys that treat their customers like mindless trash are the ones seeing losses, failures, and missed expectations?

Hearing these kinds of excuses just points out how the desperate this industry is becoming and how far removed from reality the people in positions of power in it really are. It shows- yet again- that video games and corporations don’t always mix so well.  And it shows yet again the latent contempt these companies have for us. This Jesse Schell character wants to tell the business to NOT let us see their game before we buy. He wants us to make a blind $60 purchase based on a trailer. A trailer. I hope no one listens to this clown, who has no business being CEO of anything.

It blows my mind that people with business degrees, corner offices, decades of experience, and other attractive resume elements can’t see something that I and a lot of you have had figured out for as long as we’ve been spending money on any kind of consumer good. There is no analysis needed, no one needs to be paid a dime for the kinds of simple business wisdom the video games industry has forgotten.

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

Let me repeat that. Consider this a free course in running a business. I don’t think they teach this in MBA school. Memorize it. Jesse Schell- you need to hear this.

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

Really, it is that simple. If you’re making huckleberry pies or satellite guidance systems, all of the marketing and hufflepuff in the world doesn’t make a lick of difference if you’re treating people badly and delivering sub-par product that no one wants to buy. Yeah, you need to get the word out.  But people do not buy things just because of an advertisement- regardless of what the folks in marketing trying to hold onto their jobs will tell you.

I never saw endless streams of trailers, previews, preorder bonuses, transmedia, or an E3 presentation for Minecraft. It seems to be doing pretty well. I wonder if Mojang blames “internal processes and administration” or the availability of a demo for his game selling 20 million copies instead of 21 million.

More and more, I regret ever giving most of these companies and developers my money. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that for too many in the industry that the business/customer relationship is an adversarial one. There are good people in this business, good businesses. Let’s run these corporate jackasses and their excuses for failure out of town and get the good guys back in control. Folks that understand the Barnes Maxim-

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

No excuses.

43 Responses to “So Sick of Your Excuses”

  1. Brandon February 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Yeah, that whole argument that people bought the game because they saw a slamming trailer and just had to play the game is ridiculous. Maybe people have a lot more disposable income than I do, but I have never seen a trailer and then bought a game off of it for anything but a 99 cents iOS game.

    What I’d love to see is how many of those people who purchased from a trailer alone finished the game, compared to the average completion rate. How many were satisfied with their game purchase? Then, compare those numbers to the people who bought games that were preceded by a demo and/or a trailer. Seems to me, that if you buy a game based off of first hand experience, you have a better chance of enjoying it and finishing it.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      Getting into some very hazy, probably unmeasurable metrics there…and it’s already pretty clear that these people aren’t really concerned about “satisfaction” unless it translates into “map pack purchases”…which may not be indicative of satisfaction in the first place.

      I stopped watching trailers years ago because I just do not care. I’m sure I’m not alone.

      The demo thing just blows my mind. I don’t know how many times, when I was a kid, that I played a game at an Atari 2600 kiosk or a Nintendo one and HAD to have either the game or the console. Because I got to see if I liked it. I’ve bought MANY games over the years BECAUSE of demos. And yes, I’ve NOT bought games because of the demos as well. but usually they’re games I was only marginally interested in to begin with.

      It’s another simple piece of business logic that this idiot was never taught. If you take the watch out of the case and hand it to the customer, you’re halfway to a sale.

      • Runed February 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

        Maybe this isn’t helping your point, maybe it is, but I would never have bought X-COM if not for the demo.

        That being said, I haven’t *technically bought* the game yet. I’m waiting for a Steam Sale. HOWEVER my acceptable price point is significantly higher than it would have been otherwise. If I hadn’t played the demo, I probably wouldn’t pick it up till it hit $7.50. Having played it and knowing I’ll like-but-not-love it, I’d pick it up at $20 and at $25 even if I’d had a couple beers.

        I don’t know how the revenue gets split when a game goes on sale on Steam, but even if it’s 80/20 Steam’s side, 20% of $20 is an awful lot more than 20% of $7.50.

        • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

          Yeah, but Steam is about VOLUME. You get 20,000 people to buy that $7.50 game that may be past its retail life cycle and making $0, and suddenly Steam sales make sense financially.

  2. zeowyrm February 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Stardock comes to mind here. They put out an awful game(Elemental: War of Magic). They tried to fix it with patches, but publicly apologized for it. Once it became clear to them that no amount of patching could make it the game it should have been, they went back to the drawing board, made Fallen Enchantress, and gave it, for free, to all the early adopters of Elemental. I’m still mildly bitter about them selling Impulse to Gamestop and rendering it an unacceptable place for me to spend my money, but that doesn’t change the fact that the whole Elemental fiasco was handled well.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Yes, that is a great example of owning up to your mistakes and correcting. Not just saying “hey, this game didn’t meet our standards”, but also giving each and every customer that gave you money something in return for your blunder.

      There’s a couple of things here though. One is that a company like EA or Activision could NEVER do something like that. Their scope of business is so much larger. Another is that Stardock is a company, as a whole, that is much closer to their product than anyone in the AAA houses are. There’s executives in the upper echelons of EA and Activision for whom games are nothing more than entries on a spreadsheet and maybe some screenshots on a quarterly powerpoint presentation.

      I saw a comment on IGN of all places that I thought was quite insightful. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, video games and consoles were made by toy companies and companies that did nothing more than make video games. Atari, Nintendo, Coleco, Sega, Mattel. In the 1990s and 2000s, giant electronics corporations got on board, and had ENTIRELY different ways of doing business, marketing, and projecting sales. We are seeing now how that may have been a disaster in the making.

      • zeowyrm February 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

        I actually hadn’t given that much thought, but yeah, it makes sense. But that’s probably why I’m always extremely apprehensive buying a game from a EA or Activision overall, and I abhor Ubisoft’s business practices to the degree that I, personally, never buy their games. I make my wife purchase the Just Dance games, but since it’s her and the kids that play, I can still manage my guilt from having their games in my house.

        It doesn’t hurt that every time I give in and buy a brand new game at full price from one of these giants that I end up regretting it. Take Simcity. I’ve got the pre-order site practically bookmarked, and I’m sure it’ll be a fun game, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger for 60 bucks without a demo. And no, a beta weekend doesn’t count as a demo in my opinion.

  3. Mark E February 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    You actually mean Warren Spector ;).

    I guess you’re not on the Global Frequency or some equally meme-ish CSI bullshit ;).

    YEEEEEAH

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      Jesus effin’…well, at least I didn’t try to say that Jack Kirby did Epic Mickey. Thanks for spotting that.

  4. ilta February 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    I think that your Barnes Maxim is flawed. It’s perfectly possible to make a good game and treat your customers with respect, and still fall on your face. Gamespot even used to give out an award called “The Best Game Noone Played” and every year, they came up with five or six amazing-sounding titles even I hadn’t heard of, and I stay pretty up on my game news.

    Making a great product and respecting your customers won’t always win you a bucketload of cash (my own favorite example is Port Royale, which was just fantastic but flopped); Spec Ops has been mentioned on this site numerous times and is considered a financial failure, as I understand it, and while its gameplay is flawed its story and message is far better than it has any right to be. And making a crappy product and disrespecting your customers can also succeed (Assassin’s Creed III comes to mind).

    But as a general guide, sure. I do think that “yeah, our game just wasn’t that good” doesn’t really get said enough.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

      It’s true that you’ve got to inform customers about your product and give them selling points- why should you want this, why is different than other products, and so forth- but I believe the problem you’re getting at has more to do with expectations than anything else. You can’t expect Port Royal to be a 10 million seller. It shouldn’t be budgeted, promoted, or positioned as a 10 million seller. It’s the kind of game that needs to be developed to be a big success as a _1 million_ seller.

      Usually those “Best Game No One Played” titles are either marginal, niche games or games that were very non-mainstream. Even Spec Ops- despite being a military shooter- was quite non-mainstream despite the developers’ attempts to make it a little more Call of Duty.

      It’s funny, because in this day and age of social media, it’s possible for the smallest thing to get noticed and repeated by EVERYBODY. So this whole “nobody heard about our game” thing is a little disingenous. A game like Minecraft doesn’t need millions of dollars in marketing. It gets around on its own. Old fashioned word-of-mouth. But word-of-mouth and $60 retail games with $100 worth of day one DLC and freemium pricing schemes seem to not work together quite right.

      With titles like Assassin’s Creed, you’ve got an issue of publisher hubris. Ubisoft is in the very, very enviable position of having one of about literally FIVE brands that exist in the highest strata of sales expectations and performance. They know they can do whatever they want, slap “Assassin’s Creed” on it and as long as it’s nominally the same game, people will buy it.

      So that gives games makers “permission” to make a shit product and treat customers like shit. If you’re making millions of dollars a year and the numbers are moving in the right direction year after year…even though you’re treating people like shit…then you’ve won this whole conflict between business and consumer. You’ve effectively “gamewhipped” them.

  5. fring February 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    So, first of all, on Jesse’s silly graph, it absolutely, 100% does not mean what he thinks it means. While it’s certainly quite possible that releasing a demo hurts your sales, showing a cumulative sales graph can’t prove that. All that shows is that some games that had trailers but not demos sold extremely well. Considering that most of the game sales in our industry go to a very small number of games (which are extremely popular and well advertised and rarely need demos), they would obviously skew the results significantly. If you really wanted to answer that question, you’d need to look at the median game’s sales in each of the categories (and I suspect they’d all look really similar, because the median game in each category didn’t sell particularly well).

    I will say that it is extremely rare that I either play demos or watch trailers, but a demo is significantly more likely to convince me to buy a game than a trailer. One challenge that demos face, though, is that unless the game is downloadable, it’s tough to convert a satisfactory demo experience to a sale. Since it’s way more expensive to create a demo than to cut a trailer, I suspect that the ROI is much better for a bunch of trailers, simply in terms of attracting attention to your game.

    Of course, if your game is downloadable, then I can’t imagine that a good demo doesn’t translate into increased sales quite efficiently, as the player can impulse buy the full package right there. In comparison, I can’t imagine a trailer can do much of anything for convincing buyers once a game is actually out and they can read reviews and such to make a semi-informed decision.

    On a semi-related note, I guess publishers technically care almost as much about the initial pre-orders as the launch sales, since they’re selling to the retailers. So, then trailers are cheap and effective ways to pump your preorder numbers (via awareness campaigns), while demos should be something you release once your game is out (and, ideally, downloadable) to try to pump the sales without distracting to the develop significantly during the final stages of production work.

    Just my thoughts on the demos/trailers stuff. I’m not really worried about people making good games. It seems to me that there’s already more good games out there than I have time to play.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      That’s a signficant statement there at the end- I think people are realizing more and more that they DON’T need to rush out and buy a game launch day. Regardless of bullshit preorder bonuses designed to lure you into early adopter status, parting with your money before you even see a review or sometimes even the box art.

      The advent of digital distribution has made older games more accessible and cheaper at that. I think a larger number of folks are realizing that there’s only so much time they can spend playing games, and if that time is spent on a $1 copy of Company of Heroes and they’re getting MORE value out of that than a $60 new release- and they’re not being treated like a crack whore by a over-reaching publisher- then they’re eschewing that shiny new game despite all of the marketing dollars shoved in their face.

      • angryogre February 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

        The older games thing is a great point. I recently beat Odin Sphere, which lasted 50 hours and was (except for some stupidly frustrating boss fights) highly enjoyable. It also only cost me $20. I then went out and bought DmC, which was a fun game (albeit too easy), but cost $60 and took only ~12 hours to beat. Before Odin Sphere, I played through Persona 4, which was amazing, long, and less than $60. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I would never classify DmC as a bad purchase, it’s really to say that I got value from it when looking at some older but still perfectly playable options.

        • Michael Barnes February 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

          And then you can download Nethack for free and have a game to play more or less forever.

          Odin Sphere is an example of games that used to have that kind of value and longevity built-in. Game makers at the time, I don’t think, had this notion of building in turnover (and presumably increasing sales) by intentionally making games shorter and excusing the lack of content with a multiplayer or co-op suite. Budgeting was different then though, too. Odin Sphere’s development costs probably cost a fraction of what Aliens: Colonial Marines cost to develop over the years. I hear that one’s got a five hour campaign.

          I actually thought DmC was pretty decent value for the money. In terms of a first playthrough, story-driven campaign I thought the length felt about right and there are LOTS of old fashioned, value-adding modes and secrets to pursue if you really like the game and like it enough to have spent $60 for it. If you wait and pick it up for ~$20, you’re getting a great game with lots of quality content. Maybe not 50 hours worth, but I think it’s more in the ballpark with older games. And none of the extended material feels like it’s tacked on to satisfy bulletpoint requirements.

          Wait…Capcom, is that really you?

          • angryogre February 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

            Yeah, I wasn’t being super fair to DmC their. I do plan on going back, getting all the upgrades, then beating it again on some higher difficulties. So that will add a lot of time. The game is clearly built for that type of behavior, and it should be because that’s how people have always played the series. So in many ways it is more than a 12 hour game.

            On the “I can’t believe this is Capcom” angle…was I the only one floored by the quality of the story? I was not prepared for moments with real emotion when I started that game.

    • dougisfunny February 15, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Obviously the research could be flawed, but according to the source in the Extra Credits episode on demos there are nine possibilities(http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/demo-daze). The combinations being the game is good/okay/bad and the demo makes it look good/okay/bad, and of those only two actually noticibly increase sales.

  6. Dorkmaster Flek February 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Best. Post. Ever.

    I was literally fist pumping my screen yelling “Fuck yeah!” as I was reading this. I haven’t read such anti-consumer bullshit since that asshat from Visceral Games told us that Dead Space 3 had microtransactions on top of a $60 game because “players expect it”.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      The really scary thing (put on a tinfoil hat for this one) is that they’re conditioning the next generation of gamers to do exactly that…expect microtransactions. We’ll be telling our grandkids how you used to buy a video game for $40 and were never expected to give your credit card number to unlock the next level.

  7. The_Prodigal_player February 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Mike, I couldn’t agree more. I just wish there was a greater way to retaliate against this toxic corporate mentality other than opting out of buying their products.

    I feel like they *know* numbers are always stacked against us when we try this sort of push-back against their bullshit. I’m sure they’ve done the numbers and have calculated that while their newest dick-move will piss off and alienate a vocal minority, the rest of the sheep will suck it up and buy their dreck, and they will come out ahead.

    Even when things like Res6 underperform, I still feel like they are simply playing the a numbers game that while that one might not have met expectations, the overall strategy of the company and the industry as a whole is still bringing in a profit (even if in increasingly diminishing returns) so they don’t feel like they need to turn around the ship.

    I wish there was some greater way we as the consumer could put their balls in a vice. I suppose writing scathing editorials like yours is a start.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      You are 100% correct on every point, I think. They know that if 50,000 people complain online about Modern Warfare 4 having pay-by-the-clip “ammo packs”, 49,000 of them will knuckle under day fuckin’ one and buy the game. And it’s like a pyramid marketing thing- if Jimmy and Bobby both buy it, then so will Joey. Joey and Timmy buy it, and because they’re online playing it so does Sammy. And on and on and on. Same thing happens when Jimmy and Bobby buy the DLC pack that they complained about on the internet.

      It’s all become a numbers game. And like you say, as long as the numbers are going in the right way for now, that’s what these corporations want to tell shareholders. Most of whom have no actual stake in video games or the health of the medium at all, by the way.

      It is an uphill battle to fight against this, but I truly believe that it’s not impossible. It does start with writing and getting people talking. There’s a lot of disparate disatisfaction out there about video games, it’s a matter of getting EVERYONE on the same page and collectively fighting back. By NOT buying the game you said you weren’t going to buy. By meaning it when you say that you’re going to borrow or buy used every EA game instead of buying them new. By not preordering ANYTHING.

      And by not buying the next generation of consoles at all.

      I mean, come on. Protestors can rally together and overthrow GOVERNMENTS using the internet. Why can’t people that love video games do the same to get these crooks out of here?

      It’s happening, I really believe it is. The indie games drive, Kickstater (for as much as I hate it), GOG, Steam sales, good folks like CD Projekt delivering quality products…all WE need to do as consumers is to give our money to the good guys and say “fuck you” and DO NOT give the bad guys your money at all. Not one fucking dollar.

      5000 people do this and it’s meaningless. 1000000 and we’re causing damage.

      You in?

      • The_Prodigal_player February 11, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

        Oh, I’m in. I also hope I didn’t come off as defeatist. I genuinely HATE corporate culture and its effect on all creative endeavors–I just was sort of thinking aloud about the inherently weak position of the individual consumer in the face of such an ugly machine.

        You are right that protests can topple govts–however in those cases the moving forces that pull people out of their apathy and inertia can be pretty fundamental to their livelihood. I guess I just wonder what it will take for gamers to wake up in a similar way, and if it will happen before the industry can’t recover from their awful practices.

        But yeah, no Diablo III, Dead Space, Halo Maps, or pre-orders for me, ever. That’s just how I roll.

        • Michael Barnes February 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

          Well, you are absolutely right in that- it’s a big difference between overthrowing a malfeasant government and rebelling against an entertainment, leisure-focused industry.

          Ultimately, that’s one of the reasons why corporations have been able to run so roughshod overthe medium…because the people that are really invested in it so that it really matters are involved in careers, businesses, or otherwise have stakes in it. The consumer is in a position where they can literally just walk away, ignore it, or capitulate and acquire their soma. Because most consumers couldn’t care less about issues like the integrity of the medium, its cultural relevance, and its future as artform. If they’re even aware of those things beyond “gee, Bioshock made me think and stuff”.

          It’s a perspective issue. Realistically, like Todd has said before I could just walk right away from video games and do something and I’d be just fine. Brandon can do his ukelele thing. Bill Abner could sell his consoles to buy polish for his Lamborghini wheels. None of us would miss a beat. But then too, we could always go and download System Shock 2 off of GOG, buy The Witcher 3, and pick up a used copy of Bioshock Infinite when it hits the $9.99 bin at Gamestop.

          It really comes down to whether or not you want to ALLOW these corporations to fuck you over.

  8. JeffTalor February 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    I think you are kind of looking for things to rage at with this one.

    First of all Puzzle Clubhouse isn’t really a game company, its a crowd sourcing website designed to bring together ordinary people with game ideas and developers. Secondly Schnell is more of a game design theorist than a corporate stuffed shirt. He is a professor at Carniegie Mellon. He is telling people going into game development how to make money creating games. And he did produce statistics to back up his claims during the presentation. (Whether the statistics tell the whole story or not is another matter, and up for debate.)

    Also no exectutive is going to tell his SHARE HOLDERS that the company’s product didn’t sell because of quality issues. Every shareholder meeting is full of things such as bad marketing strategies, consumer demographics, etc. I am pretty sure product quality issues would be covered during meetings with the employees who are responsible for the creation of a product. Not the share holders and people you are looking to for investment in your company.

    • Michael Barnes February 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

      But why is he not telling people some variation of the Barnes Maxim? Why should games makers be advised to resort to what amounts to a bait-and-switch tactic than letting people have hands-on experience? If that’s what they’re teaching at Carnegie Mellon, Carnegie Mellon neeeds to be shut down.

      As for your shareholder issue, you are exactly right and that’s part of a larger problem with corporate business- never telling the truth, always talking around it. I’m actually a technical writer for a major corporation in the real world, believe me, I get it. You never say “we fucked up”.

      But you know, maybe the problem is that there are shareholders involved in this in the first place. Many of whom probably represent larger investment firms, none of whom have anything to do with video games. And have no actual stake in their success or failure beyond the bottom line.

      Look back into the 80s and 90s…it wasn’t like this then. There were still publically traded companies. But they were closer to what they were doing, and hadn’t grown callous and completely removed from _humanity_ like they are now.

  9. drmcscott February 12, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    Thank you Mr Barnes for articulating everything I’ve been shouting about without the swearing and froth.

    “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!!!”

    • dglenny February 12, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

      Hear, hear. I read Shamus Young for the anti-DRM cogent ranting, and I read Michael Barnes for the are-you-fucking-kidding-me analyses.

  10. CraigM February 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    You have several good points Michael, and so did some of the other commenters. The essence of your argument I completely am on board with. I will pay for quality, and quality is not something I discern from simple trailers. There are games I do not buy (or buy only in the sub $10 range) because of poor customer service. I loved the Mass Effect series, but did not buy ME3 because of EA’s practices. Ditto Assasin’s Creed, bought those at <$10 because of Ubi.

    Also as Ilta pointed out good games with good customer service do sometimes fail to sell. Marketing does have a role, because ultimately reviews, demos, trailers, and such all fall under the purview of marketing. Hell word of mouth counts as marketing. It's just some forms work better for me than others. Good word of mouth has a huge impact for me, and that only comes from quality. Paradox held a multiplayer session titled the Master Class. The following words from writers like Rob Zacny, podcasting from Troy Goodfellow,etc. was all marketing, but it was marketing focused on the qualitative aspects of the games. That got me more interested in the games than 100 trailers ever would.

    The final thing I would add is that publishers need to understand scope better. If you make Resident Evil 6, and need to sell 6m to be a success then THE FAILURE IS YOU. There simply isn't the room for that many multi million games. Back to Paradox (yeah I'm a fan, your point is). They make games where selling a million copies would be a tremendous success. They understand that their market is not the mass market, and adjust their budgets to compensate. No one will confuse Crusader Kings 2 with a AAA title, but it was a success because they understood their market and bent their product to that market, rather than try to bend the market to their product.

    It shouldn't be hard, but it's missing from most big publishers. Understand the size of your market, and adjust the size and scope of your project to match.

    • Michael Barnes February 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Ah, but “the failure is you” isn’t really part of the corporate culture, is it? :-)

      There’s a lot that goes into projecting sales figures…including a lot of intangible, not-on-the-spreadsheet stuff like company hubris, miscalculated demand, misunderstood markets, over-promising developer/contractors…as well as things specific to RE6, for example, like how EVERBODY IN THE FUCKING WORLD has said “no more like RE5, more like RE1-RE4″ but they don’t listen, chasing those shooter dollars.

      They goofed by trying to appease everyone with an unfocused, scattershot game instead of saying “Hey, let’s deliver a rock-solid game with a lower budget but all of the core values to an expected sales base of 2 million”. Do that, sell 4 million and you’ve doubled your expectations and appeased shareholders.

      Shoot the moon, and you wind up with egg on your face. Especially now, as money is starting to actually LEAVE the industry or be redirected to other alternatives to the AAA blockbuster.

  11. JeffTalor February 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    In response to Craig M.

    What if Resident Evil 4 sold 7.4 million units? And RE5 sold 7.9?

    http://vgsales.wikia.com/wiki/Resident_Evil

    Wouldn’t setting your buisness plan to expect at least 6 million units sold make sense?

    • CraigM February 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Well in that case, sure. I don’t follow the RE series so I hadn’t realized they sold that much. In that case the drop can probably be squarely laid at (lack of) quality, and series fatigue.

      So that specific case might not fit, the general idea still holds. Many games are made with the 4-5 mil sales range budget, but aren’t likely to hit such lofty figures.

      • liastaob February 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        There was that huge drop in the economy between RE5 and RE6. Why is that never taken into account?

        • OnePompousPenguin February 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

          There is also the problem that RE5 in no way lived up to what RE4 brought to the table. So people, like me, who only bought 5 because they thought it would be just as amazing as 4, would not be fooled twice and avoid 6 like the plague unless reviewers told them otherwise. Reviewers did not, thus sales for 6 were lower (and should have likely been even lower).

          • JeffTalor February 12, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

            These are good ‘hindsight is 20/20′ answers. But my point is that no company goes into production on a product with a business plan based upon selling less units than the previous two iterations.

          • OnePompousPenguin February 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

            Sure, but I feel like public perception of your last game should be taken into account, but always seems to be ignored.

          • Michael Barnes February 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

            Plus, there’s also the issue that an overwhelming percentage of people that have bought RE4 in multiple formats (I’m up to four, myself) very clearly did not want the franchise to continue on the path set by 5. Yet Revelations was a critical and commercial success.

  12. orlandu84 February 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    I think that a lot of very good points have been brought up in this thread about the nature of failure and success in the video game industry. I think that any discussion of what makes for a good game needs to be differentiated from what makes for a good investment of money. The game that makes money, like it is expected to, is the game that companies will always try to create. Whereas there are many smaller companies that do x because their owners like doing x, there are almost no larger corporations that do y because their stock holders happen to like y. They do y because y is supposed to make $$. Lots of money. I think that most people would agree that as game companies grew larger they become more fixated on return making money since that is what large corporations tend to do.

    A good game is not an investment but an opera – a collection of works of art that entertain. In the above discussion I could not help but notice that this distinction was not drawn. Video games are certainly interactive entertainment and are usually “games” in the sense that those enjoying them are lost in their “play.” Being a game and being a collection of arts are not mutually exclusive. Accordingly, a video game to be good (and fulfill its end per se) must be desirable in both its art and play (or at least so good in one respect that the other can be tolerated).

    My point is simply that dwelling only on the mechanics of the game industry obscure a central reality of the problem: good art does not always sell. Look at Herman Mellville and “Moby Dick.” Mellville wrote one of the greatest novels ever and died virtually forgotten. His acclaim came decades after his death.

    I would never want to manager a company like EA because I would never want to try and figure out what kind of art was a good investment. Unlike coal or gas, whose use can be predicted based on past use, a new piece of art’s goodness is not predictable by how good previous works of art were. Accordingly, I think Steam and Kickstarter will eventually allow the fans and patrons of video game the ability to support these arts in a much more coherent way. They will do so by removing the middle man (the corporation) by connecting patrons and artists more directly. Or, at least, that is what I hope.

    • angryogre February 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      a) I love games as much as the next guy, but I think invoking Moby Dick might be a bit of a stretch here. While games have a good shot at producing something of that magnitude in the future, I don’t think we’ve hit that level yet.

      b) I think your overall point is a good one, but let’s not cut the big corporations too much slack. Smaller companies (such as Atlus or CD Projekt) have managed to make a profit without doing a lot of this DLC/season pass bullshit simply because they don’t try to hit a home run with every swing. They realize that their target audience isn’t 10 million people (or even 3 million people in some cases) and simply adjust their budgets accordingly. That’s not sacrificing for the sake of art, its just smart business. Do their games look or sound as good as Call of Duty? Of course not. But when I’m cracking up at some dialogue in Persona 3 I could care less about the texture resolution.

      • orlandu84 February 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

        a.) A good reply. I certainly do not expect to see the video game version of Moby Dick anytime soon. I was trying to point out that really good pieces of art are sometimes financially unsuccessful.

        b.) I more or less agree with your thoughts here with one qualification. I expect large corporations to have more frequent failures than smaller companies. If you look at movie studios, they produce a lot of really bad movies that cost them money and a few movies that usually create most of their profits. I do admit, however, that video game publishers seem to be far less skilled than movie executives in budgeting and marketing their works.

        • angryogre February 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

          Yeah, you’re right on the movie studios bit. Publishers actually work the same way, hope to break even/lose a little on 90% of their books and then make a ton on the top 10%. Maybe that’s just how big budget entertainment has to function, but it just seems wrong that publishers bet on things like Space Marine to be on of those big hits.

          • angryogre February 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

            The first publishers was in reference to books, the second to video games. I fail at reading my own writing.

  13. Vince May 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Hear! Hear! Great essay Barnes, it sound s like something I’ve been saying for years now: if they just made quality games they wouldn’t have to rely on gimmicks and sales tactics. For christ’s sake, is talent that hard to come by in the video game industry? I think companies need to up their QA teams’ influence, and us buyers need to be smarter- though the latter may be a pipe dream seeing as how many young kids are into gaming.

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