Greed Space: Why Not Every Game Needs to Be a Huge Hit
According to VGChartz, the original Dead Space sold around 3.61 million copies — surprising numbers for a survival horror game with brand-new IP, developed by a studio, Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores), without much past success. The sequel, 2011′s Dead Space 2, clocked in at 2.56 million — not a word-of-mouth hit like its predecessor, but certainly a solid return.
By any reasonable standard, Visceral Games and publishers/parent company Electronic Arts were succeeding. They made two scary, original games that fans and critics loved. The Dead Space franchise wasn’t competing with Call of Duty for year-end sales records, but it was holding its own in the top 30.
In most businesses, if you have a successful product that your consumers like, you keep making it. Video games are different. When it came time to make Dead Space 3, EA convened marketing and research experts who studied ways to forcibly grow the game’s audience. In a widely publicized interview, EA marketing head Laura Miele explained how the publishers wanted “to understand how we can take the game out to even more consumers.”
EA’s solution? Adding widely-derided co-operative play and cover-based firefights that are antithetical to Dead Space’s original appeal. The people in EA’s focus groups may claim that they want to be more “comfortable” while playing Dead Space 3, but their input is belied by the millions of gamers who were happy to purchase the first two games, knowing that they would be brutally isolating and, as a result, very scary. What’s worse, as Game Front contributor Jim Sterling points out in his editorial “Market Leaders Lead, They Don’t Follow,” Dead Space 3′s sales-chasing innovations are shamelessly cribbed from other popular titles.
Why couldn’t EA just be happy with Dead Space’s moderate but significant number of consumers? Why must every successful sequel be a cash-grab for “even more?” According to EA Labels president Frank Gibeau, “ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them.”
This statement is frankly unbelievable. Gears of War 3, the culmination to one of the most successful game franchises in recent memory, has sold 5.46 million copies to date. According to Gibeau, then, if a game isn’t as successful as Gears of War, it’s not worth investing in.
If people in the upper echelons of the video game industry continue to think this way, they’re in for a rude awakening. The market will simply not support an infinite supply of mega-hits, which will only recoup gargantuan development and marketing budgets with equally gargantuan sales numbers. Capcom is repeating EA’s mistake with Resident Evil 6, foolishly chasing Call of Duty numbers at the expense of fans like Game Front’s Phil Hornshaw, who plans to skip the franchise’s homogenized new installment when it comes out this fall.
Gamers, like readers, film-goers, and music listeners, are not all the same. People like different things, and — perhaps more importantly — they each individually like to experience variety. As long as a game is original and well-designed, it can succeed on its own terms, even in a niche genre. For proof, look at Dead Space. Frank Gibeau’s ideal customer — who plays nothing but AAA, squad-based, co-op cover shooters with online multiplayer and horde mode — simply does not exist. Not every singer needs to be Katy Perry, and not every game needs to be a huge hit.