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.

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6 Comments on Greed Space: Why Not Every Game Needs to Be a Huge Hit

Hunter

On July 27, 2012 at 10:05 am

Moral of the story, let EA get a hold of your game and expect it to be un-original and lose its real fans. And gamefront please don’t mention RE6 again, it makes me sad.

JawaEsteban

On July 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

Well said. Looking at EA from a ‘forest instead of trees’ perspective, it seems painfully obvious that the corporation has been doing the business equivalent of throwing a hissy fit ever since Activision kicked them out of the top spot. It’s like they’ll never be happy until they come up with something that beats Call of Duty’s sales volume, and they’re focusing on that goal to the complete detriment of everything else.

beema

On July 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

“The market will simply not support an infinite supply of mega-hits”

I think this is the most important point here. All opinions aside, simple economics says that what these publishers desire is just not possible. You can’t have every title selling COD numbers. There is no market to sustain it.

Gasmaskangel

On July 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm

There’s a big gaping hole on the gaming landscape where survival horror used to be. Once upon a time I had hoped that Dead Space could fill it, but it seems that no major publisher wants to make horror games. Oh well. At least I still have Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs to look forward to.

Zach

On July 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Well I guess according to Mr Gibeau we won’t be getting any more Mass Effect games since the Second one “only” sold 4.29 million and Mass Effect 3 “only” sold 3.78.

Though to be honest if Casey Hudson and Mac Walters are involved with the next iteration maybe we want the series to just end here.

CatmanStu

On July 29, 2012 at 10:36 am

It’s like I’ve said in other comments; there is too much money in the industry. Game publishers were not ready to deal with the level of sales that Halo and CoD have generated and have developed the business equivalent of panic shopping. “We have to make as much money as possible before the bubble bursts.”

Give an intelligent person the power of alchemy and he will create just enough gold to live off of, give that power to an idiot and they will flood the market and make it worthless.