Recently on many message boards I frequent, not to mention some websites too, there has been a great hew and cry regarding the success of the 50 Cent game, Bulletproof, which managed to sell over million copies. Many feel the game doesn’t deserve the sales it got because it was a bad game. They also fear that because such a horrible derivative game achieved such success while other, more inspiring/challenging/artsy games crashed on the rocks of retail reality, namely games like Pscyhonauts (whose failure all but killed publisher Majesco) we are going to be forced to suffer through more horrible games that are designed solely to sell to fans of bands or singers who feel the urge to play with themselves in a digital form. And as a consequence of this we will miss out on the joyful small time games, the word of mouth success’s which appeal to the hardcore but generally fail miserably to translate into mainstream popularity.
Personally, I think that’s a load of manure. Yes you’re going to see a 50 Cent 2: Now I’m a Dollar, or whatever they decide to call it, and probably even a Bulletproof 3, if 2 Bits manages to stay alive and popular long enough. But that doesn’t mean that horrible games will continue to pour out. Gamers are smarter than that. Even mainstream gamers learn what not to buy sooner or later. Take movie based games for example. For the longest time people have avoided these things because they know how horrid they really are for the most part. And when a good one is actually released I have to fight to convince people to try the game. This one truth exists in our industry: Games that are produced to respond to fads/movie marketing are almost always horrible. This law is so rarely broken that it’s a major event when it does.
Yes games are becoming harder and more expensive to make, and so of course media convergence is going to sound good to a lot of game manufacturers in the short term. Companies that can acquire brands that will attract a crossover audience are seen as very lucrative. But unless those games are good, the results these products bring in will decrease over time, making it less likely we’ll see Snoop Dogg: Puppy Terror 3. And in the mean time, there will still be companys making games that are great mainstream titles, other companys will still produce gems that nobody but the ultra hardcore will ever hear about, and there will always be companys willing to innovate because sometimes innovation is all you’ve got when you’re fighting for market share.
Then there are the games that are so good they start small and bust through into the mainstream. Last year it was Katamari Damacy that kept picking up steam. This year the game seems to be Guitar Hero. People respond to games that are fun to play. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard people say why didn’t “X” sell? It was awesome? All I have to do is ask them if it was fun, and they say sure, it was awesome, you had to fight through such and such without a health bar, do this, travel a mile, do that, and then save if you can figure out how. They found it fun because it was so different from the mainstream of what appeals to gamers right now. And in truth theres nothing wrong with that, everyone has different tastes, but it leads to elitism, game magazine editors calling gamers sheep, etc. And that can be bad for business.
So yes Bulletproof sold over a million copys. Who cares. The market is big enough to have a bad game succeed. Lord knows enough bad movies do. And look what’s happening in that industry. Bomb after bomb this year. The market is dictating to the industry, change or suffer our wrath. We can do that. Just take a long view.