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Jimquisition: Pretty Graphics and High Budgets Are Not What Consumers Want


The Escapist : Jimquisition : Dark Souls and Dark Sales

Many a Nintendo fan has run around over the years, especially during the Wii era, proudly saying graphics aren’t everything. Most don’t deny that stylized realism in graphical fidelity is indeed nice to look at depending on the game, but many games we have seen over the last handful of years seemed to expect to sell simply because of how the game “looked”. This is despite the fact that while choosing a specific graphical style may indeed equal more sales, how pretty that style looks doesn’t necessarily mean the game is going to sell.

Some call this the Call of Duty effect – where every game is trying to be the biggest game out there, but that title already exists, and it’s foolish to think your title is going to be “that” title. Yes, Call of Duty is generally well made, but it’s budget is also extremely modest. Yes, it costs less to make Call of Duty: Black Ops II than it did Tomb Raider, and let me ask you: Which game sold infinitely better? If high budgets meant high sales, we would see that. Expect it doesn’t, Conversely, High Review Scores on Metacritic also don’t equal high sales (Psychonauts, anyone?). Heck, Epic Mickey got rather “meh” scores, but it sold pretty well… well enough to get a rather piss poor sequel. 

Sure, Tomb Raider is a good game, but there are things about it that just didn’t need to happen. It’s graphics, as an example, didn’t need to be as detailed as they were, with hollywood budget cutscenes. It didn’t need hollywood voice actors and god forbid the budget wasted on a shoehorned multiplayer mode literally no one asked for. Money pissed away in the wind that did not in any way make the game sell more (and arguably, didn’t even make the game better).

The counter to show how this is possible is Dark Souls – a game that moved 2 million units and is considered a success. Part of that is realistic expectations and simply making enough copies to serve demand. The other part is a modest budget and a focus on making a compelling experience. Dark Souls was not a bleeding edge graphical experience. It doesn’t have hollywood budget cutscenes (what it does have is “good”, but not nearly the CGI quality some games strive for), and the voice actors it does use are relative no names in the industry.

It did what the developers realistically could afford for it to do, and created a successful game on 2 million in sales. To me, this is one of those “bright lights in the midst of the crowd” moments.

It’s been popular lately to chastise AAA companies and say they are going to crash and burn. They are what’s wrong with the game industry with their forced micro-transactions, DLC, DRM, and all  that Jazz. Then we get Dark Souls, a AAA experience that seems to get it right. This is a trend the industry must get right. The opposite of the EA effect – where they stated they were going to make less games, focus on the mainstream gamer, and conversely inflated budgets to the point that Dead Space 3 needed to sell five million units or EA would nix the franchise (it’s nowhere near 5 million).

Crytek, makers of Crysis, often tell us the bleeding edge is what gamers want – and to their credit Crysis usually moves a couple million units. But if that is what most gamers want, why does it fail to see the same sales of other games in it’s own genre? The fact is, we as consumers don’t care how much money you spent, how hyper-realistic the details are, or how well the cutscenes and voice act is rendered. No, rather, we just care that you provide us a fantastic experience. If the game is meant to be single player, make it a great single player experience and don’t tack on multiplayer. There is a lot that can be done right, and in many way, Dark Souls is the poster child for “getting it right”. It still looks good (not bleeding edge), it has solid voice acting (not top tier), but more important it’s just a fantastic game that knows what it is.

Why can’t more publishers and developers view the world in the same way? Consumers just want good products, not pretty ones.

Our Verdict

Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
I am the current Editor-in-Chief of Zelda Informer and have been running the show here since July 16th, 2008. I've actually been running Zelda Fan sites since 1998, so I've been in this "industry" for roughly 16 years. I'm 28 years old and have two kids, one biological, the other more of a step daughter (not legally yet, but practically). I live with my girlfriend and our two kids (Aiden, age 1 and half, Melody age 3 and half). I'm attending college to create video games web applications, and I naturally love Nintendo (I run a Zeld a website after all!). For those curious, I currently own a Wii U, Xbox One, 3DS, PlayStation 3, and a gaming PC (and a gaming capable laptop too!). I do plan to eventually get a PlayStation 4, likely when more comes out I am interested in playing on the system. I do play the Wii U more than any other system I own.

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