Tale of Tales just published a blog post about the disappointing sales of their latest title, Sunset; you can read it here. I would never claim to have the knowledge and insight required to know why this happened the way it did, but I do have some guesses which I’d like to share – if only to have them discussed and refuted by people more competent than me.
In the post, ToT say one of their ambitions with Sunset was to reach out to a wider audience than they had been addressing previously; they explain one way they chose to do that was by conforming to the ‘gaming rules’ that more mainstream works abide by. They list a “carefully constructed context of conventional controls, three-act story and well defined activities” as examples of choices that would supposedly make Sunset more palatable to gamers. This was, I think, misguided, in the sense that those are abstract and invisible things related to mechanics and structure; theme and visuals will always do a better job at seducing, especially when the people you’re trying to seduce have been swimming in shallowness for years. Look at the reddit comments about the aforementioned post: the amount of people suggesting Viscera Cleanup Detail as superior alternative to Sunset is eye-opening. “It has blood all over the floor, so obviously it’s better.”
And as ToT outline right after talking about the concessions they made, working on Sunset still was enjoyable, because the theme meant something to them; and sadly “whatever [they] enjoy is never, ever, what the gaming masses enjoy”. I don’t actually think it was possible for Tale of Tales to make a game that would capture the hearts (and wallets) of a large enough portion of gamers. Knowing that, the question they might have been better off pursuing is, ‘how to make something that people who already like our games will like even more?’ (Or at least, how to make it financially viable?)
But then, there’s still the matter of reaching out. People who enjoy ToT’s games form a very tiny niche within the huge landscape game ‘enthusiasts’ (anyone who might regularly visit a gaming-related website, for instance); which in itself is a niche within the general audience of players. Tale of Tales’ fans are people who appreciate their radicalism, within a field that generally loathes any kind of deviation from the norm. ‘Reaching out’, then, would mean somehow breaching through the layer of pre-emptive antipathy, instead of trying to cater to it. Of course, if you’re trying to talk to those who aren’t familiar at all with how games are played, you then face a whole lot of other issues and technical challenges.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be too harsh – there are probably lots of people who have fair reasons not to be appealed by a game like Sunset. I mean, people like different things, and I don’t want to sound like I’m saying ‘if you don’t like the game, you’re wrong and you should die’. The videogame industry is what it is, and of course it’s going to attract people whose sensibilities differ from Auriea’s and Michaël’s. On an individual level, that’s okay. But still, if we’re at a stage where ToT can’t exist, then there definitely is something wrong somewhere, and we should all – regardless of sensibilities – do everything we can to fix it.