So Prince of Persia is tanking in the marketplace -- only $2 million so far -- shades of Ico, which only did $6 million total in North America. Both of these critically acclaimed puzzley jumping games with beautiful art direction and pleasant controls are sailing right over the heads of the America marketplace. Activision has a rule of thumb that console games that get over 80% on gamerankings tend to be hits: well, it ain't always true.
(Mark Nau recently ran a correlation of gamerankings and sales and got an R-squared of .14, which means there is a weak correlation, but he does not think one causes the other, but rather they are both caused by a third factor, namely...hype. I'm not so sure, since hype can sometimes cause negative reviews.)
This is sad. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where quality would always reap rewards? Prince of Persia is a good game. It has innovative gameplay mechanics, clear goals, the constant feeling of reward for being clever, the feeling of being a badass when you fight, a good, simple story, and tons of polish. It's short, so you don't have to worry about it being one of those games that you buy and never finish. Playing it raised my quality of life.
We've been batting around a number of theories about why it tanked:
1) It's actually not a very good game, and although reviewers are fooled, the more sophisticated gaming public wants more than a puzzle-game funhouse ride. They want nonlinearity, emergence, freedom. I don't think much of this theory: I think the gaming public is actually less sophisticated than most reviewers, who tend to be hardcore gamers.
2) Your average American teenage boy does not want to play a game where he assumes the role of a Persian prince. They might as well have called the game "Gay Iranian." Kids want to be soldiers, secret agents, spacemen, cops. There was a window this year where kids wanted to be pirates -- you can always count on a summer blockbuster to brainwash your children into deciding what's cool or not. (I'm not complaining. Summer blockbuster hype pays my mortgage.) If Prince of Persia had come out back when Disney's Aladdin was in theatres, it would have sold much better. A friend of mine once said, "I think you can take any intellectual property and make it cool." I agree, but the cost of making it cool is out of the range of videogame publishers. It may cost around a hundred million dollars to make something cool. (There's a corollary here: if you can turn out a Walls Of Troy game in time for next year's blockbuster, do it.)
Theory #2 has that sad-but-true ring to it, doesn't it.
So I ask you: don't succumb to the lack of hype! Go buy Prince of Persia. On principle. Make the world better.
Thanks to Rich Bisso for coining the phrase, "Principle of Persia."
Oh, yeah, and thanks to Tom Henderson for "gay Iranian."
New Manager In A Strange Land. Does anybody remember how we lived before Wiki? One thing we've got in the Wiki lately is our "Kill lists" - these are lists, for every mission in the game, of the things that remain to be done for it to be complete. (Plus a wishlist at the bottom of polish items we'll get to if we can get to.) We could use the bug database to log this stuff, but that's a little too heavy. Much easier to double-click on a Wiki page than report a bug. The things that fall through the cracks will end up on the bug database later.
I only mention this because we did it in the past. You might make a game that has something special about it. For example, it might be the first game with swordfighting where you control the sword. You may have to fight to get this innovation accepted by your publisher. And when your game finally ships, it may not do as well as you hoped. You will be tempted to do a sequel that does not have the special thing.
Don't do it. Either go no sequel at all or keep...nay, push...what makes you different.
"Led Zeppelin didn't try to be liked by everybody; they left that to the Bee-Gees." (Wayne's world.)
I bring this up because they're talking about Gothic 2 in the next office. I haven't played either, so I'm speaking from a position of phenomenal ignorance here, but apparently the realistic AI of the first one has diminished in the second. And I worry about the guys at Timegate; they seem to be making Kohan 2 more like Warcraft. I think I speak for all of us when I say what we like about Kohan is that it isn't Warcraft. (You might argue that Kohan 2 won't be profitable unless it sells a lot more than Kohan...but emulating Warcraft isn't going to make that happen.)
In other words, this is a mistake people still make. Save yourselves.
It's like Lord of the Flies at work. We're beating drums...singing songs...and Mark seems to have contracted Tourette's...Tomo will occasionally just smash something...but he's like that even when we're not crunching...
We want to be gameplay complete before Christmas...it's not gonna happen but we're damn close...and we've got months of buffer before we ship. That reminds me; the GDC brochure says we're giving a talk. We're not. Our final submit date is closer than we thought, so we had to cancel. But I guess they had already printed the brochures.
I'm playing Dvorak typer shark during builds. My wpm has broken 20 but it's still excruciating to try to do anything work related in Dvorak. Kevin bet me a nickel that I'll still be under 60 after two months. He'll probably win. For historical reasons, a nickel is the standard betting amount at Treyarch, dating back to the poker nights when Mark and I used to make nickel side bets on what other players were holding.
I'm typing this with the Microsoft language settings set to Dvorak. See, I was playing Typer Shark on Popcap...and X-Treme mode was a little too easy, so I tried Dvorak. Talk about skill plateaus and local maxima! I type around 100 wpm. With Dvorak, I type about 10. I hit that 100 wpm plateau a decade ago...in theory, I could hit a much higher mark with Dvorak, but how many months or years before I break even?
(Wow, the question mark's in a weird place...)
This feels like recovering from a stroke...
Those local maxima are seductive...