Jimquisition: Dark Souls and Dark Sales

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I view COD and similar titles (also Angry Birds, etc.) as the junk food of gaming. If Joe Schmo is all out of brain at the end of the day and just wants to sit on the couch and shove COD down his throat then good for him. Trying to make all games like that is dumb. Having 30 different kinds of chips available to buy doesn't mean 30 times as many people will buy chips, throw in some granola, ice cream and fancy dessert if you want more people to buy.

Same with games, there's a place for serialized blockbusters but also everything else down to 8-bit retro. Making everything a co-op ultra-graphics multiplayer action shooter is just limiting the market and no amount of dollars spent on fancy packaging is going to address that.

I think it all really depends on what the budgets actually are with some of these games, maybe I am just not looking in the right places, but the games industry seems a lot less transparent as far as budgets are concerned than say the film industry.

Though it often doesn't include marketing, it is much easier to tell when a movie has generally succeeded or failed. I am curious to know what the budget is on Tomb Raider, it would be a lot easier to tell how reasonable or unreasonable Square is being. I hope they are indeed covering their budget at the very least and even though I have yet to pick it up, I like the direction they seem to be taking and I would like to see where they can take it from here.

I totally agree with Jim in that a lot of it comes down to publishers expecting huge sales numbers rather than hoping for it or planning appropriately. I feel that EA is the absolute worst in this regard. EA's plan in regards to shooters seems to be "alright, THIS is the year we will get COD level of success with Battlefield" and spend ridiculous amounts of money on marketing. I enjoy BF3 a lot and by all accounts enjoyed a huge amount of success.

If BF3's sales were any indication of what the future of the franchise is, it seems to occupy a solid 2nd place in terms of shooters. But that is never enough for EA so it comes as no suprise to me when they end up posting losses and laying-off employees.

That bee shirt is so cute...
I want one.

One of the best things about having children (I have two) is that you get to see all of the worst parts of human nature, such as the delusion you mention, as they develop. Then you wonder why it is that some of these traits that are clearly bad and start when your five still persists into adulthood in some people. The idea though that the chickens coming home to roost and ruining some of these companies for their eagerness to embrace a delusion over reality is coming rather than already here I disagree with. It seems like game companies have been falling like flies and the fact that EA and SquEnix haven't folded yet just mean that they are bigger flies. From is a quirky company though and they don't make things trying to be the next CoD. But they have made some great games several of which will never leave my possession for the used bin at GameStop even after I am cold and in the ground. Dark Souls is a game that prove though that you can create a top quality experience without having to take a mortgage out on your soul.

I completely agree with Jim and I just wanted to point out that CoD is far from the biggest game sales vise. If you're looking for a game that sells ridiculously well, a game that can say that 6 million is nothing, look at the NSMB series.

NSMB DS sold almost 30 million, Wii version sold ~26 million, NSMB2 sold ~6 million (which can be attributed to the low 3DS sales and the number is sure to increase with time unlike each entry in CoD that sells almost everything in the release month).

Before watching video: because publishers are goddamn stupid these days, spending countless millions of dollars trying to get as many sales as Call of Duty (which will NEVER happen) and also wasting even more money on garbage like Tomb Raider's crappy multiplayer mode that nobody liked and nobody asked for in the first place or Lara's fucking hair that's only impressive if you have a high end PC anyway. Stop spending so much money and 3 million sales will be the astounding success it should be, not a failure.

And now to watch.

Yep. Once again, the only ones who don't fucking get it are the publishers themselves. New game industry crash, here we come. And yeah, good point bringing up fucking Crytek, bloody idiots.

Also, get well soon.

BiH-Kira:
I completely agree with Jim and I just wanted to point out that CoD is far from the biggest game sales vise. If you're looking for a game that sells ridiculously well, a game that can say that 6 million is nothing, look at the NSMB series.

NSMB DS sold almost 30 million, Wii version sold ~26 million, NSMB2 sold ~6 million (which can be attributed to the low 3DS sales and the number is sure to increase with time unlike each entry in CoD that sells almost everything in the release month).

Call of Duty is the biggest game sales wise when looking at launches, which is the only thing most publishers do. Nintendo is one of the intelligent exceptions who knows that their games sell well over time and don't get disappointed when, for example, New Super Mario Bros DS sold "only" about 480,000 copies on launch day in Japan.

Escapist, you failed, the platforms section in the description, Dark Souls is out on the PC. Please fix.

On the video: Makes sense, economic smarts means you make a profit, economic derp means you lose money. Believe that's just logic, also.

PRAAISSEEE THE SSSUUUUNNNNN

Edit: Also

Why is this reminding me of the 1983 crash where Atari supposedly made more copies of ET than there were consoles in existence in the insane hope that it would sell more than was physically possible?

You know, when I read the Dark Souls sales thing the other day I was actually happy for the game and was all like "Good for them, that game was awesome". I didn't even think about the Dead Space 3 thing and Tomb Raider thing at all, but as soon as I read the description of the video, I was like "Oh yeah, those things happened".
Anyway, Good video and Praise the Sun.

This reminds me, I need to play more Dark Souls, and by play more I mean start a new game as I had a power cut last time I played just as it was saving and yeah... (Was about 10 hours in.)

OT: I think he introduced Mrs hammer to Mr nail on this one, some of the sales targets these publishers expect are ludicrous, and they will learn the hard way, when their companies start collapsing that they should focus on a better budget for their games.

I'm also not afraid to say that Dark Souls is a much better game than Tomb Raider. Yeah, it didn't have all the heart wrenching wimpering and crying or whatever, it just had way way way way way better gameplay and design. And it is a pretty great looking game in my opinion.

Azhrarn-101:

uanime5:

I bet most of a AAA budget is wasted on legalities, royalties, executive wages, lunches, handkerchiefs for the divas and actors and musicians... how much could be cut out if they tossed out the top actors and hire decent average actors to do the voices ? How many LESS copies if another actor did Soap McTavish in CoD ? Will Metal Gear fail because Hayter isnt Snake ?

Well a good example (well, future example really) is going to be Bioshock Infinite.
It's total development budget was in the region of $100 million (as stated by their publisher).
They then went and spent a mind-blowing $100 million on marketing the bloody thing.

Anyone want to place bets that someone (the publisher) is going to call Bioshock Infinite a disappointment sales-wise because it didn't make back that $200 million in its first month of sales?!

That marketing budget is the issue here, $100 million for a Triple A game is a lot, but recoverable, doubling that target because of the marketing budget sure as hell is a lot harder!

There's your issue. Money is literally thrown away, does $100 million in marketing even double the sales of anything, let alone a title people are expected to pay $60 for.

Let's consider this as an example. Let's say that for a $60 game, only $45 (i.e. 75% of the purchase price) actually goes to the publisher (the rest to retail, distribution, and printing). In order to break even, the publisher is required to sell approximately 4.4-4.5 million new copies. If the publisher only retains $30 of the sale price (i.e. 50%), then they would have to sell a whopping 6.7 million new copies, JUST TO BREAK EVEN! Even in the most optimistic scenario where the publisher retails all $60 of the retail price, he would still need to sell 3.3-3.4 million new copies, AGAIN JUST TO BREAK EVEN!. So, yes, there is good reason to believe that the reason these high sell numbers are disappointing is because the budgets for these games has spiraled out-of-control to a completely unsustainable level. Please note that this little calculation has the implication that unless Bioshock Infinite successfully sells 5-6+ million copies, there is a good chance the publisher will consider the game a complete failure, by current thinking.

Basically, the budgets that are being put into these games are not market-sustainable. There simply can never be expected to be sufficient market penetration of any game, simply because of the sheer number of titles and the cost of each title to purchase, to cover these massive budgets. People just don't have enough time and money to be able to afford so many big-budget triple-A titles. Game publishers need to obtain better analysis and understanding of their target markets such to allow them to make better projections of likely sells numbers and then budget accordingly, rather than casting a budget and than having to expect some necessary number of sales to cover that budget. If you already know from the beginning that a given game is likely to sell only 1-2 million copies, then you will know to better budget the game around $20-40 million to allow a better chance for profit or, at the very least, breaking even. That market understanding would also include knowing what appeals to the game's target audience so the game can be designed accordingly, ensuring a greater likelihood to maintain sells in accordance with analysis expectations and protecting investment. Right now, game publishers are seemingly running their business by throwing darts, rather than having any real understanding of their market. Maybe they are doing some of this, but there is a disconnect going on somewhere because these budgets are just stupid.

ADDENDUM: Oh, another thing about that market analysis, it has to consider also the games that have been recently released and the games that are going to be released in the near future (in other words, understand the playing field and where your competition sit in it). People only have just so much money; so, one needs to consider the viability of selling one's game at a particular time versus any other time. This is another basic problem of the triple-A industry; it's become so over-crowded with releases that the density of titles at the current typical price makes impossible for every game to do well. The typical game buyer can only buy a certain number of titles in a given period of time. Once the density of titles exceeds this, then sells of particular games will see a decrease because the total cost exceeds the ability of a large majority of the population. Think of it as a graph where the horizontal axis is the total cost in games that can be afforded and the vertical axis in the number people that can maximally afford that exact total cost. This may look like a Bell curve or a Lorentzian with the tail at the low end (I admit, I'm just guess here on the shape). Now if we integrate from highest total cost to lowest total cost to obtain a population of the total number of people that can afford a particular total cost, we would likely get a graph that looks like an asymptotic exponential with an inflection. As we lower the total cost, the number of people able to afford the games increases till it reaches an asymptote, at which point further cost reduction does not yield significant increases in the number of people able to afford all games on the market. So, there is a best total cost that sits at the upper knee of the curve that would allow for reasonable budgets while ensuring that every title produced has a good chance of obtaining sufficient sales to be profitable. In my opinion, this is where the industry wants to sit, right at that knee, and there are two ways of getting there: 1) lower the average purchase price of titles or 2) reduce the number of titles released over a given time period. Doing this, I think, would improve the overall viability of the triple-A industry.

EDIT: Apologies for the wall-of-text.

This is one of From Software's biggest strengths. They didn't just pull this ability out of their asses, for the longest time they have been developing AAA quality games for niche markets. Because they are the masters at managing their budget and their limits. Especially compared to most western AAA developers today.

This is easily demonstrated in how they turned out the PC port in half a year without delay after being alarmed to the demand. And they knew how much effort they wanted to devote to it, knew exactly how it would turn out and knew exactly how long it would take.

Every western AAA developer and publisher could learn a thing or two about this. There's no "It'll be done when it's done" for them. The ability to gauge their strengths and their capabilities is amazing. And they can get the very most out of a small budget.

THANK YOU!

I am constantly talking about industry bloat here and many people try to shoot me down, saying games costs what games costs; not understanding what it is I am saying. I am glad someone with more credibility then me finally said this! I know more people will listen to you, and they better soon. This may be a catalyst in the next gaming crash!

Arcane Azmadi:
Why is this reminding me of the 1983 crash where Atari supposedly made more copies of ET than there were consoles in existence in the insane hope that it would sell more than was physically possible?

Because this is exactly what happened. Sad thing is we can see it coming a mile away now and yet no one is doing anything.

To quote bad santa...

"wish in one hand shit in the other and see which fills up first..."

Good advice for games studios.

Dark Souls continues to shit awesome. This pleases me.

So the long and short of it is Game Publishers = Children.

And yet there's this one guy who makes games for fuck all and yet it spawns graphic novels, light novels, an absolute mountain of fan works, two conventions devoted to it per year, and probably has the largest representation out of any series at the biannual comic fair. There is almost certainly not a single internet-geek in the world who has not at least heard of it. And he got a Guinness World Record for it too, very official.

Zachary Amaranth:
Dark Souls is gorgeous? How can it be when it only runs like 720p and less than 200 FPS?

...I'm not serious, but it's amusing to hear this is such a beautiful game after seeing so many people confirming the Crytek claims by screaming about how inferior the visuals were and such.

Made even more hilarious when you remember the PC gaming outcry when FromSoftware revealed they wouldn't improve graphics from the console version.

OT: I thought Supply and Demand was taught in Marketing/Sales 101

Callate:
There are probably bureaucratic/union reasons for it, but I'm always a little surprised no game company ever seems to go to their city's local community theater or college theater department for voice work, or hire from the web-listed semi-pros like The Stanley Parable did.

I would agree. I couldn't figure out why a game developer couldn't go to the local community collage for concept artists and such. You wouldn't even have to pay them, they could work for credit toward their diploma. Or if you had to pay them, it would be a student wage. I see no reason why the same couldn't be applied to voice/motion capture work.

Ulquiorra4sama:

Zachary Amaranth:
Dark Souls is gorgeous? How can it be when it only runs like 720p and less than 200 FPS?

...I'm not serious, but it's amusing to hear this is such a beautiful game after seeing so many people confirming the Crytek claims by screaming about how inferior the visuals were and such.

Made even more hilarious when you remember the PC gaming outcry when FromSoftware revealed they wouldn't improve graphics from the console version.

OT: I thought Supply and Demand was taught in Marketing/Sales 101

It was a lot more than that and even the publishers have admitted themselves it was a bad port. I'm happy they acknowledged this fact and are doing better with the sequel.

Aaahh, thought the title had "Duck Sales" in it and it was about the remastered Ducktales coming soon.

King of Asgaard:
The nail. You've hit it. Right on the head. Again. Thank god for you.
Also:
image

First: I'm stealing that. Making it my Facebook cover photo. Just FYI.

Second, although I'll disagree that Dark Souls is graphically beautiful, it doesn't matter with that game because the art style is just downright mesmerizing. I have a soft spot for dark fantasy, especially when it has a hint of that Japanese horror fucked-up-ness.

Third, PRAISE THE SUN!

AyaReiko:
And yet there's this one guy who makes games for fuck all and yet it spawns graphic novels, light novels, an absolute mountain of fan works, two conventions devoted to it per year, and probably has the largest representation out of any series at the biannual comic fair. There is almost certainly not a single internet-geek in the world who has not at least heard of it. And he got a Guinness World Record for it too, very official.

I feel like a huge weeaboo, knowing what this is referring to.

OT: Unfortunately, nobody seems to really get it. "It worked for Call of Duty/Farmville/whatever, so we've gotta do it too!" No. Stop right there. It works for Call of Duty because it's Call of Duty. You are not making Call of Duty, so don't try to make Call of Duty. Try making your own thing, setting your own goals for it and see what happens. Who knows what'd happen then?

The crash of the industry due to nobody making enough money, you say? And I thought you guys had enough money to take risks and ride it out if it doesn't pay off.

Azhrarn-101:

Anyone want to place bets that someone (the publisher) is going to call Bioshock Infinite a disappointment sales-wise because it didn't make back that $200 million in its first month of sales?!

That marketing budget is the issue here, $100 million for a Triple A game is a lot, but recoverable, doubling that target because of the marketing budget sure as hell is a lot harder!

There's your issue. Money is literally thrown away, does $100 million in marketing even double the sales of anything, let alone a title people are expected to pay $60 for.

Considering the massive amounts of free and really cheap advertising out there that these publishers could easily be utilizing, the fact that the the marketing budget even goes past the $1 million mark is ridiculous, not to mention $100 million.

What these publishers and developers should be trying to do is not to increase sales, but find ways to lower the costs involved in development and marketing while also achieving more or less the same level of quality.

ZeroMachine:

King of Asgaard:
The nail. You've hit it. Right on the head. Again. Thank god for you.
Also:
image

First: I'm stealing that. Making it my Facebook cover photo. Just FYI.

Second, although I'll disagree that Dark Souls is graphically beautiful, it doesn't matter with that game because the art style is just downright mesmerizing. I have a soft spot for dark fantasy, especially when it has a hint of that Japanese horror fucked-up-ness.

Third, PRAISE THE SUN!

The thing is, Dark Souls doesn't need to have the best fidelity to look good.
I mean, the weapon and armour design and detail, the different distinct areas and the critters that inhabit them; it doesn't NEED to have Crysis-level visuals to look impressive. The sheer variety and scope is impressive, not to mention the lack of loading screens between most areas.
The way it looks is appealing without it being the best looking game ever. As you said, it's the art style that looks great, rather than the sheer graphical prowess.

This is very good news Jim. You're saying that 100% of the gamers spoke with their money. 50% of the gamers bought the product because they didn't know, didn't care, or loved Tomb Raider. However, the other 50% of the gamers spoke with their money. What they said was that they didn't want a questionably bad product. Instead in many cases gamers would rather spend the same amount on a unknown product or at least one without question. This fuels what gamers actually want in many ways. It's a win!

This place turned into /dsg/ fast o.O

Zachary Amaranth:
Dark Souls is gorgeous? How can it be when it only runs like 720p and less than 200 FPS?

Mine runs at 2560x1440 :D but they will ban me if I go higher than 30 fps >.>

Next thing you know, Squeenix will say that Tomb Raider failed sales expectations because it features a female protagonist.

Just wait and see.

sleeky01:

Callate:
There are probably bureaucratic/union reasons for it, but I'm always a little surprised no game company ever seems to go to their city's local community theater or college theater department for voice work, or hire from the web-listed semi-pros like The Stanley Parable did.

I would agree. I couldn't figure out why a game developer couldn't go to the local community collage for concept artists and such. You wouldn't even have to pay them, they could work for credit toward their diploma. Or if you had to pay them, it would be a student wage. I see no reason why the same couldn't be applied to voice/motion capture work.

Because of time constraints. You probably got the finalized script a week before the non-negotiable dates you booked at the recording studio. Your local community college has a star actress who could competently read your 10 hours of dialogue for the female lead, including three dozen grunts and versions of "I'm under fire!" if you gave her a few extra takes and some lead time to learn the part. Jennifer Hale charges a lot more money, but you know she'll deliver the exact steely voice-over you wanted on the first or second take, and she doesn't sound like a 21-year-old. Since your key producers and director need to be on the set for these things, because there are probably only 5 people in the studio who really understand the vision, you can't afford to waste their time either.

Similar things apply to every discipline. I'm a good singer, but I wouldn't hire my group to do the vocals for your soundtrack unless it was a well-established piece so we had time to prepare.

amazing how over 3 million is seen as a failure. even in the tomb raider forum we are a bit worried that there will be no sequel because of SE greediness.

Dr. Mongo:
Time will tell if developers like EA will survive the coming years, but looking at the mismanagement and... well, utter bulls**t that runs rampant in these companies I'd say it is doubtful at least.

Really at this point EA is more of a publisher than a developer, as far as I can remember, the only thing they develop themselves is a portion of their sports games.

And seriously, EA has survived all the stuff that has happened to them in the past three years, and still making millions upon millions. They are going to be here for years to come, I would say on how much they still make and if they even made several tens of millions less, they'll still be around for another ten years minimum.

I wouldn't really worry about the AAA industry; whilst it's doing its thing (producing the odd good game like Bioshock Infinite), the indie and niche markets are thriving: as they are actually delivering what the players want. In that respect, gaming is in rude health.

Exactly, Jim.

I don't know what's going on in those companies. Whoever is doing the forecasting should not only be fired but their names should be announced publically so that no other company will accidentally hire them thinking that they're good at what they do just because they worked for a company that was smart enough to let them go.

These ridiculous projections are nigh fantasy. Like the sales forecaster had a pleasant daydream in which their company sold more copies than possible and they were riding a white unicorn amidst all their weeping exes who wanted nothing more than a second chance.

But the problem is, the budget then gets rolled out based on that number. Forecast 6 million copies and then you create a budget that leaves enough profit to make hitting that number worthwhile. Get than number horribly off and you miss the target by that much. I'm not sure where they got the forecasters. I'm not sure what metrics they're using that they're leaning so heavily on, but there are price forecasters puling a check at the absolute loss of the company they're working for. I'm not entirely sure that they shouldn't be held criminally liable for defrauding investors with projections like that.

If there is any forecaster reading this (doubtful), please know that projections are supposed to be realistic and err on the side of being conservative well before erring on the other side. If any upper-level management is reading this (even more doubtful), put real time into understanding forecasting and make sure your employees are doing it right. Your company lives or dies on good forecasting with such advanced budget planning.

Voulan:
Next thing you know, Squeenix will say that Tomb Raider failed sales expectations because it features a female protagonist.

Just wait and see.

Really?

Then why did the successes/failures of the 12 previous Tomb Raider games not seem to radically affect them over a 12-year period until Underworld? (13 games in a 14-year period if you count the downloadable Guardian of Light) Why is this game considered an underachiever already?

It couldn't be due to lack of advertising. I couldn't avoid any advertisements for this game, and I actively tried to. (compared to Sleeping Dogs where I don't remember if there even WAS a TV commercial made for it) That combined with every reviewer/gamer who played it elbow-checking each other to get to a computer fast enough to tell the entire world what a "shining beacon of light" this is in the "dank cellar of overpriced mediocrity" that is the video game industry that was supposed to bring in both new and existing Tomb Raider fans should have assured the game would meet that minimum 5-6 million first month sales quota easily. There's obviously something about the game that made them think that after sinking that much money into it that this is how much they needed to get back just to break even. And overinflated expectations or not, if this was one of their goals for the game and they failed significantly to reach it, then there must be some deeper things that are wrong with it that they need to address than just brushing it of as "it features a woman".

Although, interestingly enough, Mass Effect 3 (aka: The Bane Of Everyone Else's Existence) sold over $200 million (that's just under 3.5 million copies) in its first two months of release and the "soulless, money-sucking bastards" at EA considered that a pleasing success. This despite (or perhaps because of) the controversy surrounding it at the time. Maybe name recognition would have helped...oh wait. That's ANOTHER advantage this Tomb Raider game has. Go figure...

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