Still Street Fighting After All These YearsVision Doesn't Sell CopiesStill Street Fighting After All These Years - RSS 2.0
Clover was riding high with games that were winning awards by the fistful and amassing a cult following of rabid fans. Unfortunately, that same accomplishment ultimately led to their demise. While niche gamers clamor for original titles with stylish graphics and new models of gameplay - and Clover delivered original titles with stylish graphics and new models of gameplay - it seems mainstream gamers would rather buy something else. Okami offered a fanciful adventure through Japanese mythology and sold 266,000 copies in North America and Japan. Inaba's first Viewtiful Joe, which offered wild, hilarious 2-D action, sold only 275,000 copies against weak competition on the GameCube, and rattled to a stop with 46,000 sold on the PlayStation 2. The Clover-developed sequel, Viewtiful Joe 2, sold 61,000 on the GameCube and 18,000 copies of the PlayStation 2 version through December of 2004. God Hand fared no better than its more famous siblings, and, while hard numbers are hard to come by, sales were poor enough that the studio's life was on the line.
Selling hundreds of thousands of copies might have been enough to keep a scrappy independent developer running, but for a division of Capcom, they were a stinging disappointment. By contrast, Dead Rising for the Xbox 360 racked up a million sales by the end of 2006. In January of this year, Lost Planet, another Capcom title, racked up 329,000 sales in North America alone. In one month, and one market, Lost Planet beat the entire lifetime sales of one of Clover's titles. Ironically, the studios with the financial wherewithal to roll the dice on an artistic title can't afford the low sales figures those games bring in.
At the end of 2006, the Board of Directors decided Clover's time had come. The press release took the calm distance of an ER doctor, saying, "[While] Clover Studios Co., Ltd. has met the goal of developing unique and creative original home entertainment software," their current business strategy demanded they focus "management resources on a selected business to enhance the development power of the entire Capcom group." We like our illusions that everyone likes to make good games, sales be damned, but laid out in stark black and white is the truth of the gaming industry: Publishers will cut away the developers that don't produce games that make them money.
Game Development by Darwinism demanded the dissolution of Clover, and the board complied, scattering the team. Some moved inside Capcom and some moved to Clover vet-friendly studio Seeds to lick their wounds and try again.
What if you made a compelling, original game and nobody bought it? In a post-shutdown interview, Inaba reflected, "I think that it is becoming almost 'impossible' for an original game to succeed financially. This can't be blamed on anyone, but it's a simple fact that an original game doesn't appeal to the majority of gamers." In other words, to read review sites and look around the community at large, what reviewers say they want are artsy, original games. The "vision" of games and game designers is trumpeted as a catch-all remedy for the heartless money grubbing of the big publishers, but when it comes time for that all important last step - the exchanging of money for goods and services - vision doesn't sell games.
[em]Shannon Drake is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist and changed his name when he became a citizen. It used to be Merkw