Editor's Note

Critical Success, Commercial Flop


The flop is a phenomenon as old as media itself. Someone pours his heart and soul into his creation, and, for whatever reason, his magnum opus ends up in the bargain bin before the release party comes to an end. Like so many Icaruses falling before they reach the Sun, content producers quickly learn the business of selling entertainment is a game of failures (and mixed metaphors).

In the videogame industry, you’ll have trouble finding anyone, be it an indie cult hero like Introversion or a juggernaut like EA, without a game or two they’d rather not talk about. Most of the time a game flops due to some critical flaw – crippling bugs, a horrendous license, excessive hype, bad timing, hubris … . But sometimes, there’s really no explanation for a game not catching on with players. Even the press will agree on game and look on alongside the developer when consumers ignore what “the critics” called a can’t-miss.

Take, for instance, Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer’s brilliant comedy/noir adventure game that did everything right, but failed so famously it’s considered the canary of the adventure coal mine. Hell, take any Tim Schafer game: brilliant but forgotten by a world that moved on. Even BioShock‘s spiritual grandparent, System Shock 2, routinely touted as one of the best games ever made, sold poorly.

Luckily, there’s an antidote for this particular brand of flop: the internet, the place where nothing ever really dies. Squirreled away on The Underdogs is System Shock 2 for anyone with a hankering to give it a shot. You can find Grim Fandango pretty much anywhere, if you bother to look. But those are just two games that have enjoyed a resurgence online. This week, we’re covering a few you may have missed in issue 139, “Critical Success, Commercial Flop.”

Alan Au speaks to X-Com‘s creators to discover what made the game such a beloved part of the old-school gamer consciousness. Brendan Caldwell looks back on Beyond Good & Evil, a journey into the dark heart of objective journalism. Our own Nova Barlow talks to a few of the internet librarians keeping Grim Fandango alive. Howard Wen speaks to the guys at Cryptic Allusion about what went wrong (and right) with the Dreamcast. And Chris LaVigne spends some time with indie developers who’ve made a name for themselves through their labors of love. We hope we turn you onto something you glossed over in the past, or at least remind you of how much fun you had the first time. Enjoy!

Joe Blancato

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