GSC Game World Public Relations Director Oleg Yavorsky says S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl failed to perform to expectations in North America because American gamers have trouble understanding eastern European games and gameplay.
In an interview with Eurogamer, Yavorsky said GSC Game World aims for audiences as broad as possible, but differences in "cultural mindsets" make their games less interesting and appealing to Americans and Asians than they are to Europeans.
"Most of our successful games were based on big historical elements, such as with Cossacks," he said. "Cossacks were pretty well known in Europe, so ultimately that game was more appealing to a European audience than to other audiences. I hear it discussed a lot that European games struggle to find an appeal in North America, for example, just because they're based on different settings and characters, with different stories being told."
Those cultural differences extend in attitudes toward core gameplay, Yavorsky added, suggesting the Russian and eastern European markets are far more receptive to unforgiving, "hardcore" games than those in North America. "Big companies always want you to make your game as easy as possible, so that any really non-intellectual person can play it," he said. "They want all sorts of tutorials to guide the player through, and this is something we've always been very resistant to."
"In our market we're used to having cheap games," Yavorsky continued. "That means all our audience play a lot of games and hence they're really hardcore about them - they want really challenging games, and they don't need to be guided through with basic explanations like, 'This is your gun; this is how you move.'"
"But then, everything, even up to the color spectrum and how bright your game is, can be an issue. It seems that to appeal to North America you need really flashy, bright games, and you can see that every eastern European game is very dark," he added. "In the end, I guess this just comes down to our culture and history - we're different people, and that's that."
GSC Game World is currently at work on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, a prequel set one year prior to the events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that will offer improvements to the game's AI and interface, new weapons and monsters and large amounts of new territory to explore. The game is currently set for release at the end of August. Eurogamer's full interview with Oleg Yavorsky is available here.