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"Mass appeal" is ruining games... but publishers are waking up

Jonathan Lester
Bravely Default, Hitman, Square Enix

"Mass appeal" is ruining games... but publishers are waking up

'You lose sight of who you're developing for'

Who's sick and tired of publishers chasing the idea of "mass appeal" with classic franchises and new IPs - and ruining them in the process? With the likes of Fuse and Resi 6 still leaving a sour (and diluted) taste in our mouths, I daresay all your hands are firmly aloft.

Luckily publishers are waking up to this fact, even including some of the industry's more intractable companies. Despite taking their sweet time about it, Square Enix have realised that staying true to your roots results in strong sales and better games, as the brilliant Bravely Default demonstrates that we're willing to pay for quality niche games - not watered-down drivel that's focus-tested to within an inch of its life. It's a phenomenon that's going to becoming increasingly important throughout this new generation, and one that deserves more attention.

"If you focus too much on the global aspect, you might lose sight of who you're actually making the game for," Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda admitted to Nikkei Trendy [via Siliconera]. "For example, if you look back at 2013, we've had some home console games made for a global audience that struggled."

"The development team for Hitman: Absolution really struggled in this regard," he elaborated, citing IO Interactive's decent but somewhat watered-down Hitman effort. "They implemented a vast amount of 'elements for the mass' instead of for the core fans, as a way to try getting as many new players possible.

"It was a strategy to gain mass appeal. However, what makes the Hitman series good is its appeal to core gamers, and many fans felt the lack of focus in that regard, which ended up making it struggle in sales.

"So, as for the AAA titles we're currently developing for series, we basically want to go back to their roots and focus on the core audience, while working hard on content that can have fans say things like 'this is the Hitman we know'. I believe that is the best way for our development studios to display their strengths."

Matsuda pointed at Bravely Default as a sales success that made no excuses: a quality JRPG that didn't compromise on its hardcore niche appeal and sold well on the back of it. We're delighted to hear it, seeing as Bravely Default is exceptional.

You don't need to look far to find more examples of games and publishers getting it right. Dark Souls II's fortnight in the top ten shows that we demand quality niche games that stay true to themselves, while CD Projekt's decision to delay The Witcher 3 was met with cheers and praise, not disappointment. Indie games are flourishing (despite some serious growing pains), and you only need to glance at Star Citizen's new $41 million milestone to realise that "mass appeal" doesn't mean squat as far as most of us are concerned.

It's also worth noting that the mythical "mass" or "casual" market typically doesn't pre-order games or spend a huge amount of money on the hobby, instead sticking to a few key annualised franchises - so aren't actually worth chasing at the expense of ruining perfectly good games! The pie may be tantalisingly large, but there are so few slices to go round.

There's also absolutely nothing wrong with making a game accessible - just one of the reasons we love the likes of Titanfall and even Pokemon - but it's all too easy to achieve by just ripping out depth, nuance and classic features we're used to from a long-running franchise.

We congratulate Square Enix for their long-overdue realisation (with a slow clap), and now that the new console generation is in full swing, here's hoping that games stay true to themselves -- and to their target audience -- over the coming years. However, "going back to their roots" will also require them to tighten their belt a little, draw up realistic sales projections and market their games appropriately at exactly who they're designed for.

Specifically, us.

Add a comment3 comments
Covert Recon  Mar. 31, 2014 at 21:05

This article brings to mind the changes made to Battlefield. Maps that try to run a dozen gametypes, hundreds of weapon variations, TDM and Domination to draw in the COD crowd.

That last point is the most relevant. EA have tried to mass appeal BF to attract COD players. Judging by the reaction of my 11 year old Black Ops II-loving son and his friends, it hasn't worked. They have alienated many grown-ups with their attempts at appealing to a wider audience though...

c173ba6  Jun. 1, 2014 at 20:55

Hardcore gamers and or "fans" hate the casualization and dumbing down of gaming and think the entire industry and or game in development should revolve around them and their needs over the other people (newcomers, casuals).

Or that they should be the priority because that's how it was back in the 1980s. Gaming wasn't casualized back then and they want the 1980s back, so to speak because it was about "games made for gamers by gamers". Instead of now where "games made by developers/publishers for everyone". Even though this one article I read last year stated that a particular game wouldn't be profitable unless they opened it up to a wider audience. Making the game solely for their fans wouldn't make enough money to break even.

They hate the idea of bringing in newcomers into gaming. Other activities like golf or baseball don't have any issues with new people taking up the sport, but gamers hate newcomers. They seem to forget that they were once newcomers to gaming, back when they were growing up.

Last edited by c173ba6, Jun. 1, 2014 at 21:02
KimonoBoxFox  Mar. 24, 2015 at 14:50

Also, we request that casual gamers be thrown into wood-chippers world-round. Yeah, how about 'no'.

We of the 80's were 'newcomers' (read, oblivious cash cows) once. We were simply the experiments of the blooming industry. No suit-and-tie knew plumbers eating magic mushrooms, spinning bandicoots with tiki masks, and marines fighting demons on Mars would be the things, back then, because the only practical models they had to compare to were things like Pong.

The point is, we didn't get a magical submarine that was built just for us. Developers were as much artistic folk back then, as is now. And as then, game publishers catch on to the success of a formula, and try to excessively stifle what they think will fail from a marketing standpoint.

Really, the only damning thing that's changed since the 80's, has been the relative success of the industry, and how much say the business-minds have in restricting what their developers bring to the table, based on prior iterations of 'success'.

See also why Ubisoft has declared they'll not stop releasing an "Assassin's Creed" installment every year, until the franchise stops (appearing to) appeal to their consumers--versus say, making a single sequel to "Beyond Good and Evil", which was critically well-recieved, but only caught on with a niche crowd.

It's amusing to think that some people can still confuse 'appealing to everyone by intended design' as an altruistic, creative gesture by the creators, though, when it's more like 'playing to the ignorant masses, til we can't no more', from the perspective of the publisher that funds the project.

I mean, how long does it take you lot to catch on? It's funny to think you 'new guys', as you see yourselves, don't take exception to the notion that you're being selectively profited off of by design. Most of 'us', at least were marketed to for being 10-year-olds with underdeveloped brain patterns, in the 80's. What's your handicap, then--low standards?

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