'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.