Why Good Games Don’t Sell Well

This past weekend, I had a chance to play Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. My girlfriend’s cousin owned the game. I’ve been wanting to play this game for quite some time, and I finally did for a couple of hours. From the beginning, I could see why people loved this game. Just doing acrobatic moves without much effort was really cool.

I talked with my girlfriend’s cousin about how the game was a lot of fun and that I can’t believe no one bought it. He mentioned that his friends generally felt that the game looked like a “ripoff of Aladdin” and so they wouldn’t even give the game a try. Too bad for them…and unfortunately, too bad for the developers.

Over at Zen of Design, there is a post called Viewpoints on Why Great Games Don’t Sell. It cites a forum post on Idle Forums and a post by Scott Miller about the games Psychonauts and Ico. Both games are supposed to be amazing, and yet they had terrible sales.

While playing PoP:SoT, I did find that the jumping puzzles could have gotten frustrating. I wanted to fight off a group of opponents with flourish instead of jumping across pits at the right moment to avoid a buzz saw. On the other hand, running along walls and leaping from pillar to pillar was kind of fun in its own right. Apparently Ico and Psychonauts also had jumping puzzles.

Scott Miller provides a few of his own reasons for why a good game can fail, but I think part of the problem was the lack of marketing. I saw an ad in PC Gamer about Psychonauts. It didn’t immediately appeal to me and I still can’t tell you what the game is about. The review, on the other hand, made it sound kind of cool. I guess I didn’t read it very thoroughly though. And Ico was mentioned many times in the “Difficult Questions About Videogames” book, but I still don’t know anything about it. Of course, I don’t have a PS2, so I wouldn’t have played it anyway.

I suppose Miller could be right about the “kid’s game” idea. After all, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within was made darker and sexier than SoT, and it sold a lot better. But perception is a marketing problem. Obviously, Psychonauts looks childish, but I’m sure marketing could have figured out a way to convey the game itself rather than the idea that it is just a kid’s game.

Now, blaming it all on marketing is a cop-out, and I don’t believe it was the sole problem with these games. But I’m sure more could have been done to prevent this problem. Play testing is important. Are you telling me that no focus groups are arranged to figure out first impressions on games as well? “Based just on this ad, what can you tell me about the game? How do you think it would play? Would you buy it?” Tailor your ads based on the feedback you receive here.

Also, do something about the jumping puzzles and similarly tedious gameplay mechanics. It could be that no one really enjoys them. SoT at least made them interesting and fun for the few hours I got to play.

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