As gamers, we all want to believe that good games sell on merit rather than marketing. And as Independent Game Developers we don't like to listen to "The Industry" telling us what will and won't sell. I've had many a debate about this over the years with all sorts of people, each with various perspectives and experiences. But, to my knowledge, I've not yet heard of a definitive answer to the question.
What we could really do with is an experiment to test the theory - ideally a game that "The Industry" has almost unanimously rejected as "uncommercial", which then gets released on a major distribution channel like, say, Xbox LIVE Arcade.
In which case you might want to keep your eye on Denki's latest game, Quarrel, an original strategy/word game (often compared to a mixture of Scrabble and Risk) that just launched on Xbox today, because it's pretty much exactly that.
If you haven't already heard, here's the story:
Today marks more than four years since the initial “Eureka!” moment that kicked development of Quarrel off, and more than two years since it was fully finished for Xbox LIVE Arcade and ready to launch. But getting this game launched wasn’t exactly a smooth ride for us. To give you some idea of how not smooth let’s just say it was rejected by almost every games publisher in the world. Sometimes twice; occasionally three times.
But here's the unusual part - it wasn't rejected because their game acquisition teams wouldn't recommend signing it, oh no. Almost without exception every acquisition team we showed it to thought it was a certifiable, bankable HIT – just as we all did. The problems only started once they’d passed Quarrel up the decision tree to their finance and marketing teams – the bit more commonly known as “The Industry“.
“This game is fundamentally broken – how can I possibly win a word game with only 3 letters when my opponent has 8?”; “We could never sell this because it’s English language only”; “It looks like a kids game, but it’s way too hard for kids” and everywhere (trust me – everywhere) in between. We heard the same justifications for passing on it over and over again ad nauseam. About the only one I don't remember hearing though was "this game's no fun."
However, one signal came through clearer than any other among the general noise of reasons why Quarrel wasn’t for them, and that was this: “Gamers don’t buy word games”.
Really, I thought? That’s quite an assertion, because I’m a gamer, and I’d definitely buy a word game. And most of my friends and colleagues are gamers, and I know they’d buy a word game. In fact almost everyone I know is a gamer; I’m sure most of them would buy a word game. And even the many hundreds of people who played the game during its development said they’d buy a word game. Providing it was good of course. So are you absolutely certain gamers don’t buy word games?
Yes. Yes they were. Definitely.
So who’s right then: Gamers like myself? Or the Games Industry? Well today, Wednesday January 25th 2012 is “The Day Of Reckoning”. It’s Gamers vs The Games Industry, and one of us is definitely wrong.
My money is (quite literally) on The Games Industry being wrong. I remain convinced that Gamers know a good game when they see one and will happily invest in it – even if does involve making words instead of headshots. That certainly seems to be the case if the reaction to the iPhone version we released back in August is anything to go by anyway, but maybe console gamers are different? What’s most exciting is that we don’t have to wonder or debate about this much longer because we’re actually going to know the answer soon enough.
What I hope more than anything is that “The Industry” is proven wrong on this one, because if they turn out to be right then Independent Game Studios everywhere might want to reconsider their approach to making games. That would be a depressing day for those of us who still believe in the market's appetite for quality original games.
If you feel the same then please tell everyone you can about Quarrel. Seriously – discovery remains the single biggest challenge facing original games these days by far. I usually assume everyone else already knows about whatever great games I’m enjoying by the time I’ve discovered them, but it always surprises me how often that’s not the case. So please take time to tweet, blog or whatever else you can do (however small) to help us spread the world about Quarrel – it all makes a difference.
You should feel free to reference it in your latest film, tell your Representative how disgusted you are at its nefarious pseudo-educational undertones, slag it off for not being CoD, despair at the number of obscure or overtly Scottish words it has in its dictionary, rage at all the rude words you can make when the parental controls are off, write a song about it – anything – so long as it spreads the word! Whatever helps people to hear about it and not simply ignore it would be most welcomed by us.
Particularly as Microsoft seems to have gone out of its way to relegate games to an afterthought in the most recent redesign of the Xbox dashboard...
Lastly, Quarrel’s come a long, long way since it first appeared looking like this back in 2007, and has taken a lot of effort from a lot of people to see the light of day. So a huge and public THANK YOU again to everyone who has contributed to Quarrel along the way. They've all helped make Quarrel in to what I consider the best game I’ve ever had the honour of working on – and that’s saying something, as I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great ones during my career.
It wasn’t the easiest journey to get here, that’s for sure, but being an Independent Game Studio is never easy so nobody expected that. There were many times when it would have made far more sense to throw in the towel and get on with making another dual-stick shooter or match-3 game. But for whatever reason we just couldn’t bring ourselves to give up on Quarrel. After all, as Zaphod Beeblebrox would say “Hey this is terrific. It means we really must be on to something if they’re trying to kill us!”
We’re all very proud of the Xbox version of Quarrel at Denki – the iPhone version is great too of course, but it was originally built with XBLA multiplayer in mind. We believe that’s where Quarrel moves from being a good game in to being a great game. But ultimately, regardless of what those of us who made it might believe we have to leave that for those who play it to decide. Something we’re only too happy to be able to do at long last.
We hope you like it as much as we do.
So, what do you say? Shall we settle the "who knows best" debate once and for all?