Yesterday I finished Dead Space 3, and most likely bid farewell
to Isaac Clarke and his Necromorph friends, thanks to EA's attempt to broaden the audience, because lord knows modern games absolutely cannot survive with anything less than five million sales
The results were entirely predictable
, which just might have permanently killed the series, which is a a crying shame. After being put off by all
and only playing it thanks to the $1 Humble Bundle, it turns out that, despite EA's best efforts, the game was still good.
That's so meta!
Somehow, it still felt like a Dead Space game. The dreaded shooty bits were few and far between, and it took me nearly 20 hours to finish, a respectable length. More than once I felt like the game was about to end, only to be greeted with several more chapters. I didn't play the coop, and the fact the game was designed for it sometimes led to jarring scenes, but most of the time it was a non-factor.
There are problems, of course. The worst offender is, you guessed it, the microtransactions. Not so much that they exist, but how they are implemented. It's not even that the game is designed around pushing the player towards them: much to my surprise, that's not the case. The game is generous with resources and items (too generous, in fact, which is in itself problematic. In the latter half of the game I had dozens of medpacks and rows of ammo, essentially making me immortal and pretty much killing any pretense of "survival horror") and eventually I had more than I knew what to do with it.
Way to kill the mood.
No, my main problem is that they are in your face and constantly take you out of the experience. Every time you try to craft something you don't have all the resources for, the game reminds you that you can just buy them. When I play a game like Dead Space, I like to pretend that I'm the character and I'm "in the game". While some mock the idea of immersion, it's an important part of gaming to me, and I can easily suspend my disbelief to maintain the fantasy while it lasts, as long as the game doesn't get too much in the way. Being regularly reminded I can buy stuff with €€€€€ just kills the atmosphere. If the microtransactions were exactly the same, but instead of getting constant in-game prompts the advertising was limited to the main menu, I might have barely noticed them. I'd still have a few minor complaints, like the lame universal ammo system (a casualty of the microtransactions), but nothing major.
Which begs the question: sure, Dead Space 3 was never going to sell 5 million copies no matter how delusional EA execs were, but could it have outsold Dead Space 2 (aka "broadened the audience") if EA hadn't done such a thorough job of alienating the fanbase? We'll never know, but it's possible.
Pictured: wider audience not playing Dead Space.
Conventional wisdom says that public outrage doesn't matter, that when push comes to shove consumers will buy whatever crap is put in front of them. While I have at times shared that view, now I don't think it's quite so clear cut. The Xbone is the obvious example, but it goes beyond that. Despite EA's ambitions, Dead Space is still a small brand. It is not even close to Resident Evil's league (itself a big name but far from the GTAs of the world), where failure looks like 5 million copies. I'd say it's a safe bet that the vast majority of Dead Space 3 players are people like us, enthusiast gamers who closely follow the industry, spread the word and know Hideo Kojima's birthday (come to think of it, I actually don't, but you get the point!), and that is precisely the audience that loathes EA shenanigans so much. Once your brand reaches a certain level of success, sure, maybe you can release "Call of Duty: Hello Kitty Edition" and still sell 10 million copies, but first you have to get there. And you don't do that by doing what EA did with Dead Space.
Take Call of Duty, for instance, the One Standard To Rule Them All. It is easy to forget now, but Call of Duty was once "just" a successful game selling two or three million copies. And they built the audience they have now over several years by consistently delivering the game their players wanted. Back then, the market was saturated with WW2 shooters, and GTA was far and away the biggest third-party success story. Did Activision go "hey, look at how much GTA is selling. Quick, make CoD open world!"? No. Modern Warfare, which catapulted CoD into what it is today, was never meant to appeal to people who don't like shooters.
And why oh why does Dead Space need 5 million sales to "survive"? For the love god, why? Take Capcom, for example They get a lot of hate, much of it deserved, but to their credit they haven't gone batshit crazy with their sales targets. Take a look at the targets for their latest big games:
Resident Evil 6: 7 million
DmC: 2 million
Lost Planet 3: 1.3 million
Monster Hunter 4: 2.8 million
But, but, but, look at that ridiculous Resident Evil target!! Let's get that out of the way: there was nothing unrealistic about expecting Resident Evil 6 to sell 7 million copies, just as it's perfectly normal to expect GTA V to sell over 20 million. Resident Evil 5 sold 6 million, and had RE6 been as well received
as its predecessor, it would likely have sold even more than 7 million. All the other targets are rather modest by today's standards.
Now, consider Lost Planet 3. I still haven't played it, I intend to, but from what I've seen it's a high-budget production, easily matching Dead Space 3 in production values and scope. Last I checked, Capcom's goal wasn't to lose money, so it's unlikely they would forecast 1.3 million sales for Lost Planet 3 AND greenlight the game if that number wasn't a profitable number, even if just modestly. So why oh why can't Dead Space "survive" without 5 million sales?
Or Sleeping Dogs, a fantastic looking open-world game with a huge scale (or so I heard). Square expected to sell slightly over 2 million copies, a somewhat modest target for a game of such scale. The game initially didn't sell as much, but Square has since gone on the record to say it had turned a profit. So, for the love of all the gaming gods, why the bloody hell does Dead Space need 5 million to "survive"?
To be clear, I don't buy the fantasy that every game that sells more than a million copies should automatically be considered an unqualified success, much less some of the ludicrous comparisons to indies ("look, indie game X sold 50k and was successful, lol EA!). Games like GTA and Skyrim cost big bucks to make, and whether gamers admit it or not, all that beautiful, expensive coat of pain is a big part of their appeal. Such games wouldn't be viable if they only sold a million or two.
Regardless, we see again and again that the "5 million" mantra for something like Dead Space just doesn't add up, and it's a crying shame that such a promising series is dying an early death thanks to publisher cluelessness.
R.I.P, my friend. You will be missed.