Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 26, 2010
I really do admire the CDProjekt guys, and their attitude overall towards RPGs, even though they are going even more action-oriented. I was going to come up with an awesome retort, though, to Tomasz Gop’s recent Eurogamer interview, where he explained their rationale. And amusingly ribs Mass Effect a little.
So I was gonna say something like the above title, and prove myself wrong by looking up Persona 4‘s numbers. I mean, surely, world-wide, this quirky, off-beat RPG with turn-based combat sold a million copies worldwide? Woops. Nope. Only 110,000 copies sold in North America – beneath expectations. It did substantially better in Japan, selling 300,000 copies. But still – that’s less than a half-million total copies.
Very few PC RPGs ever broke a million sales, and I think they’ve all been action-RPGs. The Witcher, Diablo I and II, Dungeon Lords (surprisingly), Dungeon Siege, etc. Gop also talks about their console direction, and makes the very straightforward point that it simply makes business sense. Although the PC sells smaller numbers, the profit margins are traditionally higher, and digital downloads push them higher still. But still… if you figure 100,000 sales is all you are going to make, that’s still a pretty small budget these days. Maybe enough for a dozen full-time people to work on the game for a couple of years.
So unless some genius figures out how to make AAA quality games for 1/10th of the price, or some surprise niche turn-based RPG comes out of left field and sells millions of units and changes everybody’s math, I don’t think holding one’s breath waiting for a revival of AAA-quality western-style turn-based RPGs is a wise move. Even the jRPGs are moving in the action-based direction.
So for those who like the more cerebral pace, it’s really going to have to come from the indies. That should come as a shock to nobody, right? The big question is, I suppose, is what’s possible now? Back in 1990, you could throw fifteen man-years at a game and get something like Ultima Underworld or Might & Magic 3: Isles of Terra, and have a reasonable expectation of breaking even. I think for indies today, it’s more like three.
On the plus side, we have digital distribution, alternative advertising methods, and much better tools and technology to work with. But on the downside, we’ve got major downward price pressure in spite of two decades of declining dollar value, plus a much more crowded playing field that makes it challenging to even give away a game at those levels.
It’s a challenge I’m glad to see the indies tackling. With higher-profile upcoming indie games like Avadon: The Black Fortress (Spiderweb), Age of Decadence (Iron Tower), Eschalon: Book 3 (Basilisk), and Dead State (Doublebear) – plus many others on the horizon – I think the near future is bright for those stalwarts who crave some western-style turn-based CRPG goodness. If there’s a chance of that style of game to make something of a resurgence and push the boundaries of what is commercially viable for what has now become a “niche” subgenre, this is a good one.
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