Tale of Tales Lashes Out at Gamers After Commercial Failure Forces Developer Out of Industry

Independent video game developer Tale of Tales is getting out of the gaming business after its latest game failed commercially.

Despite positive reviews from The Washington Post, Digital Spy, and IGN, the studio only sold about 4,000 copies of its exploration game Sunset.  In Sunset, gamers do housekeeping chores while simply learning about a war going on around them, a narrative which resembles a reality from which gamers may want to escape via video games. Despite this atypical narrative, its developers said they strived to create a “game for gamers.”

But their statements on Twitter had a different implication:

Sunset received good press from major publications. The Washington Post‘s review reads more like a synopsis than a critique; however, the author says, “‘Sunset’ feels like a beautiful culmination of [the developers’] vision, a loving attempt to turn the idea of private interiors into shareable spaces.” Digital Spy praises the game’s “opportunity to see how other people lived;” however, the reviewer notes that the experience is not entirely passive as the housekeeper’s work could impact the struggle between the government, with which her employer is aligned, and the revolutionaries, one of whom is her brother. Meanwhile, IGN described the simplicity and drabness of controls as making the player care more about the surrounding world. The reviewer did note that players cannot see consequences that reporting the housekeeper’s employer to the rebellion could have, but insists he “found them weighing on [his] conscience.”

The developers stated that their “desire to reach a wider audience was not motivated by a need for money but by a feeling of moral obligation… to make the world a better place through the sharing of art as video games.” But they also mentioned that “we needed to reach beyond [a small number of supporters]. Into the land of big numbers,” referring to an obvious need for developers to profit from their products.

Here is a tweet that Tale of Tales made to video game cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian:

Video game developers provide products for gamers much like teachers provide products for students. In both instances, the first party creates value for the second, which compensates the first to create a mutual exchange. The term “consumer niche” suggests that there are other niches in which the first party does not provide value to the consumer. So why should consumers feel obligated to cater to those who do not cater to them?

Tale of Tales blasted the free market on Twitter:

The developers end their blog post by stating “being wrong will set you free.” While this freedom may include an artistic liberty, it likely does not encompass a financial one.

Responding to this situation, Susan Arendt of GamesRadar makes the case that someone should aid these non-consumer-oriented developers. In a piece entitled “In defense of games that aren’t fun,” Arendt says gamers who prefer fun “are not ‘part of the problem’ for preferring it over its more ‘artistic,’ less accessible cousins. But we know how to make fun. What we don’t know how to do is whatever comes next, and we’ll never get there if we just stick to what we know.”

Arendt proposes “an arts fund – not a Patreon, not a Kickstarter, a legit fund – for video game creation,” because “creators deserve to be able to live a reasonable life while exploring the boundaries of their craft.” She states that “it’s foolish to expect consumers to pay for the kinds of games that will push [gaming’s] boundaries” because of their lack of fun. However, Arendt suggests “a scheme in which each major publisher… dedicates a set percentage of its yearly profit to the development of alternative games.”

But in order for Arendt to get publishers to agree to such a proposal, she and others will likely need to more precisely define what benefits these “artistic” games can deliver to gamers, if not fun.

It’s also baffling to think that gamers and publishers should support developers who are both not commercially viable and openly hostile to the gaming industry and the consumers of games. Following the announcement that Tale of Tales would no longer develop games, Michaël Samyn, one of the two people who made up Tale of Tales, launched a Patreon page to fund a series of articles dedicated to criticizing the gaming industry. “I can safely bite the hand that was unable to feed me,” he says in the Patreon description. “Maybe this will inspire some to make the many changes necessary to improve the situation. If not I hope it will contribute, however modestly, to the utter annihilation of videogames as we know them. That would be nice.”

Follow Rob Shimshock on Twitter.


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