Indie Studio Leaves “Commercial” Video Games Behind

Indie Studio Leaves “Commercial” Video Games Behind
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Tale of Tales, who most recently released the excellent Sunset — but who were also behind games like The Path and The Endless Forest — have decided to stop making and releasing commercial (in the most literal sense, as in available for sale) video games, announcing the news with an honest and confronting blog post that anyone involved with independent video games should probably take a look at.

Our desire to reach a wider audience was not motivated by a need for money but by a feeling of moral obligation. We felt we had to at least try to reach as many people as possible. To make the world a better place through the sharing of art as video games, you know.

The drying up of funding for artistic video games in Belgium (an issue beyond the scope of this article) did make satisfying this desire more urgent. No problem, we thought. This is an opportune moment. Several games with similarities to our own have been greatly successful. Some of their creators openly admit to be inspired by our work. So we studied theirs and figured out how to make our next project more accessible.

That game was Sunset, and Tale of Tales bet big on it, spending more cash than they had on its development and even going so far as to hire a PR company and taking out ads on PC-centric games site Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

The approach didn’t work. The game has sold 4000 copies, which in the scale of the PC market and the amount they spent on its development and promotion, is a massive disappointment. Comparing the work that went into the game’s design and its ultimate failure to resonate with a wider audience, Tale of Tales says they have learned the following:

– We studied successful games and applied our findings to the design of Sunset. And while the inclusion of certain conventions seems to have helped some people enjoy the game, it didn’t affect the size of our audience much.

– We spent a lot of money on a PR company who got us plenty of press, took some work and worries off our shoulders, and found us other marketing opportunities. But it didn’t help sales one bit.

– We even took out an advertisement on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, where we figured the people most interested in Sunset would be gathered. They must all use AdBlock because that had no effect whatsoever.

– We worked hard on presenting a gentler Tale of Tales to the public. Which basically meant that Michaël was forbidden to talk in public and Auriea often just smiled at the camera, parroting words whispered in her ears by communication coaches. Didn’t make a difference.

“We are happy and proud that we have tried to make a ‘game for gamers.'”, they add. “We really did our best with Sunset, our very best. And we failed. So that’s one thing we never need to do again. Creativity still burns wildly in our hearts but we don’t think we will be making video games after this. And if we do, definitely not commercial ones.”

The game’s fate, and that of Tale of Tales, has led to some soul-searching amongst prominent indie developers, and for good reason: what are current or aspiring devs to take away from events like this? How can they survive as developers working on games as (SORRY) art, and not have to dilute or alter their designs simply in order to reach a market and thus make money? What does it mean when a game resonates with the press but can’t find an audience?

Whatever the future brings to Tale of Tales’ Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (and whatever kind of work they’re able to produce free from having to worry about adblock), we wish them all the best.


  • I like that people on twitter are blaming gamers for not buying the game.

    The game looks boring as shit and doesn’t look as polished as other “walking simulators” like Gone Home or Stanley Parable.

    • Actually they were blaming their hired PR department and consulting agents as well for steering them in a direction that gamers weren’t interested in. They targeted the wrong audience an audience that has little interest in actually buying games it seems. Now they’re mad about it understandably.

      Kotaku missed the quote.

      “So now we are free. We don’t have to take advice from anybody anymore. We were wrong. Everybody whom we consulted with on Sunset was wrong.”

  • Well…thats the thing about making a product and selling it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

    It isn’t an indictment on the game (whether people think it is fun or not is their own opinion), or on artistic games (many of those have succeeded before). At the same time, it isn’t an opinion on the market in general (it was already a niche product anyways). In then end, its a reminder of how difficult the industry actually is. I mean we’re always hearing about the breakout indie success, we often forget about the hundreds and thousands of developers that are struggling.

    So lets all calm down and just move on, without pointing fingers at each other…

  • I’m sure there’s an audience out there, but …
    The blurb didn’t pull me in.
    The trailer had little to entice – Do it like the movies where they put in frames from segments of the movie from start to finish.
    Overlaying quotes from Game News sites ….why? – I don’t know who they are.
    This game feels like a cinematic experience, so just present me cinematic moments.

    MIND: Path to Thalamus’ trailer grabbed me, so I bought it.

  • It’s an extremely oversaturated market, especially now games design courses and the like are more available and more popular than ever before. Why did this game fail? Maybe it was the PR that was bad. Maybe it was the game that was bad. Maybe they made something that no one’s willing to buy.

    I do see a trend in articles like this one of small indie developers hitting hard times or closing down because a game was a failure. It’s almost always someone else’s fault

  • They can call it art all they want, they made a game about a HOUSE CLEANER. The story seems like they tried to turn a movie idea into a video game and slap some token notion of gameplay against it. The trailer watches like a movie and there is no mention of what you actually do in the game.

    Come on people, this is game development 101. I honestly don’t know what they expected.

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