Establishing a market for adventure games overseas
First posted on 12 February 2003. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
The so-called "death" of the adventure genre in the US has been largely attributed to a recent change in the way US gamers want to experience their games. While it is true that the market for fast paced games which incorporate some element of instant gratification for the player, usually in the form of killing, shooting, or simply direct control over the game character, has increased greatly since the decline of the adventure game industry in the early 1990s, I feel that the lack of adventure games from US developers stems from an over exaggeration of the aforementioned problem in the minds of the developers themselves. The adventure gaming community has so far done an admirable job of trying to remedy this problem, and there are a few truly excellent independently produced games floating around the internet, most of which are inaccessible to all but those who make a special effort to hunt them down. This is by no means the fault of the people behind the game, as they usually lack the funds and the manpower to promote their products. The ugly side of this is that most of the promising independent games end up being terminated after years in development due to financial problems or simply frustration. This frustration also carries over to the gamer when the gamer discovers that this project has been canceled.
I have a great respect for those who take the time out of their lives and possess the skills to try to make their own contribution to the genre, but the fact is that most of the truly promising games never work out. However, lately I have been noticing an influx of very highly acclaimed adventure games coming from around the world, although mostly from Europe. The trouble is that most attempts to import these games to the US have caused the original developer as well as the US publisher to lose a lot of money. I believe that if increasing numbers of these imports become profitable, then US developers may again begin to see merit in the adventure game genre, and we may again have a steady supply of these games arriving from overseas.
The solution sounds very simple—for gamers in the US to make a point of buying these games as they come in, and even to try to procure them through vendors outside the US. The trouble is that this is more trouble than many want to go to in order to get their hands on a foreign game. The market that we need is the casual or beginning gamer, and those tend to simply browse the shelves at their local Wal-Mart in hopes of finding a passable game. As large as the adventure gaming community is, it is still, sadly not large enough to goad a developer in the US to produce an adventure game or for a foreign developer to be willing to spend thousands on a commercial venture with an extremely slim chance of even making back what they put out in the first place. This puts us in a position where there are a number of factors that are beyond our direct control. The only factor that we control directly is what games we decide to buy. The other factors need to be sympathetic developers, both in the US and overseas who are willing to lose some money in order to reinstate a genre that in most cases built the company in the first place, and adventure gaming communities in foreign countries who are willing to put in a good word for us with their native developers.
If all of these factors combine in just the right proportions at exactly the right time, this can open a small window for US gamers to take more initiative than they have previously possessed. With these games now in stores, of course support must be shown by purchasing the games, but also by encouraging friends to purchase them and by showing gratitude to the companies which chose to develop and publish them. The latter can be in the form of a general complimentary email or a petition citing the success of a certain release in your community, accompanied by as many signatures that can be garnered to support your cause. There are also a number of more indirect ways that we can help. The first which comes to mind is to make sure that a particular release gets recognition in as many print sources as possible. The companies that release these games read most of the major gaming magazines, follow sales figures, and explore the web trying to gauge the success of their latest titles, or to project how future trends may affect sales of potential games in their lineup. Also, never underestimate the power of word of mouth, anyone you know who is even remotely connected to the gaming industry must be told of the need for more adventures games, or made aware of triumphs in that genre by the company with which they are connected, or better yet, the triumph of a competitor of that company.
All of this can be achieved by most people. Find some sort of European mail-order site to order games which that are not available in the US. Continue to show support for old games, like the Simon the Sorcerer series, and all the classics released by well-known US developers. Writing an email or letter of commendation to a company releasing an adventure game in the US does not take more than 15 or 20 minutes at most, and it takes almost no effort to refer a friend. Some of the other measures only need be taken by a few of us to be effective, but the more who participate in these the better the response shall be. Making a petition can be a big job, but the payoff is generally very good, and even those disinterested in the genre can be persuaded to sign them. Buying all foreign games in your genre of interest, regardless of quality, is also a step in the right direction, although I am unsure of the effect of this. There are 2 possible scenarios. The first scenario is that developers may take your purchase as a sign that you have enjoyed how the game is the first time, and import a second substandard game into the US. The second scenario is that the lack of quality in the first game is due to lack of money and the skilled team members that it can attract, and can lead to a polished follow-up which is more worthy of your time (I know that is being very optimistic on my part).
The final word
Basically what it all boils down to is that gamers bemoaning the lack of decent adventure games must be encouraged to take a look at the international market and show support for those companies, independent developers, and those still producing adventure games in the US. The money that you spend on games is your best tool and your mode of communication, as sad as it may be, which is most effective in the gaming industry. Most of the extra measures, while also being extremely helpful, may be out of reach of the common gamers. Try to think outside national boundaries and show your support, because your effort can turn around the gaming industry in a surprisingly short time, if you persist and encourage those around you to do the same.