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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Comments

Tadhg

It does sound a little like what you're saying is "Ico was great, except for all the bits that made it unique" Scott.

Especially when there are shorter, odder and more meaninglessly-named games out there doing well every day. Like Katamari Damacy. Viewtiful Joe. And such and such.

I think you're also doing the setting and character a huge disserviceby calling them 'generic', as it is precisely those aspects of the game that makes such ardent fans of the whole. It's beautiful, it's different, it's serene etc.

What most people say with this and a few other games is that their failure is largely to do with how it was presented, marketed and ultimately that its publisher seemed to have very little faith in it. It's a failure of business, not necessarily of the game, that it didn't fly. Some sells are more difficult than others, but the reaction of the industry is often not to try with those sales. Anything that doesn't fit is often assumed to simply not be worth it.

And yet quirky, charming and the unusual are exactly what draw many people into gaming in the first place. The games industry has a long and lustrous tradition of coming up with oddball creations that charm the public, right the way back to Donkey Kong, Pac Man and Space Invaders.

But we've become afraid of that (and afraid of ourselves, I would say), afraid of failure, and that has moved us into this psychology of over-concern of business angle and short changing the very reason that we do this in the first place, which is creative expression.

So I take your points on board, but I'd suggest you take a long look at why it is that you feel the need to slap down so hard on a might-have-been when there are plenty more unsuccessful games out there that were clearly never going to fly.

Wilf

Some interesting points.

I really do think however that one aspect of the game's appeal was in it's limited public awareness.
There was a sense of "cool gamer" to be playing Ico. Much like Rez around the same time.

Ico was littered with challenges and rich in rewards for the successful completion of those challenges. At times it was infuriating and at times it was simply beautiful.
Much like Rez.

The argument surrounding the name of the game is a little odd. Does Shenmue or Ikaruga mean anything to anybody? These are first class titles and loved in the west. Naturally I picked two japanese games to illustrate my point ;) But the point is not everything has to be called "BALLISTIC BOB" to sell.

The oddball hero concept you talk about also blighted Jak and Daxter. (mute hero)
Something that Insomniac later addressed to great effect with Ratchet and Clank. I think there is some mileage in this argument. More so than the others. Jak and Daxter was wonderfully executed if a little easy, but the lack of depth to your character made it a little shallow.

As for it being perceived as a kid's game, well, I play kid's games a lot :-) Zelda and Mario are the original kid's games and these sold in spades.

I'm no officonado on your games but I'm guessing that Prey and Duke will continue the route of every-increasing-arsenal to destroy ever-more-threatening-adversaries whilst looking for the key or cardpass to unlock a door.

Sometimes it's the games that dared to be different that make the biggest impact. Albeit on a smaller scale than the publisher had perhaps anticipated.

Francesco Poli

It's interesting to note how a vaguely decent platform/beat'em up could get hyped to such extremes. Ico's story is cute, the technical aspect nice and the story delivery decent, but that's basically all it has.

Having to handhold a particularly stupid AI is not exactly something I call original. It wasn't funny in Daikatana, it sure as hell is not funny here. The game mechanics, as said, *never* go beyond the frankly tired platforming/puzzling/beating. And on those, games like Project Eden are much better.

Plus the PAL version got the dreadful watermill puzzle, plus all enemies head for the farthest hole after grabbing Yorda, not the closest one - making many scenes nothing but frustrating messes. I have to wonder what the hell the designers were on when they decided the game needed a shot of unplayability. And the very final platforming section... yes, a giant section where one minor misstep (something easy with the wonky camera) means repeating everything from the very beginning. There's a truckload of fun to be had there. /sarcasm

Bottom line: few games were more overhyped than Ico. It has no originality what-so-ever and as far as delivery goes, there's hundreds of better (*significantly* better) games out there.

If designers start making more games like Ico, gaming is in serious trouble.

Francesco Poli

>Much like Rez around the same time.

Ah, forgot about Panzer Dragoon-lite on drugs. And here I went, thinking that gameplay was king.

Oh, don't worry. If this is the level of comments, I'm not bothering anymore, so flame on.

Scott Miller

Ahhhhhhhhhh! Kill me now! I hate typing in this postage-stamp sized edit box!!! Anyway...

The Mario and Zelda games, while kid-oriented, have a long history and built a fanbase from when many of us were much younger, so it's not a apples-to-apples comparison to Ico's situation.

Tadhg: The name Ico was only a small part of the problem. The bigger problems, as I noted, were the final two. And while the game may have shed its generic cloak while you played it, the important thing to note is that while you held the box in your hand it came off as more generic than it really was after you played it. In marketing, perception trumps reality.

>>> The games industry has a long and lustrous tradition of coming up with oddball creations that charm the public, right the way back to Donkey Kong, Pac Man and Space Invaders. <<<

Yeah, but back then the industry was much different.

>>> Does Shenmue or Ikaruga mean anything to anybody? These are first class titles and loved in the west.<<<

Again, these games had far more compelling foundations, and couldn't be perceived as kid-oriented games.

Wilf

I think it's interesting what different people get out of different games.

Oh, don't worry. If this is the level of comments, I'm not bothering anymore, so flame on.

Tiresome.
Just goes to show. In the big picture of things, opinion is nothing.

Tadhg

"Ahhhhhhhhhh! Kill me now! I hate typing in this postage-stamp sized edit box!!! Anyway..."

Aye :(

"The name Ico was only a small part of the problem. The bigger problems, as I noted, were the final two. And while the game may have shed its generic cloak while you played it, the important thing to note is that while you held the box in your hand it came off as more generic than it really was after you played it. In marketing, perception trumps reality."

No Scott, just not true. It never looked generic to me. I'll concede that it looked like a younger-audience game, but then I don't see how that is a negative. The compelling subject is shown on the box cover.

But of course the other thing to be noted is that the box covers in the US and UK were different. The US cover is blander than bland, your average 'hero in dynamic pose' nonsense. The UK box, on the other hand, is a wonderful picture of two tiny people running against a shadowy landscape of huge proportions. So we may be arguing based on having seen different things.

In marketing perception does trump reality. Nowhere more so than the marketing department and how they allocate their budget.


"Yeah, but back then the industry was much different."

Was it really? There were tons of generic cash-in games back then just as there are today. The major difference being that they didn't cost ten million a pop to make. But in terms of what people buy and like to play, have things really changed that much?

cliffski

Thats the main point isn't it? now that games cost a zillion dollars they are deemed a failure unless they sell to the wider market, and that excludes any possibility of being different or niche. Im sure if Ico had been made for a tenth its budget it would be hailed as a great success becuase of its profitability. I LIKE games with weird names and concepts, but nobody will make them because the 'niche' isnt big enough for the zillion dollar budget. I cant even get Katamari on the PC. its insane.

redchurch

"If it isn't profitable, it isn't creative."

-Jay Conrad Levinson, Guerrilla Advertising

Such a sentiment no doubt infuriates creative geniuses and le artistes everywhere, because it doesn't speak to the authority of their subjective tastes.

Walter

The definition of 'profitable', of course, being open to subjective interpretation.

But if you meant, didn't make you more money than you put into it, then yeah, it's a pretty stupid sentiment. :)

John Beeler

I wonder, Scott, how you'd interpret the recent success of Katamari Damacy in the light of your analysis of Ico's failure. Doesn't KD meet all the criteria you mentioned, and then some?

Anon

Bottom line: few games were more overhyped than Ico. It has no originality what-so-ever and as far as delivery goes, there's hundreds of better (*significantly* better) games out there.

If designers start making more games like Ico, gaming is in serious trouble.

--
After I finished Ico, I couldn't think of single game that blew me away like it did. Ico is in my personal console top-ten. Miller's generic would be the last word used when describing the game. Originality? PoP:SoT had none of that either, and did everything ICO did but worse. Yet it sold more copies, spawned an even crappier sequel, and critics loved it all the same. It also had a huge ad campaign.

I pray that more games offer the experience Ico did, and I'm happy to see Shadow of the Colossus will be out soon, that game is looking spectacular. The reason Ico was "overhyped" is because people loved the game and tried to pick up the slack the Sony marketing guys dropped.

I would have never played the game without all those people raving about it, so thanks to them all. I'm glad I didn't miss a wonderful work of art.

As for Miller's comments:

Meaningless name - For every game out there with a title that has meaning, there are a handful that are utter nonsense and don't have meaning. That's why they plaster stupid tag-lines or sub-titles or lengthy descriptions on the box.

Oddball hero - I don't understand that. A hedehog is an oddball hero too when you think about it. I can't relate to Master Chief myself.

Short game - Most of the best (excluding rpgs, cough) are short and fulfilling. I'll just say Max Payne 1 & 2 and stop right there ;)

Non-compelling subject - I thought the hook was the relationship between these two characters. Not simply hand-holding. Maybe you missed some of the generic story? :(

Kid's game - Apparently everything without guns or blood is a kid's game, didn't you get that memo? As for the box art, I think everyone will admit the US art is terrible. The Japan & Euro box art was much, much better - http://www.gametab.com/images/ss/ps2/1396/box-l-jp.jpg

I blame Ico's under-performance solely on marketing. Once I saw a video of it, I was interested. Shame this short clip was made by a friend years after it came out. If only I had seen it sooner!

Go back to 2001, ask random gamers if they've even heard of ICO, you'll get a bunch of confused looks.

Go back to 2003, ask random gamers if they've heard of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. If they owned a TV or used the internet they probably couldn't avoid that marketing blitz.


PS
Okay, I know PoP is sort of a bad example, it didn't sell as well as UBI wanted it to. But it did outsell Ico and it's of a similar genre which is why I used it. Maybe people hate adventure-platformers?

Greg Findlay

I can specifically remember people saying Ico looked like a kids game when it came out and as soon as something gets branded that way a lot of heads turn the other direction. You guys are right though that the art for the US box was bad (it made it look like a kids game).
I'll admit I still haven't played Ico. Mostly because the premise of the game doesn't have a compeling feature that people have been able to get across to me. All the features you guys have been touting here are very generic things. This isn't to say Ico isn't unique, just that it's selling points are very generic. I have been intreged to try it for quite a while though just from all the positive feedback people have given it.
I don't think Ico is a bad name but it doesn't mean anything to me, so it's definitely not helping sell the game (which I think was Scott's point).

Damion Schubert

I didn't play Ico very long, to be honest. If I remember right, Ico failed the Bruckheimer Test - nothing very interesting happened in the first 5-10 minutes. In fact, I don't think you even encounter the gameplay 'hook' until well beyond that.

I keep seeing Katamari Damacy mentioned here as a great success. My understanding is that KD had fairly poor numbers - barely more than six figures, which is a disappointment in the console arena. KD is the epitome of 'reviewed well, sold poorly'. All that being said, you're introduced to the innovation in KD much, much faster than in Ico, and that greatly contributes to the good word of mouth KD has. I'd expect KD's sequel to fare better.

Scott Miller

Katamari Damacy is a game I've heard a lot about, and only today looked into by searching around the web. The name doesn't help the game in the least, and I just assumed it was some typical Japanese fighting game or who knows what.

My researched shows that the game seems to be a non-hit, yet it's getting buzz (much like Ico) from a vocal few of impressed players.

>>> I blame Ico's under-performance solely on marketing. <<<

I should write an entire blog about this topic. The short story is that if a publisher's marketing department can't find a compelling, unique aspect of the game to push, then they are in a deep hole to begin with. Ico put them in a deep hole, and they probably did the best job they could. It's a easy finger to point at marketing, and it too often gets blamed when a product doesn't achieve expected sales. But, most often marketing is not at fault, and the finger should be aimed at the product itself, for being generic, undistinguished or designed for the wrong market (i.e. kids).

Walter

A disappointment by whose standards, Scott? Given how cheaply Katamari Damacy was to produce, how 'quirky' and 'badly named' it is, and the fact that Namco practically hinged its decision on whether to release it here based on feedback from its lone, tucked-away-in-the-corner kiosk at E3 2004, I'd say the game is quite the triumph.

dubeau

I think it's too easy to say it's the title, it's the cover or the gameplay of the game. Take for example "Beyond Good and Evil", an excellent game without any success. Yet it has a Ubisoft stamp on it. I am not influence by a title unless it's a german title like Xenosaga's titles (I think it's ridiculous). I take a look at what is behind a cover to buy a game, not the front, and from what i have seen, almost everyone do. Has for the gameplay, anyone playing Ico, can say it was refreshing to some points.

I agree some things about Ico:
-the way it was marketed was very poor and did not reflected how unique the game was.
-the main boy character wasn't very interesting and sympathic. Contrairy to the princess who was...So you have a kind of a paradox here that isn't very appealling in the story.
-The boy should have talked. The princess should have stayed mute and mysterious. You could have put a kind of attachement toward the young boy, who was trying to reaching verbally to the princess. That was a very weak point in the story, which in my view, must have turned many poeples away. You have this with Zelda, but the other way around, and it does work because there is an element of "what if he talks...". Of course he doesn't (Spoiler) lol!

Ico was a great game. I can't wait to play the Collossus game the creator is making. That guy is the next thing after Miyamoto. Hopefully his talent won't be spoiled.

Anon

Nah, it's easy to point the finger at them not becuase they couldn't figure out how to push it, it was that they didn't even try to push it at all.

As for Katamari, it sold about the same amount as Ico in 1/20th of the time.

It didn't have any significant advertising here, but the marketing was HUGE in japan and word of mouth spread like wildfire after the Japanese release.

A $20 price tag here also helped it move. Most game stores didn't order enough copies to meed initial demands. They figured it wouldn't be a hit based on the name alone, ordered a bare minimum of copies, and were sold out of it for weeks after release.

Most gamers want to play whats fun. They don't care if about titles or box art or if a minority ignorant people consider it a kids game.

All any game needs to be a huge seller is more exposure. Only the AAA titles get that, and that's the reason they sell so well. It doesn't matter if the game is fucking awful with a retarded name like Driv3r, it just needs to be seen and wanted.

Ben Harris

I'll admit I'm an Ico lover (sue me!). I don't recall seeing any marketing for Ico in Australia, where I was when it was released, but that's the case for nearly all games there. Luckily I had already read about it on international sites.

Anyone who has finished the game will agree that it has a big pay-off (unlike most other games), but I was disappointed with the minimal story advancement during the game. Of course, the version I played had the feature where you could understand what the princess was saying during the second play through.

The one thing I don't like about Ico is that they don't explain or answer anything. Perhaps a prequel game is in order???

Wesley Yin-Poole

The problem isn't with Ico (a good game should sell well) and it isn't with marketing (marketing cannot guarantee success) it was with the industry. The industry, until very recently, has concentrated too heavily on the teenage male market because it feels that the only money is to be made here. Games that do not immediately appeal to this market struggle. In many respects then, Ico was ahead of it's time. If the industry, as it says it will, doubles the gaming audience with the next generation concoles (ie, attracts non gamers, older adults and women to women while keeping the over-saturated young male audience happy) then games like Ico will be more marketable in the future and will sell more. The reasons you gave for it not selling are correct. However, it is more interesting to figure out why these reasons should exist in the first place.

Tadhg

"I should write an entire blog about this topic. The short story is that if a publisher's marketing department can't find a compelling, unique aspect of the game to push, then they are in a deep hole to begin with. Ico put them in a deep hole, and they probably did the best job they could. It's a easy finger to point at marketing, and it too often gets blamed when a product doesn't achieve expected sales. But, most often marketing is not at fault, and the finger should be aimed at the product itself, for being generic, undistinguished or designed for the wrong market (i.e. kids)."

But you understand that the marketing department itself is also involve din this, right? There are many products down through the years that have explioded because the marketing was pitch perfect (the ipod, for example) when all around it did not.

9 times out of 10 I agree with you. Mostly it IS the products that just don't work and that is the real fault. You can't sell something that has nothing to offer (unless it has already establuished franchise behind it, a ton of money, but in the main).

However, 1 time out of every 10 it is NOT the product's fault, it is the fault of the people who are in charge of selling and their lack of imagination in doing so. And that is the case with Ico.

It's a great game
With a simple name
Beatiful to look at
Innovative gameplay
Haunting audio
etc.

It required a bit of effort on the part of SCEA to think how might that be sold. They came up with a gack box cover and no support. Unsurprisingly, it didn't do well.

It's not the product's fault though. It is the equivalent of if Apple had sold the ipod in a lurid green box with Times New Roman font and called it The Musicalator!

Sometimes marketing fucks up Scott. This is one of those times.

Scott Miller

True, marketing can fail. Tivo's marketing is a prime example: revolutionary product, yet the marketing has utterly failed to communicate what is special about Tivo. Its success is based purely on outrageously positive word-of-mouth.

With Ico, I just believe that had the game been designed with a more adult orientation and a less generic setting, then it would have caught on a lot better than it did. A little boy saving a princess in a castle-like setting is about as generic as it gets. Of course, those who played the game and found the fun and exciting details within the game, will have a different opinion. But, a lot of people holding that Ico box in stores put in back on the shelf because of it didn't seem appealing on the surface. And I think that's where the game failed.

chris

I think the main problem with Ico was the fact the thing that made it so good was the way you felt so emotionaly attached to its main characters. I've never felt so emotionally involved in a game as i did with Ico. But attachment to the story takes time to develop and isn't something thats immediately apparent when you start to play. Part of the beauty of Ico was it's subtlety and subtltey is a hard thing to market effectively.

Damion Schubert

I think it's too easy to say it's the title, it's the cover or the gameplay of the game. Take for example "Beyond Good and Evil", an excellent game without any success. Yet it has a Ubisoft stamp on it.

Are you implying that big corporations can't screw this up? BG&E is a great game, the problem is actually exactly what Scott is talking about - it was difficult to explain in a sentence the 'hook' - i.e. photography angle, and to a lesser extent the cool distopian world. The title really didn't emphasize either well.

I am not influence by a title unless it's a german title like Xenosaga's titles (I think it's ridiculous).

The title is, ultimately, a chance to advertise your unique selling point every time your product is mentioned. Made up words are okay (in fact, if successful, they are much more successful at holding mindshare than generic combinations of 'Dark', 'Blood' and Shadows'), provided the player's mind can still The example I like to give is that EverQuest is a good made-up name (sounds like a world of infinite quests), whereas Asheron's Call is a name that means nothing unless you take the time to read the fiction.

As for Katamari, it sold about the same amount as Ico in 1/20th of the time. It didn't have any significant advertising here, but the marketing was HUGE in japan and word of mouth spread like wildfire after the Japanese release. A $20 price tag here also helped it move.

The numbers I saw were 100K here and 100K and Japan. That was a while ago, I confess. Also, you do realize that the $20 price tag greatly affected their profitability, right?

Frederico Brinca

It realy feels like a missed oportunity from Sony's marketing team. ICO is a game that is very simple to play, that delivers a tale (a simple, violent, mysterious story) and that deploys an extreme sensitivity. It is the complete antithesis of the clichés about video games. It was a perfect title to broaden the audience, reach older people, reach women. In fact, the mother of a friend of mine, who never played a video game in her entire life, played through ICO.

Other than that, I don't find it surprising that some games can be criticaly acclaimed and not do well. It is certain that the video games industry is dramaticaly more industrialized than the movie industry, but it's pretty healthy to have a segment of it made of games that try to do things differently, to tell different stories or try to tell old stories differently (that would be ICO). Gerry is for many (hopefully most) a better movie than Star Wars Episode 3 and there is prolly a factor 100 between the total gross of the two, but it would be very sad if there were only Episode 1's and no more Gerry's. The accountants would not mind at first, nor would the majority of the public, but the long term effects might be devastating (that's the point where one reminds video games almost disapeared in the early 80s).

PaG

Financially, shouldn't the success of a game be based on whether it was profitable or not? I don't know about Ico, but I'm pretty sure Katamari Damacy was very profitable (it certainly sold beyond anybody's expectations). Business-wise, it seems to me that a game that sells 100k copies and needed to sell only 50k to be profitable is a much better deal than a game that sold 1 million copies but needed to move 2 million copies to reach profitability.

I believe there's definitely a space for quirky games that appeal only to a limited subset of the public. They're a very important type of games because they're the games that (to mix metaphors) push the envelope and explore new territory. The key to making them succesfully is to make them with a small budget: to concentrate on what makes them unique and limit the budget on everything else (anyway there's no way they'll reach the production value of bigger titles). If you're able to make unique and fun games with a small budget, I'm confident you can be very succesful financially.

That said, the mistakes Scott mentions in this post should definitely be avoided if at all possible. That's especially important if your small game won't have lots of marketing money -- you need all the help you can get to get the games to catch the attention of potential players. Calling your game "Ico" is just shooting yourself in the foot ("Katamari Damacy" was much better because it sounds like the type of stuff an elite-japanophile would want. You sound like a sophisticated gamer when you talk about how you really like an obscure japanese game...)

Praise be the bigger editing box
---
Sacred cows make great steaks -- Fresh ideas on game development: http://www.pagtech.com

wow

Wow most of you guys are missing the whole point of ICO. I know its not that great a game when it comes to the combat/puzzle sequences, but you have to admit it is amazing to watch, especially since this game was made on a CD, not a DVD. Plus, the relationship between Ico and Yorda was what kept me going; I wanted to find out what kind of relationship develops between two people who cannot even speak the same language. For me, ICO was one of the best games I have played on the PS2 and has one of the best endings in gaming, next to perhaps Metal Gear Solid 1, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Final Fantasy VIII.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I must admit, taking a rounded view of the topic and all the comments is an informative and useful walk through some very interesting and difficult issues. Like many of the subjects discussed here, it started slowly but ended well. If nothing else, it shows how making an effort and being considerate pays real dividends for everyone involved. Great stuff guys. You set a good lead.

null

This is dumb. How is "Ico" any less meaningful than "Halo" or the generic "Prey"? Is "Prey" a hunting game? Do I shoot deer?

Ico is a "kid's game" with a "generic setting"? Ico has more subtlety and charm -- characteristics that appeal to *gasp* adults -- than the testosterone laden bullet fuckfests that you see dominating the market. Oh, wait, I get it. *Those* are adult games because *those* are the only games *you* know how to make and market, right? I see. There's nothing childish, immature, or non-generic about a foul mouthed gunslinger in a post-apocalyptic world... full of strippers. Give me a break.

Charles E. Hardwidge

For all Scott's puff, I'm less certain this blog is about improving game development than it is about improving Scott's bottom line and confirming his own prejudices and, I hope, he can see that and move beyond it.

On the other hand, slamming into Scott, or anyone else for that matter, because we're all up to the same tricks, doesn't get very far in the long-haul. And that's why remaining calm is an advantage. It keeps the wheel turning.

Looking at the big picture, I think, in the overall discussion there's a nice balance to be found between product and marketing, business as usual and expanding new markets, which makes the discussion as whole a good read.

For all the talk of products and marketing, I think, the real determiner is character, and I could write a book on that. In fact, I've been asked by a number of high achievers if I would. Comments or games, it's all the same.

Unless something changes, it's the last time I'll post here, if for no other reason than other people comment on technical matters more than I'm willing to do, and me going on about character will get boring. It's been good. Thanks guys.

Damion Schubert

For all Scott's puff, I'm less certain this blog is about improving game development than it is about improving Scott's bottom line and confirming his own prejudices and, I hope, he can see that and move beyond it.

I don't know about that. While I don't agree with everything Scott says (nor would I expect everyone to agree with the wacky opinions I spout on my blog), I do think he is one of the most coherent advocate of better market-oriented approaches to game development. Along the way he chastises both game developers who make games that are hard to market as well as marketers who somehow see More Of The Same as a compelling message to the consumer. I sincerely wish more people in power understood his points of view on these topics.

All that being said, I still like Diet Vanilla Cherry Dr. Pepper.

Charles E. Hardwidge

Yes, Damien, you make a fair point. Now, I feel a bit dumb because Scott's just gone and posted a topic on my favourite subject. Strategy, game design, and character development. Sheesh.

Bjorn Larsson

Excellent post, I couldn't agree more.

On the surface, I believe that the general public's perception is that there is little or nothing compelling about Ico's high-level concept, which pretty much can be summed up as "obscure and anonymous boy saves mystic anonymous girl in a castle fantasy environment". How could that ever be compelling in a contemporary society full of "save the world" fantasy products? Judged by Ico’s sales that probably holds true for the majority of consumers.

What beats me is how clear and present facts like these keep being overlooked by developers trying to create the next big "hit". When creating a game, you are not only expecting consumers to invest their hard-earned cash, but also their precious time, and that’s why you need a compelling concept to lure them in with (assuming you’re in the biz to make money and not just for fun). That's two “pre-requisite resources” consumers are not ready to part easily with, because as they say, time is money. I for one can't think of any other form of entertainment where the project requirements for successful commercialization is higher than the games industry (because of the complex requirements and high costs of game development and the relatively high retail price of games coupled with the fact you’re also expecting/demanding the consumer to invest a good portion of his/her time (life) into it).

I wonder what would happen if you populated GTA with purple aliens instead of people, replaced the cast with donkeys, the cars with hover crafts, and then set it in a wasteland milieu. I'm pretty sure sales would be down significantly, as the concept would suck to must people (but the game mechanics would still be great).

If a game's concept is not easily communicated, or more importantly, "marketable" from the get-go, chances of your title becoming a hit are going to be slim. An excellent execution without a strong concept is oftentimes as useless as a poor execution with a great concept. You can't have one without the other.

On second thought, the Ico dev team was less than 10 people (or so I heard), so maybe the budget was recouped and it perhaps generated some decent ROI. Development in Japan is generally cheaper than in the US, with the average PS2 or GC title at $500k USD (CESA, 2004 report).

Charles E. Hardwidge

If a game's concept is not easily communicated, or more importantly, "marketable" from the get-go, chances of your title becoming a hit are going to be slim.

This is a really interesting point. It doesn't mean the product is bad or wrong, just that it's failed to trigger a big enough positive response. You can spin diamonds out of coal dust, but you can't make people buy them. On the other hand, if you put a gun to their head people will.

It's a balance between right and wrong, versus power. People, from the beginning to the end of the supply chain, won't buy into something unless they think they'll come out winners and, sometimes, not even then. Politics and government agencies work the same way.

Not long ago, I got hammered. After upholding my side of a contract, the other side didn't, pulled the line "We don't have to", and it's on the way to court. Nice. Right and wrong aren't the issue here, that's as clear as day, it's an ego issue. Power. Regardless, they're the loser.

If people want something to work, it usually does. One way or another.

gdcrowe

Sadly, most of Scott's points can apply to and explain Psychonauts flopping as well (though the market is more accepting of short games, like Fable and God of War, than 4 years ago when Ico came out).

gdcrowe, the thing is that they say God of War is excellent , flashy (and fun) the whole way through, on the other hand Ico while short had dull unflashy combat.

mAD postAR

Ketchaval

Another game that suffers from 'Ico syndrome'
From Gamespot's XBox review of the fabulous Zelda-gameplay-inspired game Beyond Good & Evil

"Beyond Good & Evil puts you in the role of Jade, a young woman who, along with her humanoid pig uncle, Pey'j, runs a lighthouse on the planet Hillys. Hillys is at war with an alien force known as the DomZ, and an elite squadron known as the Alpha Sections protects Hillys from the alien threat. Or does it? An underground rebel organization known as the IRIS Network charges that the Alphas control both sides of the equation. IRIS is essentially a rogue news network, informing the people via a newsletter that strives to expose the link between Hillys' protectors and the alien menace. That's where Jade, a photographer-for-hire when not tending to the lighthouse, comes in. You quickly hook up with IRIS and spend the bulk of the game infiltrating Alpha strongholds, camera at your side, in search of the truth."

Beyond Good & Evil also suffers from Ico syndrome. Reading that I'm like *what?!* a 'humanoid pig' who is her Uncle (having played that I can see that it is a familiar term that she uses because he adopted her, so he isn't really her Uncle). Likewise, much of the scenario make me go huh? and be puzzled about what the game actually plays like.
Whats with the silly names like DomZ and Pey'j?

However, the game itself is fabulous especially at the budget price it is at now.

Zylam

Humour. I'd like to see what Ico would look like if it was remade "Warrior Within" style. Now Ico can use the horns to impale and eye-gouge his enemies. With his sword of fury he can strike into the hearts of the demons that hunt him and his girlfriend Yor-leena (as voiced by Monica Belucci). The princess now wears a "hawt" metal bikini as satirised in PennyArcade. And after it is all over, he goes home for some hot coffee with his girlfriend.

Scott Miller

If any developers are coming from The Chaos Engine (http://www.thechaosengine.com/), a developer discussion forum, I've seen a ton of comments that completely misread my point. For example, in no way am I knocking the game, nor am I not in favor of off-beat concepts. My main point is simply this: This game could have been just as artistic and just as compelling (probably more so, in fact), had it been somewhat less generic in concept, and had it not be perceived as targeted for a younger audience. This doesn't mean it needs guns, or an adult hero. But a more hip, teenage hero would have helped. The name, Ico, isn't that much of a factor -- it's actually an okay name, though a better name could have been used that may have helped better position the game.

Developers who simply focus on the artistic side of game develop are more often doomed to fail versus developers that also apply sensible marketing tactics to the design of their games. The same works for movies and other forms of entertainment. Pixar is a great example of this, and their most successful movies are a perfect blend of art and marketing. The Incredibles and the Toy Story series especially -- both cater to adults and kids alike, while a movie like A Bugs Life came off too focused on a younger market. I fear their next movie, Cars, is looking like it's too tailored to a younger market, and that's going to hurt it.

Charles E. Hardwidge

I've seen a ton of comments that completely misread my point. For example, in no way am I knocking the game, nor am I not in favor of off-beat concepts.

Like myself, I suspect, you're suffering from the good argument but can't connect syndrome. Learning is like a ladder, and if you miss out a few rungs, people may nod and smile, but it won't take 'first position'. Yes, people may misread the point, and that's their responsibility, but we may not explain it well enough, which is our responsibility.

Speaking for myself, right and wrong, power, and morality are, merely, different views on the the same underlying principles. And that's why, I suppose, tools like Buddhism encourage a healthy scepticism and positive attitude to change. It's because of things like this that the strategist must use everything to practice their art.

Pixar is a great example of this, and their most successful movies are a perfect blend of art and marketing.

Here we go again. The national character of America isn't my character, nor that of many others, and I have a deep-seated resentment to the success of a film like 'The Incredibles' precisely because it's so crafted. It's simplistic and patronising. Like any box-ticking exercise, it stands out. Bad flow.

Don't get me wrong, I think, America and marketing have contributed a great deal to our understanding and practice, as more established countries and views have clung to a glorious past, but pushy signposting can't hide a deeper lack of quality, or creative integrity. As I've learned, great success can hide many failures, and it's wise to learn from these.

Condileeza Rice, I suspect, knows these things.

aaron johnson

just stumbled across this page, the problem is games like ico and rez do things that i cant describe, so i wont try, there is a certain magic in games like them, there is no doubting games like half-life 2etc are magnificant but if a game like ico, which was being created before the turn of the century is more soaght after and valued you have got to ask yourself why?

Belgand

Part of the blame should definitely go to the North American marketing team on this. The Japanese box art was beautiful and really summed up the feeling of the game in my mind. The US box art was terrible to the point that I wasn't even certain I was looking at the right game.

Jon Kneller

I absolutely agree with those points - when I first heard of the game I thought exactly the same. I don't actually own a PS2 (gasp!) so I've not played it, but it gets so many mentions in Edge magazine I'm sure it must be some kind of masterpiece... who'd have thought it from the name, the low profile?

On reading those points, incidentally, I immediately thought of Psychonauts - oddball hero. can't tell what it's about. looks like it's for kids. Very abstract subject. Great game, but unless you know the name Tim Schafer, are you really going to give it a shot? Even the assistant in my local games shop got it confused with Psy Ops.

Perhaps the problem with innovative, stylistic games like this is that they appeal immediately to those with an interest in design, rather than just anyone interested in games. The notion that a game sells itself without proper marketing / positioning is very naive...

Still, it is a shame that we have to be such slaves to "units shifted".

Charles E. Hardwidge

Still, it is a shame that we have to be such slaves to "units shifted".

I hope you forgive me for being awkward, but if every game were a fantastic game and shifted in its zillions, and a bad game was refused promotion because it would shift zilch, would you be complaining about "units shifted?" No. Neither would I. I'm not flipping that one on its head just to cause a stir, but you've prodded me into offering the thought that a lot of game design, sales, and promotion is as much a product of fashion as it is a deliberate exercise.

Now, how markets shift is a really complicated thing, but a rough understanding of Bertrand Russells essay on power gives some insight, as do older observations of the world, like the Tao. Often, we only consider a solitary game and wonder why its spirit isn't reflected across more games, but you're going against a concious and unconcious establishment which finds change painful. Backing brands and branding is an example of this fear response from publisher, developer, gamer, and media.

Again, I hear a lot of yap in the media, which informs the public, publishers, and developers et al, about their own projects and the usual suspects, which always seem to slide in right behind whatever the cosy agenda of the moment is, but I see very little tilt in discussion to anything else which doesn't directly support their latest effort. General developer discussion, which helps shape the market, is too monotone and narrow. Change won't happen unless you change yourself, and all that.

Chris Poirier

A friend sent me a link to this article while we were discussing Shadow of the Colossus, and I found the discussion interesting. I'm a little late joining the fray, but I felt compelled to add a few comments.

Ico, as a game, isn't brilliant. The gameplay is simple, the camera control a bit finicky, and the puzzles merely a 3D update of the old Prince of Persia games. If you want a great game, there are probably better alternatives.

But, for me, Ico is the best video game /experience/ I've ever had, because it is far more than a game. The game is merely what gives me something to do, but it's the place and the characters that I'm there for. It's that vast castle, and the subtle but constant change of the lighting, and the mists and haze . . . you can almost taste the salt from the wind. It's the sound of the wind, sometimes whispering, sometimes howling, but ever-present. The sound of that place haunts me to this day. It's the soundtrack that's so subtle, and so other-worldly, that it just becomes part of the fabric of the dream. It's Ico's echoing, gentle call of "entwois" when he wants Yorda to catch up; it's the soft tug on his arm as he pulls her along; it's his desperation when he fights off the monsters with nothing more than a stick and his determination; his boundless energy as he climbs around the castle looking for a way for them to move forward; and his earnest concern for Yorda's well being, told primarly in body language and gesture. I've read novels that were less emotionally resonant and involving.

I bought Ico on the strength of one television commercial I saw late at night. I never saw the commercial again, and it was months before I could afford to by the PS2 I needed to play it. Yeah, I bought the PS2 in order to play Ico. And that was before I knew it was anything more than beautiful to look at. Quiet, thoughtful, beautiful things appeal to me, and Ico struck me as being just such a thing. I didn't know the tenth of it.

I think the problem -- the reason Ico "failed" financially -- is that nobody in the marketing department knew what to do with it. It's hard to sell new things, and Ico, at the time, was very new. It was a genre-bending amalgamation of video game and virtual reality and impressionist painting, all wrapped up in a simple, archetypical story of two kids abandoned by the world, and told in actions, instead of words. How do you sell that to an audience that is used to adrenaline-charged, reflex-demanding killfests? The answer, in hindsight, may be obvious: you don't. You sell it to somebody else. Sony didn't do that.

For my part, my life is better for having played Ico. It sits on a shelf with my favourite books and movies. It will always have a special place in my heart. If Sony never does anything right again, I'll still always respect them for having had the courage to try something like Ico, and I very much hope that they -- or someone else -- will try something like it again. Perhaps it didn't make bags of money. I hope that isn't to become the only measure of success.

Capricious

The author of that blog entry (I found this through google) should stay within his field of expertise. Even a quick read through will tell you the author is looking at it from a marketing perspective, which is entirely flawed angle for his intended or at least arrived purpose, a review of the game.

I'm sure the author could spot a successfulling selling game from a mile away, but he doesn't know a quality game from the excriment he daily (and in this case orally) emits. The author is low brow, like the majority of the demographics.

Ico was a failure financially because the majority of consumers have the predilection for games with situations like NFL players with guns hijacking cars whilst throwing Eminem and Will smith into the mix.


Ico as game game is most certainly above par. And the mileu is brilliant.

To adress the author's points:

-A mean ingless name. A name isn't supposed to be a summary. The name isn't spectacular, but it is apt. Halo is a highly succesful game, but the name tells you jsut as little as the word "Ico" does. The name is fitting.

-Oddball hero. The author is the type to get caught up in superfluous and superficial details. The horns are part of the story, the boy is cursed and the horns are a physical feature of that curse. He's not hard to relate to, his feelings and emotions are a bit vague as dialogue is sparse, but they are completely understandable. At least he has realistic emotions, unlike the stars of most other games.

-Short game. Ad novatum? Yes it's a short game, how is this a negative feature? I gamer who buys a agme based on the number of hours it takes to compelte is seeking a waste of time. Granted often time adds to gameplay and the overall completeness of the game, but Ico didn't need that. The gameplay and experience were more than equal to that of many other longer games.

-Non-compelling subject. Get a thesaurus please. It's not just a rip off of the generic setting. Yorda (the girl who follows Ico) is not a 1 dimensional superfluous character like princess toadstool of mario fame. The "bad guy" isn't some random foe, it's an overportective mother. I guess for the game to be compelling to the author they needed to add more guns and breasts or soemthing.

-Kids game. Did the author just say the game lacked "coolness?" Can you get more shallow? The game is pretty neutral on teh subject of age, though I doubt a younger kid could beat it.


the author failed to address one of the best aspects about Ico, the incredidle puzzles presented. They're not obvious, they're not trial and error, they're open ended problems for the thinking man.

I suppose I'm lashing out at the author a bit in saying all of this, but it is most assuredly merited. The author is supercilious, a low brow, and ignorant.

Anon

Capricious,

Where did you get the impression that he was reviewing the game? By his own admission he's simply dealing with the marketing side of things - how the game could have achieved more widespread appeal. Now that's not to say that with Scott's changes Ico would have suddenly become a multi-million unit shifter, just that it would have sold more.

You haven't demonstrated that this isn't the case.

Aulbath

Just a random thought... not really going along with the rest of the discussion.

The majority of comments here all state that ICO as a game was not really so well executed, yet everyone loved the experience/the storyline/character development... now I wonder, wouldn't it be better than, to have ICO as a movie or maybe a comic book?

I haven't played it myself, but it seems all the "fun parts" of the game, the experience that is ICO was not really transported through playing it, rather than watching it. Thus, maybe the whole approach to ICO is wrong... as you are not playing it for fun or delight, just for experiencing the scenes and happenings in between. But if you are not playing it for fun/delight, wouldn't that make ICO as a game pointless?

Maybe I am quite off here... but I think the "game issue" hampered ICOs success, as most people above agree that ICOs gaming parts were not that compelling and more of a chore, feeling just like "put on top, so you can sell it as a game". On game terms, it just doesn't do too well... but the majority of people want a game, that does exactly that - and seriously, all those people out there buying "Call of the Medal need for Burnout Speed Turismo III: Dark Ressurrection of the Shadow Soulblood " don't seem to be out for the things that ICO offers.

Maybe I am going too far saying, that it needs a bit more brain and feeling to get down with ICO... and if you don't get that, ICO will not appeal to you or will dissappoint you. I think games with a "emotional side" that is as strong as the one in ICO scare most gamers off... they rather smear the guts of their slain enemies all over the place with some big guns, than being in the emotionally far more realistic situation given in ICO.

NinoMojo

Hi,

I agree and disagree on some points with "the author", but Capricious obviously didn't read all the comments whe the authors re-formulate is point more clearly. He's not reviewing the game. Thus bashing the author is really not appropriate.

About the marketing things, the thing is for North America, it's not that Sony didn't know how to sell Ico, it's that they decided not to sell it since the marketing budget was close to zéro. Now it's true that trying to appeal to people who will clearly NOT like the game anyway by aiming at the with the ridiculous US cover is a stupid thing to do (well, do you know any non-stupid marketing people? :)). They should have had the guts to market it fully as it was to people encline to like it. Instead they tried to make it a travesty, with a cover showing an angry Ico in a violent pose. Doing this as a publisher you lie to people and you disapoint the few who thought it was something like the cover.

About Ico's gameplay uniqueness (or not), sure if you decompose everything to its design roots then it's all déjà-vu. But looking only at the technical/mechanical spect of the game is like looking at the finger when it's showing the moon. All parts of Ico might be not so original but put altogether it's something entirely new, and at the end it seems everyone enjoyed the experience, sometimes way above many other games. If you look clesely at the GTA series, they pretty much feature evrything that keeps me away from a game: they're slow and choppy, ergonomics SUCK, graphics are average in the best points, etc. Yet everyone seems to enjoy the experience provided by that game. But talk about a challenge, I know for sure that selling Ico to the mass market is certainly more difficult than GTA.

Another thing I'd like to emphasize on is that good character designs has to be directly tied to the story. I know almost all game makers and publishers ignore that and don't give a damn about it but it's incredibly important. Any trained artist working at Disney or similar companies will tell you: "If the story changes, the character designs changes". This is absolutely critical to tell a story well, and, (fortunately or not) games almost always try to tell stories, or pretend that they're telling one. Nevertheless they tell them very poorly because of many factors, among which the character designs is generally based on marketing only and game makers are 99% of the time INCREDIBLY BAD at story telling and directing even when they think of themselves as geniuses (hello mister Kojima, mister Ancel, how are you today?:). I think people involved in film production/creation would pay a lot more attention to details like Ico having horns and would care about this, because the horns are part of the story and so tied to it that without them the whole game
would be different. Same for Yorda and the Queen, and even the enemies who are like they are BECAUSE OF THE STORY. It all makes sense in the end, and that's why the ending is so rewarding.

However, there is a point I'd like to bring to your attention: Many of you probabl already know this, but due to Ico/Colossus fuss, Sony is about the re-edit Ico. So this means it finally happened, the hype worked over the years and now there is kind of an "Ico" brand feeling that exists and that has customers. So this means a few things:

1) I think we can now all expect that games made by Ueda's team will sell better than Ico did in the first place. Even if they don't break millions each time, there will be a big enough fan base to keep them alive. (wee!)

2) This means the total sales of the original Ico over the years will increase a bit, and that eventually the figures will reach a point when it will be fair not to call it a financial failure anymore.

I think in the end, there is much to be happy about with Ico and all that it started. In fact, tell me if I'm wrong, I think Ico and Rez are the only two games of that kind which didn't sell well enough. With Katamari being such a hype and Colossus making some noise (I hope it's selling well! Does anyone have info about this ?).

Finally I'd like to ask a question to the Author. Scott, about the name of the game not being as catchy as it could be, I think alsmot everyone said what had to be said. But if YOU had to come up with a name for that game yourself, and say the game were exactly the same, what name would you come up with ? I'm not asking this for sarcasm, but as real curiosity. What could be a "hit" name for Ico ?

I enjoyed reading (almost) all of the posts here, good open-minded thinking and troll free! :)

Nino

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