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End of the Adventure game and PC game marketing...

posted by BagginsKQ on - last edited - Viewed by 487 users

In the Talkspot interviews from back in 1998, one of the questions (actually from a guy from Just Adventure), was and I paraphrase;

Why didn't Sierra advertise their games in more mass public locations like console game companies did?

Why didn't Sierra advertise their products on TV, at the theatre (Zelda: OOT was advertised in some theatres), on the Radio, in newspapers and non-gaming magazines.

He expanded on his question; if advertising helped console games to sell more, why wouldn't it work for Sierra as well? The Just Adventure guy believed that a game like KQ8 could have had mass appeal to people who played the likes of Zelda: OOT.

Roberta answered back going into the history of advertising of her games, and the newest one. She along with Mark Seibert, said that the problem was that PC market was already pretty limited. It was expensive hobby, she created games that pushed the then computers to the maximum in order to play them as they were meant to be played. Often required new computers in order to play them at max settings. This limited her games to hands of a dedicated group of enthusiast who were willing actually buy new machines in order to play those games.

Secondly, they couldn't compete with the console market in price, because they were producing a game for a platform that was more expensive to produce on, requiring to update their computers in order to make games that pushed the limits. This meant that the returns weren't as great as a console game company could get simply because there was more overhead from the getgo.

Because of this they couldn't afford to put up flashy hollywoodesque advertisements, because it would already cut into an already close profit margin. Nor did they believe they would work, since games that wouldn't appeal or be too expensive mainstream audience that couldn't afford to plunk down money to buy a brand new highend computer everytime Roberta or other Sierra developers came out with a brand new Adventure game (technically only Roberta pushed the envelope so much, that this was even an issue).

Earlier in the interview in part 1, they brought up examples of how they pushed the envelope for example, when they released KQ4, they used a Roland to produce the music. They mentioned that they were too expensive (around $250 or more) except for a few ethusiasists to obtain them, because they were external devices. It wasn't until they started making sound cards that it became slightly more affordable for most PC gamers.

She also brought up that many people had tried to play KQ7 on machines it wasn't meant for, and ended up with very slow and choppy gameplay and animation. This lead to many criticisms for the game as well, and poorer ratings. People didn't understand they needed to meet at least the minimum requirements.

Even still with developments like that, there wasn't that many PC gamers out there in comparision to the console gaming audience. Apparently if they had spent money to advertise in mainstream sources such as TV they would have only broken even on their games or worse lost money. It probably still wouldn't have pulled in more of an audience, simply because they couldn't afford to buy the systems needed anyways. So they were forced to only advertise in pc gaming magazines for the most part, and later the internet. At that time the internet was really only used by a small audience of people as well, the same ones that were generally already gamers.

It was these enthusiast Gamers that Sierra was generally always developoing for through their life as a company, that were calling for powerful 3D games, many who were already starting to say "2D" games were outdated, and they wanted more. They wanted things that would push their fancy new machines (one caller even stated this fact, and was hoping that Roberta would design something to replace the aging The Realm MMO).

So was Roberta a pc elitist? That is to say because she designed games meant mainly for enthusiast crowd with the best machines, that she had created a situation that would essentially killed her own market, because she limited her own demographics? Did the use of top of the line expensive technology to produce a game for such a small market, cut into the overall returns? Sierra created such a small niche market, with poor marketing, that it became unsustainable? How did these factors influence the history of the Adventure game in general?

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  • In relation to this topic here are some related stories, where Roberta attempts to not only push technology but also somehow broaden the demographics in an attempt to make her games more successful and to have a wider appeal for profit reasons. They didn't necessarily push the technology, but were attempts to reaccrue on the losses made trying to push the technology for the games.

    KQ1 was a tech demo for the PCJR... The remake failed to please its audience...

    PCJR was a highend computer marketed to home audiences... IBM wanted Sierra to make the game to show off what their computer could do... The problem, PCJR was incredibly expensive... The computer itself was a commercial failure. Sierra would go onto port KQ1 with a few modifications to other systems.

    Years later, Sierra developed a remake of KQ1 that brought the game up to modern specs at the time... It was hoped it would introduce the game new audience, and entice older players to buy the game again, or at least trade in (Sierra often had upgrade deals for people who owned a previous version of a game).

    The problem was, the audience compared the action of making a remake to 'process of coloring old black and white movies", and was 'destroying the art'. It was largely ignored, and became a commercial failure for Sierra. Its failure insured that Sierra would never attempt to make a remake of KQ2, or KQ3.
    KQ4 and female character...

    KQ4 is known for having the first female protaganist in a computer game, or at least adventure games. This choice was considered controversial at the time in 1988. Up to then all the player characters were male (at the time the subscriber list for Computer Gaming World for example was 98% male), and most game players and buyers were male. The idea of creating a main character who was female was 'very scary'. Many people at Sierra were upset, and wondered what she was doing, they wondered why Roberta would make that decision, because no guys would want to play a "girl", and that Sierra would lose its customer base, and that she would a destroy a great series. Roberta disagreed and thought it was the right thing to do.

    She had done three games, with male characters, and she wanted to introduce the series to women audience as well, expanding the demographics (to get them to play games as well).[2] She believed it was the right thing to do and stuck to her guns. She thought it woudl be nice to bring a game to female audience, and make them feel comfortable with computer games, and increase the female base of computer game players.

    At the same time she believed if the game was a good game, the character was good, and that it fit, that male audience wouldn't care what the player character was, as long as the game was fun.

    According to a survey of the player's sexes made after the games release; it was asked if they preferred to play a male or female characters. It was found out that by in large male player base didn't care if they played a male or female character, as long as the game was good, and it fit and felt good to them. The female audience on the other hand, preferred by in large, to play a female character. They didn't really like playing male characters.



    KQ5 and the Icon Bar...

    Roberta was inspired to change the game interface by watching her own mother, struggle to play her games, not understanding how or what words to type. It was a slow and execrutiating process for Roberta to watch her trying to find the right key on the keyboard, and typing too slowly, or even mispellin the words, or even misunderstanding the syntax structure of commands. Roberta could tell her mother wasn't seeing the fun in playing the games, or understanding it. Roberta had experienced others with the same problems. Roberta understood her game would not be marketable and make the big time if she continued to include the parser system. This inspired her to simply commands down to just a few icons, one for walking, one for talking, one for picking up items, and one for looking around.

    Roberta received negative mail during development and after from fans complaining about her choice to switch to a icon bar from the parsor interface of previous games. Most King's Quest fans and fans of Sierra games in general, were not happy with the idea, seeing her as removing a critical part of adventure gaming. She saw the parser as a means of communicating with the game, other people saw it as actually a real life part of playing the game, that they would use the parser, talkign to the game, as part of solving the puzzles, process. The ability to really interact with the game itself. Roberta however didn't believe the Adventure game genre would survive, or gain mass appeal if they kept it as a parser. By simplifying the interface it will be more accessable to a wider demographic including older folks or younger children who may not know how to type well.

    KQ7 the studio animation and simplified interface...

    Not only did it push the technology, it also was believed it would open the audience up to an even younger demographic... Children and parents alike.

    The simplified interface was also believed to make it more accessable to a wider audience, who weren't interested in more complicated systems. Perhaps could be described as "dumbing down".

    KQ8 and its 3D and action/rpg elements...

    3D was both a technological advancement, but also an attempt to appeal to the main PC gaming market that had 'evolved' and were demanding things to push the extremes of the technology, due to the rise of the 3D few years before.

    The action/rpg elements not necessarilly a push of technology, but was an attempt to widen the demographics to bring a larger audience out of the PC gaming community as a whole.

    Many at this time were apparently past adventure game players, but were also the computer enthusiasts, that had moved onto new genres as pcs allowed for more elaborate and faster paced elements. They demanded for games that would push their systems to the limits.

  • If they could have only focused a bit more on the storytelling aspects of KQ8, they could have kept everything else as is and the game would have felt more well-rounded. Maybe a few more puzzles here and there to balance the combat, too. Otherwise, it was an entertaining game. I only wish it ran properly on modern systems with all the Voodoo graphical bells and whistles that the original release had. As far as I know, even the GOG version isn't 100% in the graphics department, being limited to Direct3d.

  • If they could have only focused a bit more on the storytelling aspects of KQ8, they could have kept everything else as is and the game would have felt more well-rounded. Maybe a few more puzzles here and there to balance the combat, too.

    Totally agree.

    Although technically the game has about as many "total" puzzles as most of the KQ games in general before it (if physically counted), the game is much larger than many of the KQ games due to its level of exploration, filled with lots of empty space (in some ways more like KQ1 and KQ2 which had many useless screens). More puzzles, especially ones that blocked exploration, could have improved the flow of the game.

    According to Roberta, KQ8 was designed to be a journey, much like the journey in KQ5, and thus has more of a linear progression through various lands, and in plot, as opposed to KQ6 which was more non-linear in order one explored the islands. But in KQ5, there were certainly alot more 'barriers' that prevented exploration into new areas, until you solved puzzles to open up those 'barriers'. KQ8 has less barriers and more open ended exploration, you can get to almost anywhere you want in each world. Only need puzzle items to obtain a few new items here or there.

    There were plans for more puzzles, but because Roberta chose to focus mainly on developing the world creation, and combat first, realizing that she had no experience in that side of game development (and she "wanted to get it right"); it was one of many things that affected the number of puzzles among other things. When she decided to not only change direction of the story, characters, worlds, etc, throughout the development, these design changes limited her puzzle ideas as well. On one hand, she essentially redesigned everything from scratch three times, she ran out of time to incorporate some of the material, and other ideas were simply cut because limitations in the technology (the reason why she had to create two more designs in the first place).

    ...there were three designs for "Mask of Eternity." (That's the only game I ever did whch had so many changes, in just about all of my other games, the first design was that stuck.) Between the first design and the second design everything changed: The story, the puzzles, the worlds, and the characters. Between the second and third design, the story and the worlds were pretty much set, but we still had some major changes and changes and additions to puzzles and characters. In fact, we still were changing and adding puzzles and characters right up to the very end!-Roberta Williams, 1999 interview

    Unfortunately, I don't think Roberta understood the 3D technology that well. It was too new, and she didn't understand its limitations very well either. She wanted to do things on it, that simply were impossible at the time.

    only wish it ran properly on modern systems with all the Voodoo graphical bells and whistles that the original release had. As far as I know, even the GOG version isn't 100% in the graphics department, being limited to Direct3d.


    Lambonius, Voodoo's bells and whistles have already been restored with such things as;

    http://www.zeckensack.de/glide/

    There are other wrappers + Voodoo Emulation out there, but this is one of the most compatible and most efficient for KQ8.

    The GOG version works quite well with the above graphical improvements. Although all the original bugs that plagued the original game on original "recommended" native machines, are still a problem on modern machines. It also still checks for an optical drive (requiring some modifications to the files or use of something like daemontools)...

    If you aren't technologically savvy on how to install and use the above program, and own copies of the original disks you can use this fan installer;

    http://www.sierrahelp.com/Patches-Updates/NewSierraInstallers.html#K

    http://www.sierrahelp.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=2794

    King's Quest: Mask of Eternity - XP/Vista/Win7 compatible. Works on 64-bit Windows. Includes the official MOE13FG Patch. Installs entire game to the hard drive for CD-less play. Optional Glide Wrapper for dramatically improved graphics Updates include Improved fixes for cutscene lockups, Works with netbooks or PCs with no CD drives and the game no longer deletes/copies files when loading new levels - The installer unpacks levels for dramatically improved load times.

    It includes a copy of zeckensack's and automatically installs it, along with other improvements to the game including removal of the load times.

  • Thanks for pointing me to that, Baggins. I do have the original disks, so I will have to give that a try sometime. I had tried Glide wrappers in the past, but for some reason had trouble getting them functioning correctly. This looks much more promising though.

  • You have to remember that the computer and video game market was much, much smaller in the Sierra days than it is today, and much more divergent in terms of hardware capabilities and platform reach.

    Sierra sold 15,000 copies of "Mystery House" on the Apple II, which was a HUGE success at the time. But sales of 15,000 copies today would be considered a massive failure for a full-priced retail title. Sierra never ported Mystery House to other machines, likely because the state of the art was already moving forward quickly, and by the time it could have come out on the Commodore 64 it would have looked laughably obsolete.

    Sierra adopted the AGI/SCI technology to allow the engine to be ported to different computers running on different processors without having to regenerate all the game data. That approach still works today, and there are (at the user-perceived level) fewer technical differences between the PS3/XBox/PC/Wii/iPhone than there were between, say, the Amiga, the Apple IIgs and the IBM PC. All of the modern platforms can handle 3-D textured graphics and digital audio, so it's easier to beef up sales numbers by releasing the same design and assets (scaled down as necessary) across multiple platforms.

    Also, adventure gaming has ALWAYS been a niche market that appeals to players who tolerate, and even enjoy, a degree of frustration and backtracking in gameplay. Sierra's own data indicated that many people who bought their games never finished them; the moves often seen as "dumbing down" adventure gaming were a logical response to try to broaden the market and give more users access to ALL of the content they were paying for.

    So I don't think Sierra is to blame for any marketing missteps -- most of those challenges were inescapable at the time and remain inherent to the genre. Telltale, Her Interactive and Wadjet Eye have to do the same thing today that Sierra did -- advertise most heavily to the "captive audience" of diehard adventure fans and hope for the occasional breakout hit that reaches a "Walking Dead"-sized audience.

    IMO, the biggest difference today is that downloadable gaming and improved development tools mean that a game that used to cost $50 in 1990 retail dollars can be created and sold for $10-$25 in 2012 dollars. The game market is larger, and with the recent success of "The Walking Dead" we're seeing renewed interest in this type of game from people who have never played the classics.

    But I don't think pushing adventure games more broadly even now is going to draw people into the market who genuinely prefer books, or movies, or crosswords, or watching TV, and who don't want to mess with technology and annoying dead ends that stop the entertainment until they satisfy some kind of challenge.

    I think Sierra did much to show what was possible in adventure gaming, but the market they were serving eventually dried up. Fortunately it's starting to look like that was a temporary situation (though, as much as I love them, I really don't think text adventures will be making a commercial comeback!) I'm just glad to see the genre surviving, and, indeed, experimenting and evolving.

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