I’m doing the press tour thing again, spending some time in the US, France, Poland and Russia, demoing the game to several media outlets. You can watch some of the output here, here or here. There’s also a big interview with me here in case you want to know about what’s driving us, where we’re hoping to go and where I think RPGs went wrong. More is coming but it’s essentially the same presentation in various incarnations.
I need to admit that I did pretty much everything I could think of to avoid this particular tour. I really didn’t want to go because I was loath to leave my family behind. They already don’t see me much these days and I cherish every moment I have with them. But our young PR manager can be a tyrant and he put a lot of pressure on me to show up at these media outlets.
“Game Informer will never write about us” I told him and he replied “Yep, if the PR manager shows up, that’s for sure, but maybe if you show your face that may make a difference”
I have to commend him because it turns out he was right.
This particular presentation was for RPS and occurred in a shady hotel room
While I still don’t know if Game Informer will write about us in their magazine, I do know that if we hadn’t made the trip to bitter-cold Minneapolis, the reporters over there wouldn’t have paid a lot of attention to Divinity:Original Sin, if at all. Now at least they’ve been sufficiently tickled to give the game a shot and play it together in cooperative multiplayer.
It seems to be a repeating pattern.
We decided on doing another preview tour this late in development (which really is the most inopportune of times) because it became clear that there are still a lot of journalists out there who think of Divinity:Original Sin as a Diablo clone or a Diablo clone with tactical combat. This despite all the videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews being out there. Better make that, despite the truckload of videos, walkthroughs, early access content and previews out there.
It makes me despair some times and tbh a bit worried too.
The problem seems to be that the game has a top-down perspective and turn-based combat in its first 5 mins of gameplay. This apparently is sufficient to classify the game as just-another-generic-fantasy-rpg-clone not worth spending time on.
Honestly, I didn’t believe it when somebody first told me about this line of reasoning, but by now I do because I’ve heard it repeated so many times.
Because there are so many games coming out, an hour is pretty much the maximum you can hope for when sending out preview code. And apparently that’s already a lot.
A preview is an article in which the reporter tells his audience what the game is about, what he expects of it and if there’s anything cool to get excited over.For a game that doesn’t have Battlefield style gfx, that takes its time building up and that relies on the player trying things out, the one hour thing is bad news.
Reporters relying on their gaming instincts and the first hour of gameplay won’t see what our ambitions are and thus jump to the wrong conclusion. (Off topic but in that context I’d like to advise “Thinking fast and slow”’ as obligatory reading to everybody. This type of approach is an excellent example of how your fast thinking fools you into making the wrong assumptions.)
Anyway, the good thing is that whenever we do manage to grab a reporter and put him or her through the “torture” of a D:OS demo, they do eventually understand that there’s more than meets the eye, and because we usually exceed their expectations, we get some excitement.
But it does leave us with a real problem.
Despite being so long in development and talking so much about it, we still didn’t discover the right way of communicating the game’s unique selling propositions. And we’re running out of time.
I asked one of the reporters who was very vocal about how happy he was that I showed him Divinity:Original Sin’s depth what we were doing wrong. Given his excitement it was clear to me that he was part of our target audience and I was really curious how we managed to miss somebody who was clearly informing himself on what games are coming out (it’s his job after all).
He replied that he wouldn’t have tried half the stuff I showed him because he would’ve assumed that we didn’t support it and instead jump to the conclusion that the game was broken. For him, the kind of presentation I gave him was exactly what was needed in his eyes.
It reminded me strongly of something another journalist had told me. During a demo, I think at the German magazine Gamestar, I was told that we’d probably have to re-educate players because they’re not used to this type of gameplay anymore, conditioned as they seem to be by all the streamlining games go through nowadays.
I thought of this again when I watched this youtuber the other day. I cringed when I saw how he missed out on a couple of key features. I also cringed when I saw how he ended his video, which while typical, is also the reason why so much potential innovation has been stiffled by the gatekeepers at the ruling class of old, i.e. the majority of publishers.
I mentioned I’m getting a bit worried by this because eventually we will need to sell this game. At this point I’m starting to think tutorials everywhere, which is my least favourite part of development, but I do want Divinity:Original Sin to be a success, and that’s not going to happen if everybody thinks it’s yet another ARPG clone. Or wait, perhaps it will?
For the first time in long I also started wondering if I’m too old for this business. It’s not unusual for me to see guys around me get all excited about games I personally consider to be too shallow. I think Ralph Koster in a theory of fun said that fun = learning and maybe I’m not having fun with these games anmyore because I’ve mastered the patterns they’re based around, patterns which still feel new to those with less gaming experience. I guess that may be the price you pay for playing too much, but on the other hand, I still do want my fun too and I do feel underserved.
A revealing moment for me was when I shocked our young PR manager. On our flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis I went through his entire collection of Ipad games, spending at max 15 minutes on each of them. I gave my biased opinion on each of them, judging right there and then what was interesting, what was boring etc… He commented that I had an interesting style of playing
I realised then that I was doing the exact same thing those previewers were doing and together with them probably every gamer out there. We are offered so much entertainment content these days and sadly a lot of it isn’t very good. To survive we’ve adopted a strategy of judging rapidly at the risk of missing out on something. We know that the alternative, to spend time on each and every offering of entertainment industry has, is bound to disillusion us.
I don’t know why I expected the previewers to act differently. Probably because I’m thinking it’s their job, but it’s a very natural thing for people to invest time in doing the things they like, and minimise their time on things they dislike. It’s why in management you often need to put most of your effort in getting the boring parts done, and why you usually don’t have to worry about the fun things. Which makes managers … errr..
So upon realizing that this kind of behavior is inevitable, I accepted that investing time in this particular press tour is worth its while. Hopefully some of these articles and videos will amplify the message that Divinity:Original Sin has depth and is worthwhile investing time in.
This still leaves me with the problem of educating the people we’re not visiting about the merits of Divinity:Original Sin. If our current approach isn’t working we’ll need to figure out another one, and fast. I certainly wouldn’t want to find myself in the situation that we’re making a game a clone of myself would dismiss after 15 mins. There needs to be a way of telling that clone that this game is for him.
All suggestions are more than welcome!
I know there are cobwebs on my blog. I guess you can all understand I’m pretty busy these days. Stop harrassing me!