Launch sales are critical in this industry. Even if a game continues to sell for a publisher, sometimes the lack of initial success can mean that the developer is long dead. DLC is aimed at keeping a game alive, but for major publishers if it doesn't perform at launch, the game's not a winner.
Square Enix has found that there's still life left in games that missed expectations and maybe didn't become blockbusters right out of the gate. In a post on Gamasutra, Square Enix head of product development Darrell Gallagher argues that publishers need to start looking at the long tail. According to Gallagher, Square Enix titles like Sleeping Dogs and Just Cause 2 continue to have strong communities. In fact, both games still have over a half million active monthly players.
"I look at a game like Sleeping Dogs, with a world-class development team at United Front Games behind it and still see over half a million people continuing to play it every month," writes Gallagher. "It's a similar story with Just Cause 2, a game which is over 3 years since release and yet still has over half a million active and unique players each month, enjoying the larger than life world of Panau, and we're looking forward to the launch of the community created multi-player mod later this year."
"This level of engagement is exciting as a developer. For Sleeping Dogs this continued support has now enabled us to turn this into a profitable game for the business, a critical milestone for a new intellectual property and something I've seen our sales, marketing and studio teams across Europe and America work hard together to achieve. It also shows that we are creating content which is keeping millions of people entertained enough to want to spend their time in our world."
Gallagher makes one damn good point, sometimes developers and publishers walk away from a growing community far too soon. Fans can do amazing things, as the mod communities of Civilization, Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, and Skyrim have shown.
"Overall as a games business – studios and publishing - we have walked away too early from some of the worlds that we have invested so much time and energy in," Gallagher continued. "If we were to ask people that loved our games whether they would enjoy new content or deeper experiences in these digital playgrounds the answer would overwhelmingly be 'yes'."
"We see the opportunity for some of our games continuing beyond a traditional beginning, middle, and end. We can have them become extendable and more persistent - with an opportunity to build and grow across games. To design in a way to keep our games alive for years instead of weeks. I'm not talking about an MMORPG – although the concept is similar - I'm talking about creating persistent online experiences built on the foundations of the games we are well known for. Now, this doesn't apply to every game, there is no one solution that works in every case, but as a wider goal it's certainly something which some of our franchises are incredibly well suited to and something I want to explore further."
Some developers have had fun with their worlds either in extensive DLC or spin-off titles. Sleeping Dogs has an excellent set of fun DLC packs. DayZ began life as a developer-created mod for ArmA 2. Far Cry: Blood Dragon took the Far Cry 3 engine in a completely different direction. Bioshock Infinite's upcoming DLC takes the franchise back to the city of Rapture from the first game. Borderlands 2's DLC is a crazy playground of different situations to play with. It's possible for developers to really break new ground without completely leaving behind what they've created.
I loved Sleeping Dogs when I picked it up last year. It was an open-world game that I actually finished, which is rare for me. Dectective Wei Shen and I ran roughshod over Hong Kong and I've been hoping for a sequel announcement any day now. So the fact that Square Enix is finding success in the title and Just Cause 2 (another favorite of mine that I haven't beaten) is great news for me.
I understand it's hard to give a game and developer more time to succeed. You still have to pay an entire team of developers while you're waiting to see the outcome. But the flipside of that is firing a team of developers before the game is even out, like the Deadpool team at High Moon Studios.
Is there a middle ground that the industry is missing here? What title are you still finding DLC or mod fun with long after release?