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Competitive Advantage and the Productivity Frontier, Or Why Dark Souls is the Ikea of Game Development
by Justin Fischer on 04/30/14 02:14:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Image taken from Dark Souls II promotional materialOne of the major figures of business academia is a man named Michael Porter. Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, is possibly most famous for his trademark “Five Forces Analysis”, but he is also the author of one of the definitive books on competition, Competitive Strategy.

Porter argues that efficiency, while important, is not enough to create a true competitive advantage. Even if a firm is using the most cutting-edge technology and best practices of an industry, to the utmost level of efficiency (what Porter refers to as “the productivity frontier”), all a competitor needs to steal the lead is to find a new best practice, technique, or technology and become just that much more efficient. In simpler terms, being the most cost-effective company only puts you in the lead until someone else figures out how to be more cost-effective (Porter calls this “expanding the productivity frontier”). Further, Porter argues that a firm can either iterate (do things better) or it can innovate (do better things), but it can’t do both at once: a new technology or product will, by definition not have an established best practice, so iterations must occur before that relevant productivity frontier can be found.

Porter argues that efficiency, while important, is not enough to create a true competitive advantage.

So what is a true competitive advantage? In Porter’s mind, strategy is not just about product or process, but structure. To quote the man himself (emphasis his):

  1. Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities. Strategic position emerges from three distinct sources:

    1. serving few needs of many customers (Jiffy Lube provides only auto lubricants)

    2. serving broad needs of few customers (Bessemer Trust targets only very high-wealth clients)

    3. serving broad needs of many customers in a narrow market (Carmike Cinemas operates only in cities with a population under 200,000)

  2. Strategy requires you to make trade-offs in competing-to choose what not to do. Some competitive activities are incompatible; thus, gains in one can be achieved only at the expense of another area…

  3. Strategy involves creating “fit” among a company’s activities.Fit has to do with the ways a company’s activities interact and reinforce one another…°

What does all that mean? In order to have a true competitive advantage, you cannot be all things to all people. You either need to be all things to few people, or few things to all people. You need to make trade-offs that your competitors will be unwilling to take. And you need to refine your processes into a network of sympathetic processes that reinforce and resonate with each other.

Strategy requires you to make trade-offs in competing-to choose what not to do.

Examples help. One of the classics is Southwest Airlines†:

  1. Southwest is all things to a few people: it is a full service airline targeting price sensitive customers traveling between regional airports who don’t care about things like first class cabins or frequent flier miles.
  2. Southwest makes trade-offs that United and American Airlines won’t: Southwest focuses on regional airports and avoids highly competitive, “hub & spoke” routes that characterize larger airlines. It doesn’t have mileage program, which reduces its appeal to frequent travelers. It only uses Boeing 737 jets, so it can’t use larger jets to serve busier routes. And it does not deal with baggage transfers.
  3. Southwest has an outstanding business fit: Here’s where the trade-off’s from part 2 provide an advantage. The regional routes have fewer supporting airlines, so Southwest has less competition. The lack of a frequent flier program means that ticket purchasing is more streamlined, reducing overhead. The use of a single model of jet means that crews only need to support one kind of apparatus, so they need less training and only have to carry parts for that model. No baggage transfers, the lack of first class or assigned seating, and the ease of maintenance mean that Southwest can regularly turn around jets in 15 minutes, rather than the typical 30 minutes of other airlines.

What does all that all that mean? Southwest is faster, cheaper, and more efficient than its competitors. But, to reinforce Porter’s point, Southwest isn’t faster, cheaper, and more efficient because it has some special sauce, and it isn’t a universally better airline than its competitors (if you want to fly to Beijing, Southwest is a useless airline). It’s fast, cheaper, and more efficient for a specific customer base, because it makes trade-offs designed to maximize value for that specific customer base, and then refines it’s activities to reinforce those trade-offs and optimize efficiencies. If it tried to make those trade-offs, but serve everyone, or served its customer base but used the same business model as a United or an American, Southwest would be brown bread.

But the opposite is also true: Continental tried to compete with Southwest by developing its own regional, low-fair model, Continental Lite. But it wasn’t willing to make the same trade-offs: it wasn’t willing to eschew its frequent flier program or first class seating, or eliminate baggage transfers. The attempt was a massive failure, and resulted in the sacking of the CEO.

If Southwest Airlines tried to make those trade-offs, but serve everyone, or served its customer base but used the same business model as a United or an American, it would be brown bread.

Continental, one of the world’s most powerful airlines, went head-to-head with Southwest, and got its ass kicked. That’s the power of strategic positioning. Unless a firm is willing to make all of the trade-offs of the strategically positioned firm, it won’t be able to compete head-to-head effectively. As Sun-Tzu once said, “If you know your enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”

Ikea is another great example. Like Southwest, it is all things to few people. Ikea sells furniture, but it focuses on a relatively narrow market: young people with rigid schedules and budgets that make them more price sensitive and less quality sensitive. And it makes a  lot of trade-offs to serve that market at the expense of others:

  • It locates it stores in suburban areas where it can build big warehouses and huge parking lots.
  • It provides child care facilities for parents.
  • It provides food courts so customers can come directly from work.
  • It does not allow you to customize the furniture; this streamlines inventory at the expense of attracting more affluent, quality sensitive customers.
  • Customers need to assemble the furniture themselves; this also streamlines manufacturing, allows each store to stock more product, and deliver more furniture per truck load (it’s much easier to stack cardboard boxes than assembled furniture); the same goes for putting product in the car you left in that big parking lot.
  • It does not have representatives to attend to each customer and follow them around – you go to Ikea, you walk yourself around the floor with all the show model WYSIWYG furniture; again, this turns off more affluent customers who might need a rep to guide them through upholstery and delivery options, but it drastically cuts down on overhead.

To beat a dead horse, these trade-off’s serve the target market better, and are complementary and reinforcing, and make it harder for competitors to go head to head with Ikea.

Winding my way back to the headline of the article, how does Dark Souls fit into this line of reasoning? How, as the headline states, is it the Ikea of video games?

Well, think about it. Dark Souls (and Demon’s Souls before it) is not a game that tries to be all things to all people. It has targeted a very specific audience: hardcore gamers who want a hardcore experience. Let’s walk through some of the trade-off’s that allow From Software to be efficient and highly competitive. While you read, think of how many other publishers and developers would – or would not – be willing to make these same choices:

  • One difficulty level targeted at elite gamers: From Software only needs to test and balance for one type of experience, which is drastically more simple than having selectable difficulty levels.
  • No real tutorial to speak of, because Dark Soul’s core audience doesn’t need and, to a certain extent, probably doesn’t want one: to the core audience, discovering the in’s and out’s of the game, individually and as a community, is part of the experience. As a developer, I can tell you that tutorials are expensive, error-prone rat’s nests of edge cases.
  • No heavy narrative experience, providing a sense of mystery and discovery: having few cinematics and sparse dialog saves money and logistical overhead – while cinematics and dialog are straightforward to create, they are highly inflexible. Changing those types of assets after they are created carries a significant cost.
  • Focused multiplayer that is tailored to the Dark Souls experience: no CTF, or territories, or team deathmatch. There is one kind of multiplayer setup, love it or hate it.
  • One type of game: Dark Souls can trace its lineage all the way back to King’s Field. In other words, From Software has been making action-RPG’s for a long time. Knowing the kind of game you’re making, and its particular nuances and pitfalls, is a learning curve that money can’t buy. From Software isn’t chasing market trends, it’s making the games it knows how to make.
  • Consistent engine, even if it isn’t top of the line: they know it inside and out, and known tech is predictable tech..mostly.
  • Sparse music adds to Dark Soul’s lonely, oppressive atmosphere: it also saves money. This is a quintessential trade-off in my mind – a sacrifice that most companies would be unwilling to make is an asset for a game like Dark Souls.

The absence of music is a quintessential trade-off – a sacrifice that most companies would be unwilling to make is an asset for a game like Dark Souls.

So what? How does any of this matter. Well, here’s the kicker: Dark Souls sold 2 million units and was considered a success: the trade-offs From Software made to suit a narrow fan base allowed it to maintain a budget low enough to make that fan base profitable. That’s a competitive advantage. Contrast that with Resident Evil 6, which attempted to be all things to all people (almost literally) and was considered an abysmal failure because it didn’t sell 7 million copies (that's A LOT of copies). Capcom was unwilling to make trade-offs, spent like it was entitled to a windfall, and fell flat on its face.

Here the moral of my story: the video games industry, like many others, has a problem with priorities. Namely, growth is a higher priority than profitability. To a certain extent, this is understandable: shareholders want growth and tend to jettison the c-suite when they don’t get it. But, growth is hard, particularly when you’re already a big, publicly traded company. And when growth stalls, and trade-offs seem inhibitive, it can be easy to kick them to curb.

Resident Evil 6 attempted to be all things to all people and was considered an abysmal failure  because it didn’t sell 7 million copies. Capcom was unwilling to make trade-offs and fell flat on its face.

But growth and profit are not the same thing. It is entirely possible to have profit without growth. Profit should be the priority, and the point of growth should be to capture more profit from an existing market. From Software should choose growth only if it knows that a market demand exists for its products that it cannot currently satisfy. For instance, if it knows (or suspects) that it’s target audience will only buy 2 million copies per game, but is willing to buy that many copies of two more games per year, then it should grow enough to supply two more games.

Too often, the modus operandi in the video game industry is the reverse: grow and then figure out how to sell enough games to make the new, larger corporation profitable. The growth-first approach has a homogenizing affect on product. If you can’t make trade-offs to tailor your product to a specific market, and be efficient enough to make that market profitable, then the path forward is to hedge your bets in order to serve the broadest possible base with the lowest common denominator product: sequels and predictable genres.

And, until we have more publishers and developers focused on finding true competitive strategies, get ready for more.

Justin Fischer is a Senior Producer in the industry and an MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter at @gamergoeslegit
 
In addition, he is the co-founder of Clockwork Otter, a team of industry veterans that creates tools for Unity 3D. Follow them at @_clockworkotter
° Porter, “What Is Strategy?”, Harvard Business Review, November-December, 1996
† This is the “classic” analysis of Southwest that is described in various business school case studies. It may be out of date relative to the airline’s current best practices, but my point is to provide an example of trade-offs and fit, not describe current events.

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Comments


JoseArias NikanoruS
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It really sounded a lot like Nintendo's E3 speech when they unveiled the Wii U.
The Tutorial thing is also something that Nintendo doesn't seem to get right in many titles (Skyward Sword).
On the other hand, they do have some titles that seem to be tailored to a certain niche and are doing great.
Also, there was this article some time ago that said the best bet for Nintendo was to divide their business in a "casual/light" affair and a "hardcore/heavy" one. Your article makes me thing that that may indeed be the best strategy for them.

Justin Fischer
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Nintendo always fascinates me. Some cycles, they're undoubtedly the smartest guys in the room. Other times it's like watching a really bitchin tea party in a burning ship.

Harvard Bonin
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Well done. Nice article.

Harvard Bonin
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And...what punk band were you in?

Justin Fischer
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Late for Life, in Miami FL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMeHEZUS8L8

Glad you liked the post!

Matt Mirrorfish
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Good piece, especially useful to small indies trying to deal with scope questions.

Justin Fischer
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Scope control is problem for every firm in every industry. It's always tempting to say, if we just add this one thing, we could get X more sales. Death by a thousand cuts, as the saying goes.

Vasily Yourchenko
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Bravo! You beautifully formalized some of the intuitions I and many others hold to.

Justin Fischer
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Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

Michael DeFazio
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Thanks for the post, I enjoyed the read, and... (not to sound snarky) I wonder whether this post and Porter's book suffers a little from the "Narrative Fallacy" (X was a success, let me find "fit" to why it was a success ex-post-facto) And also "personizing" the "industry"
"the modus operandi in the video game industry is the reverse: grow and then figure out how to sell enough games to make the new, larger corporation profitable." -- these types of decisions are made by people, there isn't some "hive-mind" out there telling the entire industry how to think.

I cant speak for customers as a whole, but why the souls series appeal to me doesn't have anything to do with the bullets you mentioned.

And what appealed to me initially wasn't that Demon's Souls was hardcore (I generally hate difficult games and get frustrated easily)... but rather the combination of many things. (So I have a hard time thinking the souls series is like the "Ikea" of games... it's not that simple).

Initial Appeal--
For me, I wanted a more "mature Zelda" and RPG aspects...while I initially loathed the PVP and online aspects, I liked the combination of a mature third-person RPG where the environment and exploration were paramont.

What keeps me coming back, and why I recommend the game to others --
This is where From delivered... on the mechanics, the pacing, and the sense of accomplishment ...the "feel" of the game... Its a combination of the dark oppressive style, and the weighty fell of combat.

I get a little put-off when people just talk about difficulty and it just being "hard core"

In short, why do I think the souls series is a success:
"Because there is nothing else like it" much as I want to isolate and pick apart different game aspects and design consideration, its the whole meal and not just one ingredient.... to be honest, i disagree with each bullet point above as to why the game was appealing to me...(if they had difficulty modes, a better tutorial, music, etc... i would still love, enjoy and recommend the game to everyone up for a challenge)

What I think the creators succeeded in doing was not tailoring and marketing a game for a specific group of people, but rather maintain a sense of purity around the design concept of "creating a sense of accomplishment", within the game...A sense of accomplishment and a game they themselves could enjoy (Miyasaki has stated publicly he is not a hardcore gamer and wanted things designed in a way he could enjoy them...and not get frustrated just for the sake of frustration)

This is a different philosophy than "Make it hard because hardcore players will like it that way".

my 2 cents at least.

Ben Sly
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Having difficulty levels, extra music, or other features wouldn't affect my enjoyment of the game either. The crux of the argument, however, is that the effort of implementing said features was better spent on refining the game for the core audience instead.

Thinking back to Dragon's Dogma (what I would consider to be the closest game to the Souls' series), the point rings true. On paper, it was a much better game than any of the series: it had much more content, character classes with diverse skills, its own novel take on multiplayer, an actual coherent plotline with characters, crafting, Shadow-of-the-Colossus-style climbing on creatures and loads of other stuff that none of the Souls' series has. But even though it did a lot of it well, each individual element was simply not as polished as the Souls games were. That weighty combat feel where every move is important is very hard to get right: Demon's Souls's team could spare the effort to do so, but Dragon's Dogma couldn't. That atmosphere which permeates the series is also hard to keep consistent, but they did - and Dragon's Dogma (especially in its expansion) tried for something similar but didn't succeed, partially because of the much larger size of the game, partially because of the less-refined difficulty, and partially because of the Capcom story. Dragon's Dogma is still a decent game, but it pales before the Souls games because it isn't nearly as focused.

Ricardo Hernandez
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I have to disagree with this Dark Souls assessment though. The game does have plenty of music. It's just used *right*. More on this below in my reply to the article.

Justin Fischer
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That's fair, but my point is not that everyone has the exact same experience or likes Dark Souls for the exact same reason. My point is that From Software knew it's audience, or it's target market segment in marketing terminology, very well, and were able to create efficiencies by tailoring to that market. Whether they created those efficiencies consciously or not is not really that relevant.

And there is a hive mind that makes corporate decisions. It's called a board of directors.:)

Matthew Fundaun
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The constant drive for growth can be damaging when it gets in the way of actually making profits, yeah. I remember watching a documentary about the newspaper industry, and how the papers are making all sorts of cuts to try and squeeze out even more growth and just end up shooting themselves in the foot and ruining the profits they're already making.

Trying to be 'all things to all people' just runs into the business end of the axiom 'You can't please everyone'.

Justin Fischer
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Agreed!

Dane MacMahon
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Gaming is so eclectic now, it's so impossible to target general gamers. What is a general gamer? Choose an audience and target them, budgeting accordingly.

Justin Fischer
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Agreed. That's what marketing is SUPPOSED to do, but too often marketing in this industry involves a fast-follow doused with T&A.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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Great article. I think the tricky part to capturing a niche audience is its hard to target. Making games appealing to a very specific type of consumer can allow you to cut costs on elements common to most games, but their exclusion is also risky. I think the important thing to remember that throwing money at a project doesn't guarantee its success. Also in the case of resident evil 6 they abandoned their current fanbase, and they made a similar mistake from software is making by failing to innovate further. If your a large company you have the ability to expand by taking the risks to innovate and build new projects to identify niche audiences. Look at the monster hunter series, a title originally developed by capcom as a testing grounds for a new idea turned out to be exactly what japanese gamers wanted. Also you can use those projects to test out new talent or give rising stars a chance to prove their worth.

I think the main lesson here is one we've know for a long time and was taught to us by the ever growing indie community, as long as the mechanics are solid people don't need an exorbitant amount of flash to enjoy a game an adopt it into their list of personal favorites, that and you can't please everyone.

Justin Fischer
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Glad you enjoyed the article.

You have a point. But I think innovation in Dark Souls is less important than maintaining focus on the target market. Listening to the fans and thinking creatively will drive innovation. But innovation for the sake of innovation can be more dangerous than not innovating at all.

I do agree that flash and fancy cinematics are overrated compared to fun gameplay and a sincere design.

Rosstin Murphy
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Brilliant article. I love this idea. My producer for Rex Rocket, Robert Maher, explained something similar to me when I complained about the difficulty of our own game.

Justin Fischer
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Glad you enjoyed it!

David Serrano
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Did From Software and Namco Bandai Games earned a higher than expected ROI on Dark Souls? Yes. But don't gloss over the fact that they earned the ROI exclusively through sales to 0.8 percent of the core audience across all platforms. Because the truth behind all of the claims about Dark Soul's "mass market success" is 99.2 percent of the core audience across all platforms did not buy or play the game. And outside of the 0.8 percent who did, there was absolutely no mass market demand for, or interest in a product specifically created for hardcore "gamers" who wanted a hardcore experience.

It would actually be far more accurate to compare Dark Souls to Fox News. Because like Fox, Dark Souls was a product specifically created to appeal to the extreme, non-representative preferences of tiny minority within an existing audience. And like Fox, Dark Souls was mass marketed to much larger and more demographically diverse mainstream audiences as something the average person in those audiences could never objectively define it as.

Michael DeFazio
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"truth behind all of the claims about Dark Soul's "mass market success" is 99.2 percent of the core audience across all platforms did not buy or play the game"

---well that's certainly a "glass is 99.2% empty" way of looking at it...

I >>Think<< you are joking about that Fox news comparison... i mean wha?
http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/01/fox-news-tops-ratings
-race-cnn-slides-in-primetime-180451.html

I don't know if you intentionally meant it, but it brought a confused smile to my face nonetheless (Dark Souls like Fox News... emmmm....ok?)

Ricardo Hernandez
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Please do not put Fox news and anything From Software in the same sentence. The later made a well crafted game.

Justin Fischer
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I hear what you're saying, but I never claimed that Dark Souls had mass market success, just that it was successful. It turned a profit, which many mass-market games have trouble doing. By avoiding a mass-market design, and focusing a product on a niche market, they could trim enough production fat to make the market profitable.

As Bill Cosby said: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone."

Andreas Ahlborn
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Nice analyse. A lot of the success of DS can also be attributed to the saying: make a virtue of necessity .

All the cost cuts (audio, music etc.) and negation of industry standards (tutorial, different difficulty settings etc.) could pay off until this moment, where DS pretty much could get away as a BBB-production. Like the charme of the old Hammer films for example. Now that the Souls series is starting to inspire a lot of new games this and next year (Lords of the Fallen comes to mind) and with the major features it got on many "mass market"- gaming sites and from popular youtubers that niche market appeal is already fading.

It will be interesting to see if the competitors will fail to capture the "essence" of the Souls series and instead end up as bad, overambitious copycats or if they will beat DS on its own terrain.

For example you can see Assassins Creed having started as a enhanced clone of Ubisofts own Prince of Persia coregame (Prince of Persia was very sucecesful in the 90s not so aftzer the turn of the century), a 3d platformer which in its first game even stole the "arabic" setting and becoming a much more influential IP than its predecessor.

"There is one kind of multiplayer setup, love it or hate it"

Not true in my opinion: The Covenants in DS can very well be compared to differnt modes in "traditional"-arena like Multiplayers. With the additional "Arenas" where you can have sparring matches with other players introduced in DS1/Artorias-DLC MP it is a lot of more "varied" than in your average FPS.

Justin Fischer
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Agreed. Fair point about how the covenants can change things up.

Matthew Mouras
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A fun read. Thanks for this article.

This thought from the article stuck out:

"One difficulty level targeted at elite gamers: From Software only needs to test and balance for one type of experience, which is drastically more simple than having selectable difficulty levels."

There is NewGame+ with a different difficulty, new enemy placements, different world information. I don't know how much From Software is saving on this front.

Justin Fischer
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Glad you enjoyed it. Fair enough about NewGame+. It does add some complexity, but I would also expect that the number of players who finish one play through of Dark Souls is surprisingly small fraction of those who start, and those who go on to NG+ is a fraction of that, and so on and so forth. Basically, even less effort can be expended on balancing NG+, and NG++, because you can assume that the player is really advanced and that he/she has some pretty beefy equipment.

Lihim Sidhe
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Great, great, article. I'm already on the Kindle store searching out Porter's books and that time tested classic - The Art of War.

If the gaming industry was a game itself it would have different classes: artist, designer, programmer, writer, etc. From how many articles I frequently read about X studio being absorbed and shut down the gaming industry is in DIRE NEED of a certain class being more prevalent: Business.

As it stands if the larger business world was a game, they have their business class running the games industry. The gaming industry needs its OWN business class.

I digress. Great article and thanks for citing the books you did. Try 'The Lean Startup' by Eric Ries if you haven't already. It basically a whole book detailing a 'Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat' cycle as fast and as efficiently as possible.

Justin Fischer
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Glad you enjoyed it. I'm familiar with The Lean Start-Up but have yet to read it. There's a lot of smart business people in this industry. There are also a lot of jackasses who have no regard for the medium.

Robert Marney
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Good analysis. Some more examples of From Software cutting costs in smart ways:

NPCs generally re-use the player's own model, animations and gear; their scripted events are all just triggering aggro on/off or setting a fixed patrol route. The conversation interface is limited to a Yes/No dialog box. If you want the NPC to actively help or harm the player, they re-use the multiplayer mechanics. This would feel ridiculous in an Elder Scrolls game, with its bustling towns and conversations between characters, but in a Souls game where most people only barely acknowledge your existence and half of them wind up dead, it's perfectly in character for a single resting animation to occupy an NPC for ten hours.

The state of the world generally doesn't refresh dynamically, only when you hit a loading screen. In a game where you will be dying or fast traveling often, the player generally doesn't notice, and a hardcore audience is way more accepting of things like "quit and restart the game to advance the plot".

Justin Fischer
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Great points. Don't forget that there's almost no facial animation with those NPC's!

Johan Toresson
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Great article!

Justin Fischer
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Thanks!

Ricardo Hernandez
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I think the article is interesting and while it does hit on the fact that Dark Souls is a game made for an audience in mind, I do think the characterization of Dark Souls as the game in the later half of the article is lacking, incomplete and in some ways off and extremely reductionist.

The whole "Dark Souls is hard/hardcore" and left at that leaves *way too much behind* the *craftsmanship* behind the game and its intricate game design. From the levels and combat setups that have been put in place with incredible attention to detail to the myriad strategies that emerge from the different options that are given to the player through a consistent "game language" if you will. The art in the environment merges with the mood and even the background of what could have happened behind in a distant past.

As another example- the music- the article suggests that it has sparse music as if it was that the game had little music that saves money- ever seen/heard the sound track of the game? How many compositions are there? Seems pretty long to me. There is a difference between not having a lot of music and using music at the right moment, at the right time.

In fact, to completely counter the sparse asset point- Dark Souls is a game that has a few levels that have been crafted which the player can *completely miss and never experience* and still finish the game. I know at least of one big renowned company that would never do that because they feel it's a waste of money! The real sacrifice there that they are willing to make is that choice- the extra level that a lot of players won't see - at least on a first pass.

If Dark Souls was simply "hard for hard's sake" if would be a complete catastrophic market failure- but it isn't- because there's just so much more to it than it seems. It's very very deep. It makes you try again with a different mindset. There mere mechanic of dropping your souls and giving you a chance to get them back or lose is not to make the game simply hard- it is a very important game mechanic that makes you care and pay attention, plus a reward for doing so.

There's just *vastly* more to this game than simply "oh it's just hardcore hard" and I think the article pretty much makes the reductionist mistake when describing this game. Without those things it would not matter one bit if the game was simply hard as it would fail then miserably.

But I agree that From Software knows their audience, they are writing the game for it and focus on that.

Justin Fischer
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A response to your response:
-Your comment on the intricacies of the level design and combat (which I completely agree with) is what makes it a hardcore game.
-You're not wrong that they have music. But they only have music in the boss fights and a few locations. So even though they have music, they only recorded enough coverage for a fraction of the game. Compare that to Mass Effect 2, which required a team of composers so the game could have music everywhere.
-Adding secret content is not contradictory to efficiency. It's tailoring the experience to the audience. I've never used Ikea's child care services. That doesn't mean they're a waste of money for the company.
-Hardcore doesn't just mean hard. I make no claim that the game is hard for the sake of being hard. In fact, I fervently argue against that claim when my friends make it. But all of the depth you and I enjoy is appealing to a very small slice of gamers, even of those gamers who would consider themselves hardcore.

Ricardo Hernandez
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"-Adding secret content is not contradictory to efficiency. It's tailoring the experience to the audience. I've never used Ikea's child care services. That doesn't mean they're a waste of money for the company.
"
Yes, but in the face of the article, it would seem to me at least it *could* be a waste if not many people use them. And the extra levels in Dark Souls here are quite elaborate, so it is taking extra resources and time. You could still make Dark Souls for the most part Dark Souls without them.

As for the music, ok vs a Mass Effect 2 that's a difference, but then tons of games differ vs a Mass Effect 2. My point here is that Dark Souls is not exactly thin on music content, a mere look at their sound track CD shows that.

Also:

"Your comment on the intricacies of the level design and combat (which I completely agree with) is what makes it a hardcore game."

Yes, but my point here is a bit further than that- this requires a LOT of work. I agree choices like not having difficulty levels simplifies yet they chose an approach of craftsmanship of gameplay that is not trivial, takes a lot of resources.

I agree with the article, totally, that they are tailoring the game to an audience. What I am pointing out is that the article does seem to imply some of the choices they did go to a certain level of depth, that saves them time and resources, when their approach can be quite time and resource intensive too due to the attention to detail their design route requires, to make the game for that audience.

Now of course, in the light of the Destiny announcement, all other games have made tradeoffs and are tailored to an audience to save resources and time :-)

Justin Fischer
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That's fair. My point is not that companies shouldn't spend money, or can somehow avoid it, just that they can spend it more effectively if they know their audience. From Software can afford to spend resourced on depth because they're not dropping cash for Kevin Spacey's voice and likeness or other things that Dark Souls fans, by and large, probably don't care about.

Kevin Zhang
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Great article, I shared it with my entire team!

Justin Fischer
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Thanks!


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