Let's Talk about Tale of Tales' Sunset and Public Funding for Games

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austin_walker

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Edited By austin_walker
ToT's The Graveyard presaged the recent
ToT's The Graveyard presaged the recent "boom" of small, experimental games.

In a blog post made Sunday, Belgium-based independent developer Tale of Tales announced that in the wake of the poor sales of their latest title, Sunset, the studio would “no longer be making commercial games.”

Tale of Tales, the two person studio made up by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, has spent the last twelve years developing a unique catalog of games that pushed at the boundaries of what we traditionally call video games. In some titles, like The Endless Forest and Bientôt l'été, Tale of Tales offered players a strange mix of interlocking systems and allowed them to find their own meaning. In games like The Path and Fatale, the studio leveraged well known stories to subvert player expectations.

In their blog post, Harvey and Samyn address the "failure" of their most recent release, Sunset. Despite a development philosophy and marketing strategy tuned to connect the game to a broader audience, the game sold only "a little over 4,000 copies" to date, including units sold to backers of the game's Kickstarter.

Honestly, I'm still working through this announcement. There are a lot of angles to think about here, and it's one of those moments that brings into focus the broader state of video games.

On one hand, there has been a serious increase in the number of independent, experimental, and avant garde games in the time since Tale of Tales was first founded. The company's contribution to that growth shouldn't be underestimated. But at the same time, this case is a reminder that those experimenting with the form of video games often do so by taking great financial risks, and that means putting additional pressure on them to make not only games, but marketable products.

Tale of Tales clearly felt that pressure. Part of the studio's goal with Sunset was to appeal to wider audience, instead of just to the small group of fans who enjoy their particular breed of art games. Presumably, Harvey and Samyn were targeting the players who purchased games like Gone Home and Dear Esther, titles which may indicate there is room in the market for small games focused on exploration and story. Tale of Tales wanted to reach this audience because they wanted to share their creative vision with a bigger group of people, but also because of what they call the "drying up of funding for artistic videogames in Belgium."

Bientôt l'été let me pretend to be a sad Frenchman dreaming about the beach from a cryopod. So yeah, I loved it.
Bientôt l'été let me pretend to be a sad Frenchman dreaming about the beach from a cryopod. So yeah, I loved it.

Over at Forbes, reporter Daniel Nye Griffiths shined some light on the shift in public funding. For a while, Belgian game creators like Tale of Tales were able to find public funding through the Flanders Audiovisual Fund's "experimental media" funding category. That changed with the establishment of a dedicated games fund, but as Griffiths writes, "ironically, this has made funding harder to secure" for studios like Tales of Tales.

I reached out to get the developer's perspective on why that is, and Samyn explained:

Previously we had to submit our grant proposals to a film commission. Which was a bit weird but at least they judge our proposals on artistic merit. And they have rejected a few as well. The new Game fund consists of game industry professionals. Let's just say that it's easier to explain games to art people that to explain art to games people.

There's also a few rules in the Game fund that are different and less art-minded than those of the Film fund. Like they will only cover up to 50% of your production budget, eg, as opposed to up to 85% if you make a film.

Government support for the arts is sadly dwindling as right wing politicians take control. If we don't want to lose civilization entirely, something needs to be done to support more non-commercial art. The game industry, with its much touted millions of dollars, could easily cause a global cultural revolution by spending a tiny fraction of its budgets on a few promising artists. Maybe some of the more forward looking studios and publishers will start realizing this soon. There's a lot to be gained from expanding the market and improving the social and cultural esteem for games, including dollars.

Whether or not you hold the same love for non-commercial art as Samyn, his broader concerns about systems of public funding shine light on an important (and rarely talked about) part of the games industry. For consumers, things like the Flanders Audiovisual Fund exist unseen. But for many studios (both large and small), mechanisms like arts funds and tax credits offer the ability to hire up and take exciting risks on projects that would otherwise be out of reach. These economic incentives can work to improve local economies, to attract talent from distant places, or to encourage the development of a region's local culture.

Of course, there's a lot of debate about what "good" public funding is. If you're interested in what different funding models look like, this Jason Della Rocca piece from a few years ago does a good job of outlining the differences between incentives, funds, and facilitation. Rocca also shows into how these models affect big studios differently than smaller Canadian studios like Polytron and Klei, and while the specifics are different, you can see similarities between what Samyn told me and what independent developers told Rocca: The majority of public support that exists encourages the creation of games that fit into the current market, and established players in the industry (and not up and coming devs) are better suited to obtaining and using that funding.

The Path used the familiar imagery of Little Red Riding Hood as the core building blocks for a psychological horror game.
The Path used the familiar imagery of Little Red Riding Hood as the core building blocks for a psychological horror game.

Even with unpredictable and inconsistent funding, there has been a boom in small, independent, and alternative games. In the 12 years since Tale of Tales was founded, new tools like Unity, GameMaker, and Twine have allowed for more affordable game development. And audiences have begun to test the waters of new sorts of games, too. Some people who never thought there were games for them now find themselves hotly anticipating summer and holiday sales, or browsing sites like Merritt Kopas' Forest Ambassador in search for free games. Others find themselves just as excited to play the explosion filled Just Cause 3 as they are to play narrative-driven Firewatch or the "casual" Regency Solitaire.

Yet every year, around E3, I feel like we have this conversation: "Why do so many games feel so focus tested, so same-y?" And the answer is (again and again) the same: "Because it's risky to take chances." So I find myself wondering: What if there was more consistent, predictable funding? What if small studios had access to the same sorts of public support that some major developers do? And hey, what if those major developers had more support, too? How might that encourage a little bit of creative risk taking? A new IP instead of another sequel? The adoption of new, expensive technologies like VR? Maybe (could you imagine?) a little less 'crunch.'

It's easy to convince ourselves that the current boom of interesting, new kinds of games will continue on automatically. But Tale of Tales' shift away from the commercial space should remind us that changes in the way games are made and consumed reflect the actual, material conditions of their production. Game development is affected by everything from technological accessibility to channels of distribution, from copyright law to tax policy, from market trends to the availability of public funding. Many of these go unnoticed by us, and all of them are subject to change.

Those of us who care about games have advocated for their importance for a long time, but it's often the case that we're more passionate than we are clear. I know that in the past I've found myself hoping to deliver a clear argument about the value of games, only to instead wind up offering a vague plea to be taken seriously. But with enough education about the "hows" and "whys" of game development, we'll all be better equipped to argue not only for the value of games, but for the structural support the medium needs to continue to blossom.

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hassun

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#1  Edited By hassun

It's always going to be very hard for developers making these kinds of games. It's not exactly easy for arthouse filmmakers either, even with support programs.

And with the price of development for even medium level games being what it is I fear a support program will be hard to maintain.

As for Tales of Tales itself, I don't think any of their games are all that good. It's great to be able to experiment and fail, but consistent failure is probably not going to get you far anywhere.

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ninnyjams

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I'm really glad this piece didn't take the "well gamers are just behind the times" angle that a lot of sites went with. I've been a fan of Tales of Tales since the beginning, I was hyped for Sunset and I've played all of their games and loved them in their own ways. And while yes, I think there are a ton of factors at play here over their failure (I hardly think 12 years of making interesting, engaging video games in the era they did it should be considered a failure) but ultimately it's the rhetoric of gamers or video games "letting them down" that really started to rub me the wrong way.

It doesn't help that they've kinda had a meltdown on Twitter since then and have clearly suggested its all the fault of so-called "gamers." I think one thing that needs to be mentioned here is that Tales of Tales have never really ever delivered on their promises. Sure, all of their games have some jank and a lack of polish that certainly drives some off, but they also don't really always do what they set out to accomplish. The things they say about Sunset having mass appeal don't really make sense to me, as that game has a decided lack of polish to it. It also doesn't offer real branching paths, etc (they make it pretty clear they want you choosing the flirty options throughout the game).

More and more developers are doing what Tales of Tales did, and I kinda feel like Tales of Tales was more a pilot program for this kind of thing than an actual example of the best kind of work you can do with this thing. Someone else said "if there were more people making these kinds of games, I think Tales of Tales would be the worst ones doing it," and while I don't agree with that, I think there is a nugget of truth in there.

I love their games. I'm profoundly sad to see them go, and I'm profoundly sad to see a market that's so volatile in so many ways. It's rough for devs that need to make their investment back within the first six months, that take loans and make promises that have to be delivered on in the first six months, that get what they need out of Kickstarter and not a penny more. There's a lot we need to figure out, and again, I'm sad Tales of Tales likely won't be here with us as we navigate ever-changing minefields.

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excast

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It's a shame to hear about any studio struggling, but eventually any company that hopes to stay afloat needs to find some commercial success. Different is all well and good, but they also need to be experiences that draw people in and make them want to spread the word about the quality of a title. I can honestly say that I have never heard of either the developer or any of the games they have made. Does that say more about me as a gamer or the lack of real impact they had? Who can really say?

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nycnewyork

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@ninnyjams: every review of their latest game that I read said it was boring. we live in a world where there are more games than I can ever play. the truth is the free market worked the way it should. it got rid of the bad and boring games.

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Arkana

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It's kind of hard to be successful if their government grants ran out, and the people they're advertising to don't buy games.

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Carryboy

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Hey Austin,

any reason you didn't go into the meltdown the developers have had since ending the studio?

Did you feel that it was unnecessary or just uninteresting? (mean this sincerely though I realise it could come of as antagonistic)

My take on it is they made bad games. The games they were making don't appeal to the mass market or any sized market for that matter.

Much like much art (don't know what you'd call it but lets say "outside the box art") doesn't appeal to many however it doesn't need to, weird art goes for large sums of money therefore the artist may only have to sell a couple a year, that model just isn't going to be able to work for games as no one is going to pay thousands for any game. Both have tiny markets but only one need lots of sales.

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mcpoly

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This problem is not new. You can go back to Da Vinci's time and find artists that had to sell to their benefactors (patrons) to create the art they want.

When you're talking about a livelihood build on making games, it comes down to whether your games are valuable to enough people for them to buy it. We have more varied sources of funding now than in Da Vinci's time, but it all comes down to who will pay enough for a game to be made.

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Mister_V

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Whilst it's never good for a developer to fold. I don't think failing studios need to be propped up by funds and the like. It's an open market, If a company fails to offer a compelling product that enough people want then they go out of business. I don't see why videogames should be any different.

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Homelessbird

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I guess I'll be echoing the general sentiment here when I say that, though I will be sad to see them go from the gaming world, I can't say I'm surprised.

I don't think it's fair to assume, as it seems these developers have (at least, that's what their recent twitter rant has led me to believe), that people that play games aren't interested in having an "artistic" experience - I just think they were asking too much. Games can do a lot of things, and one of those things is to provoke, and to challenge the player's perspective - but if that's ALL they do, it becomes a really hard sell if you're asking me $10 for that experience.

Governement grants and other funding resources are obviously one solution to that, but honestly, I think that outfits that want to be like Tale of Tales need a different business model. If you're interested in fine art, you can pay $10 for a museum ticket and experience hundreds of artworks, some by the greatest artists of all time. I don't know how that translates into the gaming world, but even to someone interested in this sort of experience, I think that asking for that much for one experience - that despite being something you "own," is often not worth repeating - just feels viscerally like a bad deal.

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#10  Edited By conmulligan

@mister_v said:

Whilst it's never good for a developer to fold. I don't think failing studios need to be propped up by funds and the like. It's an open market, If a company fails to offer a compelling product that enough people want then they go out of business. I don't see why videogames should be any different.

But games are already different in that there aren't a lot of sources for alternative funding like grants and subsidies that more traditional artistic media has access to.

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Avanzato

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I like games. I do not pay my taxes to fund games. Everything Tales of Tales says is the usual whiny artistic BS you get from people who want to be given other peoples money to do their thing without having to earn it themselves. I actually bought some of their earlier games, I wish I hadn't now.

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mathey

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I have always had a weird relationship with the art community; I have an art degree and went to an art school, but my inspirations were more Star Wars, comic books, and video games than the sorts of things you saw at museums or in galleries. For a long time, I deeply resented the pretensions of high art, or refused to see any distinction at all - but more recently I've come to accept that there's a need for non-commercial art to get a spotlight. When you think about the sheer volume of images, sounds, and ideas we get thrown at us every waking minute, its a genuine relief to have some that aren't coming from massive media conglomerates. Its like having a nice park in the middle of a big loud city; it keeps you sane and gives you context.

I still love Star Wars (which has many flaws and, if anything, has become even MORE corporate after being acquired by Disney), I still love comic books (which have provided the grist for some big-time IPs for Warner Brothers and Disney while still struggling as a medium), and I still loves me some video games (which are just all over the damn place in terms of quality and intent). But it does bum me out to know that Tale of Tales won't be around to question some assumptions, push some buttons, and be wonderfully weird.

There are certainly other people in the video game arena who are challenging the status quo, and between movies, print, and video games, I'd say video games are getting more independent voices out there - but the practicalities for these creators simply to survive much less flourish clearly remains an uphill battle. If they express their frustrations as if they are the Last Best Hope for Art - well, that's kind of the sort of ego and ambition you need to have in an outsider space. Check out the sorts of things the guys from the Abstract Expressionist movement said about themselves back in the 50's and Tale of Tales' statements seem positively humble.

Almost (ALMOST) makes you miss aristocratic patronage.

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AssInAss

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Was a big fan of their work. Loved Sunset and The Path, found Bientot lete interesting, still need to give Fatale a go. As big publishers have started funding smaller scale games (Ubi, EA, Starbreeze), hopefully public spending for less traditional games becomes more regular.

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billymaysrip

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@austin_walker the site has a little history with Bientôt l'été:

Loading Video...

Did you honestly really like Bientôt l'été? I agree about most of the salient points in your article, but Tale of Tales games seem to never fully deliver on their promises, both as art or games.

Most art is typically a passive experience, while games are very much an active experience. Ultimately, games have the burden of making that active experience something that the player wants to do; some games can make something inherently boring (like stamping papers) and make them interesting. I've played most of the Tale of Tales games, and the issue that I've found with them is that they just aren't experiences that are interesting to play. I played Sunset for about three hours and found it to be a terribly made "game." There's a lot of really forward looking and interesting artistic choices, but the "game" part itself seems to be stuck in the 3DO era. The terrible lighting, intuitive controls, the weird FOV, and repetitive chores make the barrier incredibly high for the game. Hiding away a lot of the wonderful and rather interesting commentary in a diary is just bad design.

I completely agree with @ninnyjams - Tale of Tales make decent games, but I hope they aren't the lodestar for artistic games in the future. I hope that we can look back at their works at pioneering, but ultimately amateurish and unpolished.

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ETPC

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I loved how weird and out there TOT were. They will be sorely missed. And yes, art funding for weird small videogames is something that I would love to see and would definitely help to diversify this eternal garbage fire that we call videogames.

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MormonWarrior

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#16  Edited By MormonWarrior

I think it just shows there's not a lot of demand for these kind of avant garde game experiences. Most folks playing games want something more to it, even if it takes the artsy approach of something like Journey or Braid. There's still very much a game there. All of this company's stuff seemed kind of like non-game art pieces that didn't hit with most people.

EDIT: Also, public funding for video games is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. No art should be subsidized or given grants, unless you count buying a painting or statue for a courthouse or something. That's absurd.

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donchipotle

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I want to feel bad for their studio closing but then I read their posts after the fact so now...eh.

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lesaboteur

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If video games are art, which most everyone wants to push as the ideal. They should be funded as art is, where you can apply for grants like a painter or musician can in Canada.

Their games may have a very niche appeal but they still have an appeal to an small audience and from what I've seen of Tale of Tales they've been producing well liked things for over a decade and its a damn shame that they can't anymore.

If you want to see your games as art, you must accept that like some art some games will not appeal to you but that does not make them any lesser as art. Art allows us to thrive as a culture and a society and we need a sea change in thought when it comes to funding games as art.

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Mister_V

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@mister_v said:

Whilst it's never good for a developer to fold. I don't think failing studios need to be propped up by funds and the like. It's an open market, If a company fails to offer a compelling product that enough people want then they go out of business. I don't see why videogames should be any different.

But games are already different in that there aren't a lot of sources for alternative funding like grants and subsidies that more traditional artistic media has access to.

At the end of the day enough people need to buy the game for it to make money. You can't let people make art projects forever with no hope of a profit. it's not sustainable.

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excast

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@billymaysrip: Oh, they made that game. I guess I am familiar with some of their work then. Not exactly in a positive way mind you, but still.

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IcarusFoundYou

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#21  Edited By IcarusFoundYou

To future devs, please don't act like this when you go under. Really doesn't help when you want to go back in business.

No Caption Provided

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ChrisTaran

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They made a game that didn't interest most people, it sold 4,000 copies, they threw a temper tantrum on Twitter and now they're out of business. This all seems to have gone down exactly as it should have.

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AssInAss

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Wondering how Her Story fits into this on funding, cause it's pretty different. A FMV text adventure, basically.

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Jacobus

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Funding for the arts is extremely important - artists have always depended on patronage, and art has suffered when the most powerful (whether individuals or governments) have neglected to take the initiative to support it, or when the powerful have placed overly particular strictures on art. A system like the one that supported Tale of Tales' earlier games would be a benefit to any nation that instituted it. However, it doesn't seem to me like the failure of Sunset is entirely "about" public funding for art. Based on Tale of Tales' postmortem post, there are a lot of straightforward factors that caused huge problems for Sunset but which I don't see Mr. Walker touching on in this article.

For one thing, they raised a budget that wasn't sufficient to cover production. They made over $67,000 on Kickstarter, and offered very few physical rewards, so most of that money (after fees) was toward production... and they went at least $40,000 over budget, per their post. Taking fees into account, they underestimated their budget by at least 60%, possibly as much as two thirds. This is a huge project management failure. And it's an example of a problem that plagues many small developers who are professional artists but not professional businesspeople. But the same thing could've happened to a project relying on public funding or a private grant. Any project can collapse (or need to be propped up) halfway if you can't accurately estimate how much time or how many team members it'll require.

When considering how they screwed up their budget that badly, we have to consider the disclosure that they spent "a lot of money" on a PR company that got them press attention but not sales. How much could that have cost? And how many indie developers of this size do that? It certainly doesn't seem like standard practice to me. We all know that "exposure", whether in the press or otherwise, doesn't equal being paid. Paying for PR on a tight budget seems like insanity when there's never any promise that there's an audience out there to capture.

And that brings us to something that other commenters are saying (though some of them do so in a way that's harsh and unfair, in my eyes). In their post, the Sunset devs claim to have studied and emulated successful games, but their efforts in this area seem to be limited to "conventional controls" and "well defined activities". Their statements around this subject seem quite uninformed about what the art game crowd expects and accepts, and what the "wider audience" they were aiming for expects and accepts. For the wide audience, sure, conventional controls and goals to complete may be considered the bare minimum to accept something as a "game", rather than the dismissing it with the various pejorative permutations of "not a game". But that doesn't mean that including these base elements of "gameishness" or whatever will attract a certain crowd. When you're making an art game, people are attracted to it because of its artistic elements. Gone Home is successful because of its art, because of the house and the story, not because of conventional controls. While Sunset is artistically fascinating, the underlying belief that they could sell more games by implementing certain basic gaming conventions seems tragically naive.

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conmulligan

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#25  Edited By conmulligan

@mister_v said:

At the end of the day enough people need to buy the game for it to make money. You can't let people make art projects forever with no hope of a profit. it's not sustainable.

I disagree. I think the notion that all games have to be a profitable, capitalistic product is something we should get away from, because it excludes whole classes of games and creators. Developers need to be paid, to be sure, but the cost of that doesn't necessarily have to fall on the audience.

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MuttersomeTaxicab

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Yo, if you didn't like the game, doesn't mean it's a bad game. I see this mistake a lot.

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AssInAss

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Icepick Lodge is like Tale of Tales, making experimental, messy, and weird games that are memorable. Knock Knock is pretty traditional but The Void and Pathologic are really bonkers. And of course, Giantbomb's favourite, Cargo: Quest For Gravity.

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mbr2

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Good god, the consumerist and capitalist centric views expressed in the comments so far is really disheartening and depressing.

Also, why bring up the developers opinions on games culture when that's not the point of Austin's article?

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excast

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@mister_v said:

At the end of the day enough people need to buy the game for it to make money. You can't let people make art projects forever with no hope of a profit. it's not sustainable.

I disagree. I think the notion that all games have to be a profitable, capitalistic product is something we should get away from, because it excludes whole classes of games and creators. Developers need to be paid, to be sure, but the cost of that doesn't necessarily have to fall on the audience.

So the solution should be they get paid to make things people aren't actually interested in supporting? Who decides who qualifies for that anyways? I'd like to sign up.

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nycnewyork

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@mbr2: games would not ever have been made if it were not for free markets.

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AMyggen

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#33  Edited By AMyggen

@mormonwarrior: Public funding for art is normal in a lot of countries. I'm betting most of Western Europe does it to a bigger or smaller degree. Fact is that for example the Norwegian market for art is so small that most project won't survive on their own, so grants are a way to make sure that there's some variety and not just the stuff that's commercially viable. Grants for films and the theatre is another very common thing in a lot of countries, and something that has broad support in a lot of those countries.

I generally support such measures, because just getting the kind of art the market wants would probably get very same-y and boring. I'm not against something similar for games.

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excast

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Yo, if you didn't like the game, doesn't mean it's a bad game. I see this mistake a lot.

Sure, but if enough people look at something and deem it isn't worth supporting, I suppose that sends some kind of message, right? There are plenty of smaller studios making non traditional games that have found a very welcoming, enthusiastic audience.

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JamesM

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#35  Edited By JamesM

@excast said:

It's a shame to hear about any studio struggling, but eventually any company that hopes to stay afloat needs to find some commercial success.

But is it even right to think of Tale of Tales primarily as a company, rather than as a two-person artistic collaberation? It's easy to always defer to market realities, but not all things are business-first. For example, while businesses are necessary for the production and distribution of most films, we don't describe the creative team as a company. The film director or writer is not generally an employee of some movie developing house. They are independent artists, and while the financials obviously figure into whether or not a film gets made, and they have to shop their scripts around and so on, the actual business of turning this piece of art into a commercial venture is in somebody else's hands.

I'm getting at it in a scattershot kind of way, and there plenty of complicating details I won't get into (such as how a lot of people who work on films are employees of a contracted company), but my point is that it's not a given that we have to approach this as nothing more than a straightforward business arrangement. Making games is at least partially a creative endeavour, and as such it's entirely appropriate to consider the various methods for funding the arts, current and historical. The money has to come from somewhere, and funding the arts isn't easy, but there are systems available other than just hoping to sell enough units.

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#36  Edited By irishalwaystake

TBH i dont really care what happens to devs that try to force games to be art this hard. This is another case of indie devs not being able to handle money accordingly. Thinking ads on RPS and some no-name PR company would increase sales is fucking naive at best in 2015.

Their lack of dignity and overall bitterness on Twitter over the recent months removes any ounce of sympathy I had.

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@mbr2 said:

Good god, the consumerist and capitalist centric views expressed in the comments so far is really disheartening and depressing.

Also, why bring up the developers opinions on games culture when that's not the point of Austin's article?

Well, the open contempt they seem to be showing for their audience makes me wonder if any public money should be going to them to make unsuccessful projects.

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@mister_v said:

At the end of the day enough people need to buy the game for it to make money. You can't let people make art projects forever with no hope of a profit. it's not sustainable.

I disagree. I think the notion that all games have to be a profitable, capitalistic product is something we should get away from, because it excludes whole classes of games and creators. Developers need to be paid, to be sure, but the cost of that doesn't necessarily have to fall on the audience.

It's a lovely dream. But it's not how the real world works.

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I have little to no sympathy for game developers who relied on government grants to pay for their art projects. If their titles were as good as they seem to think they are, they'd sell well enough on their own. I "played" The Graveyard, it was so pretentious I had to look it up to make sure it wasn't satire. Then the developers have the gall to say capitalism is the root of all their woe and that it's "evil," despite it being the reason we have so many phenomenal indie games seeing huge successes. The media attention these developers are getting is not deserved, period. People didn't like their game, people didn't buy it. End of story. I don't know what these think pieces are meant to accomplish.

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#41  Edited By AMyggen

@carryboy said:

Hey Austin,

any reason you didn't go into the meltdown the developers have had since ending the studio?

Did you feel that it was unnecessary or just uninteresting? (mean this sincerely though I realise it could come of as antagonistic)

My take on it is they made bad games. The games they were making don't appeal to the mass market or any sized market for that matter.

Much like much art (don't know what you'd call it but lets say "outside the box art") doesn't appeal to many however it doesn't need to, weird art goes for large sums of money therefore the artist may only have to sell a couple a year, that model just isn't going to be able to work for games as no one is going to pay thousands for any game. Both have tiny markets but only one need lots of sales.

If we're going with the broader discussion here, going into the "meltdown" seems like the wrong thing to do. It'll just shift the focus to one developer's angry reaction, like a lot of commenters here are doing.

Also, very few artists are actually able to make a decent living, and very few artists sell their art for a lot of money while they're still alive (and very few do it when they're dead). That's why such a huge portion of artists rely on grants in Europe. I don't know how it works in the States, but I know that some individual states give grants to artists.

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@amyggen: Personally, I think you're mostly right - I do think, though, that their reaction is relevant insofar as they seemed to assume that people don't want "artistic" games in general. I think there's a relevant discussion about whether people don't want "art" games, or whether they specifically didn't want Tale of Tales' "art" games.

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#43  Edited By Kidavenger

Knowing that they received government funding to make these games makes the price that they are charging for them even more insulting.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against public funding for the arts, I think that is a good thing, but once you start making money, you should be paying those grants back; and going on and on for years taking public money to create the same rubbish over and over and never getting better at it is just a waste of taxpayer's money, money that could be spent on new upcoming artists that deserve to get their own shot.

Complaining about not making money on a game that the government paid for is disgusting.

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Samyn's quote:

The game industry, with its much touted millions of dollars, could easily cause a global cultural revolution by spending a tiny fraction of its budgets on a few promising artists.

"easily cause a global cultural revolution" That is so ridiculous.

Anyway, good on them for making the games they want to make. But I dont think it reflects poorly on the games industry that they weren't a commercial success.

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@carryboy said:

Hey Austin,

any reason you didn't go into the meltdown the developers have had since ending the studio?

Did you feel that it was unnecessary or just uninteresting? (mean this sincerely though I realise it could come of as antagonistic)

My take on it is they made bad games. The games they were making don't appeal to the mass market or any sized market for that matter.

Much like much art (don't know what you'd call it but lets say "outside the box art") doesn't appeal to many however it doesn't need to, weird art goes for large sums of money therefore the artist may only have to sell a couple a year, that model just isn't going to be able to work for games as no one is going to pay thousands for any game. Both have tiny markets but only one need lots of sales.

Let me tell you a little something about a game called Star Citizen my friend.

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@mbr2 said:

Good god, the consumerist and capitalist centric views expressed in the comments so far is really disheartening and depressing.

Also, why bring up the developers opinions on games culture when that's not the point of Austin's article?

As much as people would like to think otherwise, games are very much a consumerist/capitalist product. Games can be art, but they don't have to be, and very often I would say they actually aren't. It might be depressing on a higher artistic level, but you can't continuously make avant-garde games and then act shocked when your niche product reaches an appropriately niche number of people.

Art films are just as commercially unsuccessful. It's not hard to pour your soul into a project and release an esoteric expression of art in game form - what is difficult is injecting said art into a project in such a way to retain that same expression while remaining commercially viable.

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#47  Edited By Psyael

Of course, there's a lot of debate about what "good" public funding is.

How about no?

Being an artist is a job that often toils in obscurity, and figuring out whether you're making a project for yourself or for commercial success is an issue that affects all of them. Even the most influential directors, writers, and musicians occasionally must "sell out" to commercial appeal in order to fund their passion projects. JK Rowling didn't write her adult books looking for more commercial success (initially she tried to avoid attaching her name to them), and it's obvious that Guillermo del Toro has an interest in filmmaking as an art but also sometimes indulges in Michael Bay like spectacle and explosion to fund his more artistic endeavors.

Apparently, making a game that appealed to fans of indie VR fiction like Gone Home was this couple's attempt at "selling out," previously they were using their government's taxpayer money to produce games about ideas like being weird hybrid deer/humans who jitter around to communicate. I'm not Belgian, so it wasn't my tax money, but I wouldn't want my money spent on that. But many forms of art find generous benefactors that do and would spend their money. And we're in an age where it's easier to find these people than ever, and a large number of lower-middle class people can effectively work in concert to the same effect as a single upper-class patron of the arts.

Unfortunately, they spent an additional $40,000, or so they claim, which I assume is on top of the $70,000 they made on Kickstarter, and seem to have been spent on bad advice. People buy fewer games than ever based on web advertising, and blog posts pointing people to weird niche games alienate and bother just as many readers as are entertained. If you want to be commercially successful right now, you have to make a game that doesn't appear tedious to watch somebody else play, because we're in an age where Quick Look style videos are what sells more copies of games than anything else.

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I would argue the difference between video game art and well, other forms of art, is that in order to fully experience one you have to pay to buy it. Movies and Games are unique in that case, in that you have to pay in order to 'experience' it. Movies get funding by studios that are interested in making money off those creations; those that aren't are indie movies but usually they do find distributors. But it tends to be paid from the pocket of the creator. Video games should be no different. There's hundreds of games coming out now a days, games need to have a hook in order to succeed. And there's nothing wrong with that. Tale of Tales simply marketed to the wrong audience and failed. They can blame capitalism all they want, but they just took the wrong steps approaching this. And it happens to alot of developers. Alot of good developers have gone down do to flops, big and small. The difference is these developers complain and cry about it, and try to blame external sources rather than themselves. To that I say, tough luck, you only have yourselves to blame.

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@amyggen: Personally, I think you're mostly right - I do think, though, that their reaction is relevant insofar as they seemed to assume that people don't want "artistic" games in general. I think there's a relevant discussion about whether people don't want "art" games, or whether they specifically didn't want Tale of Tales' "art" games.

I think it just seemed like a person who was angry about everything at the time, understandably in my opinion. Could've and should've handled it better obviously, but focusing too much on that specific reaction just makes it too easy for people to say "fuck these pretentious artistic fucks" and move on without actually discussing the issue at large.

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