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(Not) Playing the Game
Part 4

By Randy Sluganski

We Find Some Clues

So where do we go from here?

For all intents and purposes, the adventure genre is dead in America. With the exception of Riddle of the Sphinx (though Myst 3 and an unnamed LucasArts adventure are expected to be officially announced at this year's E3), there is currently not one single pure adventure game in development in North America. Numerous titles have either been put on hold or totally abandoned due to lack of funding and disinterest on the part of publishers. The European market is exactly the opposite. Adventure games are as numerous as ever. 2D click-and-point adventure titles flourish in Italy, Russia, Poland, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. These are cultures that are appreciative of quality and depth in gameplay as compared to the American insistence of cutting-edge technology and superficial storylines. Thanks to visionary companies like Cryo and DreamCatcher, many of these titles are or soon will be available in North America. But what if this upcoming flurry of European releases--Dracula Resurrection, Atlantis 2, and hopefully The Longest Journey--do not sell? Will Cryo forsake the American market once their games are unfairly bashed by the PC Gamers and Gamespots of the industry? Or will they tread carefully and attempt to identify and market to their customer base? This is why we must stop the carnage now. Before it is too late. In 1976, Network, a movie written by Paddy Chayefsky, was nominated for an Oscar as best picture of the year. Network originated a popular catch phrase that swept America--"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Maybe it is time adventure gamers adopted this slogan as their own mantra--before it is too late.

It is time to rebuild. We have already pointed out the source of many of the problems and misconceptions that exist, and now it is time to offer some possible solutions. Unfortunately, there is not one single answer, nor is there any one game that will be the savior of the genre. It will take a lot of small steps to rebuild the foundation of adventure gaming and dispel the untruths. What we offer are only suggestions, but taken as a whole, maybe, just maybe, we can reestablish the adventure game as a viable, money-making genre. Now buckle your seat belts, 'cause this ride is going to get bumpy.

We Slay a Monster

If you do not like the manner in which a specific magazine reviews an adventure game, then take the matter into your own hands. After all, your subscription provides the sales figures that attract their advertisers. But do not just cancel your subscription, tell them in no uncertain words why you are canceling. Write across your invoice or subscription label, as I recently did with my unpaid Incite magazine invoice and my PC Gamer renewal form, that you are unhappy with their editorial policy or staff as concerns adventure games. Only when these magazines receive enough cancellations for a specific reason will they get the point. Twenty-five thousand people read Just Adventure on a monthly basis. If only one-quarter of our readers were to take the above step, do you think the magazines would rethink their review policies as concerns adventure games?

We Identify a Villain

Walt Kelly's classic cartoon character Pogo succinctly stated, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Nowhere is this truer than with the majority of the companies that actually publish and distribute adventure games. First, they have not identified their purchasing audience, and then they compound the problem by advertising in periodicals that are not read by adventure gamers. Basically, they ignore their core audience. Then when their newest game sells below the projected figures, they complain about the lack of support from the adventure community.

Ubi Soft and Microids advertised their last adventure release, Amerzone, for months in PC Gamer and other mainstream gaming magazines. Full-page color advertisements. As we saw in part 1 of (Not) Playing the Game, PC Gamer then blasted Amerzone simply because it was an adventure game. There is a world of difference between criticizing a game because it is a poor product and bashing it because of the genre it represents (not to mention a lack of professional ethics). I telephoned the public relations staff of Ubi Soft and vociferously complained about the PC Gamer review. Ubi Soft admitted that they were not very happy with the review either, but their hands were tied. If they complained, it would appear as if they were trying to influence the reviewer. If they refused to send evaluation copies of future products, it would seem they are vindictive. Since companies like Ubi Soft will not take a stand and defend their product, maybe it is time for some consumers who are as "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" to take action. We need to be, every single one of us, watchdogs for the genre, but with a twist. If a company like Ubi Soft spends huge advertising dollars in PC Gamer only to have that product unfairly reviewed--that is their choice. But if the same company then decides to validate this skewed editorial policy by then advertising, say, Amerzone 2, in the same magazine, well, then it is time for us, the supporters of the adventure genre, to take the initiative. We can accomplish this by boycotting said company and refusing to purchase their new adventure product. We write, email, and telephone to let them know our reasons: that by continually advertising in the magazines that are a source of the problem, they are only making the problem worse. And then these same companies honestly wonder out loud why their newest adventure game did not sell. It is twisted, destructive logic.

Want Some Rye? 'Course You Do!

The immediacy of the webzines on the Internet makes it easier to track and identify sites that are unfairly bashing adventure games. But the sheer volume of sites also makes this a difficult and time-consuming chore. Again, be a watchdog for the genre. If you read a review similar to some of those mentioned in part 2 of (Not) Playing the Game, email the author of the review and the editor of the site to state your displeasure. Make sure to let the editors of Just Adventure know about the review. We will be more than glad not only to contact the offending site but also to post the necessary contact information on our front page so that our readers can then decide if they would like to have adventure games in the future or if they would rather sit back and allow the bashing to continue.

On the other hand, if you a visit a site that offers a fair review--even if they give the game one star out of five--but offer valid reasons for the poor grade other than "it is an adventure game," write to that site also and tell them how much you appreciate their attitude. Thank them for their fairness in the reviewing process and then pass the information on to the Just Adventure staff. We will contact the site and thank them.

A Vulture Pecks Our Eyes

Our industry representatives and spokesmen have been the adventure gamers' biggest source of disappointment. Nothing we do will delete the dollar signs in their eyes, but we can and should make our dissatisfaction heard. Visit individual company web pages. Almost every site has an email address or telephone number for their CEO/president or vice-president. If you cannot find that information, then click on the media link and find an address for the public relations department. Ask them if they have any adventure games in development and if not, why not? Write, call, email, complain. Let these companies know that we are sick of the mindless violence that has permeated our gaming world. Let them know that we are sick of games like Activision's Soldier of Fortune. This newest travesty, which is rated M for mature and is included on the newest PC Gamer demo disk (I'm assuming that all of PC Gamer's readers are over the age of 18; otherwise why would they include a game demo that clearly states it is for adults only with the magazine?), actually features scenes where you turn corners only to stumble upon mercenaries urinating in full view. Is this why we needed more realism in games and Voodoo cards--so we could have 3D polygonal figures pissing a yellow stream on us? Of course, some may also claim that this is symbolic of the industry's attitude toward adventure gamers in general.

We Cast a Spell

If you are going to attend the E3 this year, keep one thing in mind: the majority of industry professionals who market these games are cowards when confronted. Two years ago at the E3 in Atlanta, many, many companies could not scream loudly enough about how realistically violent and graphic their new games were. Ripcord constructed a huge stage with an enormous 15-foot monitor to showcase their bloodbath known as Postal. The Ripcord shill cackled with glee as bloody carcasses flailed across the huge screen, their shrieks blaring through the loudspeakers. E3 attendees gathered like flies around fresh dung as Ripcord passed out free t-shirts and stickers punctuated with bloody bullet holes. This one exhibit was a microcosm of the entire show that year. This was the norm.

Last year, the Columbine tragedy occurred the week before the Los Angeles E3. Rather than face the inevitable questions from the media, the companies that were previously so proud of their "realistic" games (why does realism always translate into more violence?) hid behind closed doors. This "game plan"--let's run from responsibility--was widely applauded by the corporate gaming community. After all, why respond to media that is "only after a scapegoat"? They do not understand what we as gaming professionals are attempting to accomplish. In my opinion, the psychopaths have taken over the industry. They are Michael Jackson types who are molesting our children's minds. Electronic Arts has announced that they will be proudly showing American McGee's Alice this year. For those of you who don't yet know, Alice is a computer version of Alice in Wonderland, only now Alice is a homicidal killer wielding a bloody carving knife. (What's next for this company? A Peter Pan who fronts a kiddie porn ring? After all, it's just entertainment.) If you have the misfortune to see this game at EA's E3 booth, take it upon yourself to boo--loudly. The publicity people will be ambulatory. These hypocrites are so used to being patted on the back and lauded by their own kind that they crumble under criticism. And when a game does not sell well, it never occurs to them that it might be because of the subject matter; they always seem to discover extenuating circumstances to shoulder the blame.

We Stumble upon a Conundrum

As you remember, the E3 committee that votes on the best games of show (part 3) told us to not worry, be happy. Action/adventure games are the wave of the future, the salvation of the adventure genre. According to figures supplied by PC Data, Grim Fandango has sold approximately 95,000 copies since its release. This does not include overseas or online purchases. The total sales for Omikron, Drakan, Outcast, and Nocturne--probably the four most heavily advertised and marketed action/adventure products of 1999--had a combined sales figure that has not yet reached 70,000 total. If these had been traditional adventure games, the industry and the magazines would be gleefully shoveling dirt on the genre. But since the 3D action/adventure is the wonder boy of the moment, the pitiful sales figures are conveniently ignored. 2D adventure games that sold 30 to 50 thousand copies were considered failures that contributed to the death of the adventure game. When and why did the standards change?

If you are fortunate enough to attend the E3 this year, at every booth you visit, ask them if they have any adventure games in production, and if they respond in the negative--ask them why not. The industry is chock full of parasites that feed off of each other. When they discover that E3 attendees are asking for adventure games, when these great minds meld after the show and compare notes, they will wonder why so many people were inquiring after adventure games and will begin to worry that their competitor is onto something. For the companies that do have adventure games in production--thank them. Gush over their products. Then ask them how they intend to market the game. Will they go the familiar road and advertise in PC Gamer and then wait for their game to be bashed? Or will they search out new avenues, attempt to reach that untapped market? Offer suggestions, be supportive, and let these companies know that we are out there.

We Deplete Our Inventory

I have received over a hundred emails about my (Not) Playing the Game four-part series. None of them have been short in length. All of have been heartfelt. While all of the above are only suggestions that may or may not help revive the genre, what follows are the most important steps we can take to save the genre.

1. Play adventure games with your children. I have received emails from dozens of readers from countries all over the world who tell me how much their children love the colorfulness of the Kings Quest series, adventure games' slow pacing that does not require trigger reflexes. If you have children, there is nothing better you can do than to purchase any of the Humongous adventure games, be it Freddie Fish, Putt-Putt, or Spy Fox. This is not to say that your child is going to grow up wanting to play more adventure games, but at least you will know you tried.

2. Just Adventure will soon be running a survey. Please complete it. We will not want your name, we will not want your email address. But we will want to know your gender, your age, anything that will help to identify the adventure gamer. We want to compile this information before the E3 and use it as a marketing tool. We want to show it to companies like DreamCatcher and Cryo. We want them to know who and where their market audience is located and how to reach them. Obviously, it is not now being reached. This could be the adventure gamer's best chance to be heard.

3. If you own a Playstation or if you have always wanted to own one--now is the time. If there is any single source to point to as the salvation of the adventure genre--it is the console systems. Sales figures of games on the console systems are phenomenal in comparison to computer games and will only increase with the advent of the Playstation 2, Dolphin, Dreamcast, and X-Box. Revolution's adventure classic, Broken Sword, is one of the most revered and popular adventure games among aficionados. According to Revolution, Broken Sword has sold more copies for the Playstation than it ever has for the computer. Yet, compared to the sales figures of other Playstation games, it is considered a failure. There are many good adventure games on the console systems that go unnoticed because the computer crowd has refused to migrate. Imagine the popularity games like Grim Fandango and Sanitarium would enjoy with the console gamers. Success in the console field breeds imitation--lots of imitation. It is not hard to imagine that our support for console adventures could be the salvation of the genre. As much as we don't like to admit it, the fact is that money and sales figures speak louder than our devotion.

Our Adventure Comes to an End

So we have arrived at the end of this journey, but don't unpack yet, for already a new and more important one begins. Now we must learn to speak as one united voice instead of the scattered voices we have been. Now we must make our protests heard. Some have written and insisted that we should not fight fire with fire, that taking action will not correct the wrongs that have been done to the adventure gamer. We are not claiming that everyone should agree with everything we have suggested, but you must take the initiative and do what is best suited to your temperament and your personality. But the bottom line is, if you ever again want to have a choice of adventure games to play, then just do it. Quit complaining about the lack of adventure games; instead be a watchdog for the industry. Help Just Adventure stop the bashing that has become so prevalent. There is room in the marketplace for all types of games and gamers. It is blatantly unfair and ridiculous that one genre has been pushed aside because it is not violent enough, because it is slow-paced, because it makes the player think.

If you have any suggestions that we have overlooked, drop us a line, and we will use your ideas in a follow-up article. Until that time, sit back and enjoy the leisurely pace of adventure gaming and hope that the game you are playing now is not the last of its kind.