Tim Schafer talks shop and shares a story about his LucasArts days.
MTV recently published a story based on a brief interview with Tim Schafer. At a live demo of upcoming satirical action game, Brutal Legend, the author asked Schafer what was going to stop the game from suffering the same poor sales reception of his previous, otherwise highly acclaimed title, Psychonauts. According to the article:
“Fans worry too much about sales, to tell you the truth,” Schafer told me. He didn’t sound worried. “As long as you make a cool game, publishers want to talk to you… [They say,] ‘We liked Psychonauts, and we think we could have sold it better.’”
This is the kind of thing that makes some gamers blue. They see a great game not garner great sales, and they become concerned for the future of their hobby and favorite creators.
Schafer maintains: fans shouldn’t worry about that.
Concerned that the article paints his views as more than a tad condescending, Schafer today explains on his journal exactly how he feels. “I think games sales matter a lot,” affirms Schafer. “I just think that the people who should worry about sales are the people who have vested financial interest in a game. If your money or livelihood is dependent on a game, then you should concern yourself with its sales. But if it isn’t, then you should try to relax and just enjoy playing them.”
Schafer goes on to say that it’s simply not true that if people don’t buy the game one loves, then there won’t be any more like it. Imitations will always be made, he says, but those kinds of games are rarely great. “You’re not hoping for some game that’s superficially like the one you just played, right?” he rhetorically queries. “Who wants that? Great games don’t come from that sort of imitation. They come from people working on an idea they care about.”
He shares an anecdote from when he worked at LucasArts, developing SCUMM-based adventure games. “Around 1992, I felt like SCUMM games were getting the short end of the stick at LucasArts in many ways. Management didn’t seem to like them, and in fact seemed to want to sweep them out the door,” discloses Schafer. “So I went into the General Manager’s office in my flannel shirt and Eddie Vedder hair and I asked him, ‘Are you trying to shut down SCUMM games?’”
“He was surprised enough to put down the tiny kitten he was strangling and look me in the eyes. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘As long as there are people at this company who want to make SCUMM games, we’ll make them.’”
Schafer was both surprise and a little suspicious at this response, wondering if developers really have the power to pick what games they create. “I think the Sam and Max 2 team might take issue with what he was saying,” he suggests. “But then again, getting cancelled didn’t stop that team. They left to start their own company and made their game in the end. So I think a more true version of [the general manager’s] statement would be, ‘As long as there are people who want to make that kind of game, that kind of game will be made.’”
This is why, he says, game sales shouldn’t keep gamers up at night. “The market and game executives do not dictate what games get made – they just dictate what gets made easily,” he explains. “As long as there are creative people out there willing to fight for ideas they care about, then there is nothing that the market or anyone else can do to stop them.”
Unless it’s the type of game that requires buckets of cash to bring to fruition, such as an MMO, people will create their dream games, one way or another. You need only check out the independent games and even game mods we’ve covered for what is but a tiny slice of many developers working hard on their upcoming pride and joy without a serious money backing.
That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt to point all your friends in the direction of a game worthy of their wallet.