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Cliff Bleszinski: People rent, not buy, $60 horror games

Ex-Epic dev says EA knew pure scares weren't right for Dead Space 3

Ex-Epic developer Clif Bleszinski has written that EA was wise to temper Dead Space 3's horror with an action-focus, because people don't spend $60 on pure horror games on disc.

Writing on his blog, Bleszinksi discussed his experiences with Visceral's sci-fi thriller at length - pointing out some of the developmental difficulties inherent in the horror genre.

"Generally speaking, the scarier a game is the less empowered a player feels," said the Gears of War design director. "Controls are often clunky on purpose, and the pacing is quite different from an action movie. It feels as if Visceral consciously gravitated the franchise more towards the 'action' elements over the 'suspense/horror' ones, and I'm quite okay with that.

"We look at the target audience for your average console game and it's often a cocky young male who doesn't want to be scared, unfortunately, he's the guy who wants to get in and 'f*** shit up.'"

Although Bleszinksi makes clear that it's difficult but not impossible to combine true horror with an action game to appeal to both the gung-ho and those looking for a fright, he's of the opinion that it takes a master of the medium.

"Horror is hard, and suspense is even harder," he writes. "It requires a true director's hand. A nudge this way and a moment plays as comedic, a nudge too far the other way and it's not scary at all. To compound it all, making a scary moment is kind of like trying to tickle yourself. You think it's scary, but you're never sure until you test it on someone who has never seen the moment.

"At the end of the day this franchise feels like it's starting as a solo experience, a solitary and confined horror game, and now it's evolving into much more than that. You can either fight it or embrace it. I choose the latter, as at the end of the day it's fun."

It's in a small footnote at the end of his post that the Unreal mastermind explains why he sees AAA horror as a risky prospect.

"P.S. In the $60 disc based market horror doesn't fly - it's the ultimate 'Campaign Rental' that's played for 2 days and traded in and I'm sure EA knows this. When we're fully digital we'll see more true horror games coming back. (Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC.)"

Bleszinski left Epic in October, 2012 to go on sabbatical before his next placement.

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Latest comments (15)

Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 3 years ago
I'm afraid Cliffy is wrong, the fact that dead space 1 was awesome is that is was pure horror complemented by action.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts3 years ago
I disagree I enjoyed both Dead Space 1, 2 and 3 but all for different reasons, but then Im more into action rather than suspense so it just moved into my favourite genre.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
"P.S. In the $60 disc based market horror doesn't fly - it's the ultimate 'Campaign Rental' that's played for 2 days and traded in and I'm sure EA knows this. When we're fully digital we'll see more true horror games coming back. (Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC.)"

Does that mean the price will be lower then? Cause the logic there is that people buy and then sell these games (or rent) for lower cost... they're probably not going to want to spend $60 on them even when they're digital.

And I agree that Dead Space was an awesome game. I think there was only one section/moment on the PC version where the controls felt handicapped.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 13th February 2013 12:09pm

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Show all comments (15)
Antony Johnston Writer & Narrative Designer 3 years ago
Funnily enough, I expressed similar sentiments myself (after a controversial quote pulled from an interview I did about DEAD SPACE made its way round the net) just a couple of days ago :) http://antonyjohnston.com/index.php/2013/02/12/horror-survival/
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Paul Smith Dev 3 years ago
because people don't spend $60 on pure horror games on disc.
Maybe they would if there was any to actually buy. And to add Dead space is not a scary/horror game in the slightest.
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William Usher Assistant Editor, Cinema Blend3 years ago
And yet, people bought both Arma II and Arma: CO just to play DayZ, a game that had horror and suspense in spades because it combined the survivalist agenda with a zombie apocalypse and unpredictable players. You don't need a massive budget or a "campaign rental" experience to churn out a noteworthy horror/suspense game. Sounds like Cliffy is just justifying EA's decision to water down the gameplay to suit a broader audience.
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Patrick Williams Medicine and Research 3 years ago
@William: its not that there isn't absolutely anyone that wants to do its. Its a question of how many. Niche genres don't make as much money.
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William Usher Assistant Editor, Cinema Blend3 years ago
I get that, Patrick. I think most of us know that the majority of games that aren't the blockbuster titles are usually niche games that move moderate units, but what if the situation was reversed, would Cliffy still say the same thing?

What if Barbie games were the big thing and games like Gears of War were the niche genres that barely moved 1 million SKUs per outing, do you think Cliffy would really acquiesce the need for Gears to be more like Barbie, focus more on fashion, building relationships and remove some of the gore and violence to appeal to a broader audience?
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Steven Hodgson Programmer, Code in Progress Ltd3 years ago
So this is why Dead Space 3 sucks far. I thought the first chapter was really long, only to find out I was on chapter 5 when I got around to saving.
Since Dead Space franchise has gone to the pay to play idea, how about pay to play pure horror.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steven Hodgson on 14th February 2013 9:02am

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Julien ROBY3 years ago
A few years ago the same statement was made on western RPG (Too hardcore for the audience, too hard to make - wont sell) and now Skyrim is selling millions. Make an outstanding game amd market it well and it will sell - yes even horror games. Maybe the first version wont sell millions but leverage your experience to do a better second one, and even better third one and you will build a fan base and sell more and more.

Also, Cliff B says you can either embrace or fight the fact that Dead Space 3 turns into an action game. Sure.. but at the end of the day it's kind of strange to build an IP and then totally change its identity - that's throwing money out of the window. You're not leveraging any experience/brand identity by doing that. If Dead Space 2 and 3 had built on the DS1 formula to perfect it, rather than doing something else, surely Dead Space 3 would have been an outstanding horror game, superior to both DS1 and current DS3.

Exactly the same way other people have perfected their formula over time to become experts in a super specific genre and ended up selling more and more of it (CoD, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, GTA ..). Instead of changing the style of their games to try to map to an audience, they have found and shaped their audience by perfecting their game production and communication around them.

Also rather than looking at what the current average player is (from Cliff B: "a cocky young male who doesn't want to be scared") look at what you're actually missing: there are million of female players outhere who want to get something else than meaningless full on action. Oh btw.. there are males aswell interested by something more than action games. If we want to grow up, as an industry, we need to stop thinking our audience is limited to just young male starving for action games....

Oh and btw.. someone should have noticed that the more the Resident Evil IP has gone into action the more it has fallen into disgrace... that's kind of a hint that something was wrong there.

Again, thinking Action is the only genre that sells is plain wrong. The best sellers are the ones made by team who embraced a specific genre of games (whether it's action, RPG or whatever) and kept on hammering on it until they got something perfect, building their audience through the years.

Choosing action just as a shortcut to better sales is just a wrong strategy.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julien ROBY on 14th February 2013 9:43am

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
@ Julien. I'm afraid I disagree with your Mass Effect call-out. I'm pretty sure I remember a tectonic shift from RPG/action to ACTION/rpg between ME1 and ME2... and then a similar but smaller continuing shift between ME2 and ME3. :)
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Julien ROBY3 years ago
@ James: ahah yes I'll have to agree on this one! My bad :)
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online3 years ago
@Julien, I'd add Dragon Age to Mass Effects genre shifting. Thing is, both game series still sold well, so that would actually back Bleszinski's theory. Then again, more action - one can finish a game faster -> rental, no?
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 3 years ago
Its amusing to hear anyone involved in the design of Gears of War give advice.

Heres some advice; Wheres the jump button?
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
@ Roland. The strange thing is that although those games sold better there was an increasingly larger backlash against the changes per game sequel. You wonder how those sorts of things square up with increased sales from more action-orientated marketing...
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