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That Dragon, Cancer dev says Let's Play videos took away sales

"Our studio has not yet seen a single dollar from sales," said developer Ryan Green

Emotional indie game That Dragon, Cancer has sold 14,000 copies according to SteamSpy and its creator Ryan Green has gone on record to note that his team has "not yet seen a single dollar from sales." In a recent blog post, Green puts the blame mostly on the widespread nature of Let's Play videos, which rather than encouraging sales gave many viewers enough of the experience to feel like they could skip paying for the game.

"That Dragon, Cancer was created by a studio of eight, and for many of us it was a full-time effort that involved thousands of hours of work. This huge effort required taking on investment, and we decided to pay off all of our debt as soon as possible. But we underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game instead of playing it themselves," he wrote.

Despite the effect that Let's Play has had on his game and team, Green isn't actually against the concept at all. He would just like people to be more considerate of the game makers.

"We feel the Let's Play culture adds value to this medium," Green noted. "And for games with more expansive or replayable gameplay, it can directly benefit developers. Even knowing that some who streamed our entire game refuse to directly encourage people to support us, we've still sat on the streams and talked with streamers and viewers. We've watched the playthrough videos and we see the value that this community is adding to our work through sharing themselves. Let's Play culture is vibrant and creative and really cool.

"We have allowed our content, the fruit of our sweat and our tears, to be used by Let's Players and to your fans for free to create content with, and you are drawing a small amount of ad revenue from our content. We are asking that you return that favor by creating Let's Play videos that don't just rebroadcast the entirety of our content with minimal commentary, but instead use portions of our content as a context to share your own stories and start conversations with your viewers," he continued. "We would encourage you to link to our site and directly encourage viewers to support our work financially through buying the game, or donating a dollar or two to our studio if they believe that what we did has value. This small act will allow us to continue to work."

It's unclear if any backlash from Green's Content ID claims also contributed to people watching instead of buying That Dragon, Cancer. Legally speaking, That Dragon, Cancer composer Jon Hillman's work was being used without his permission, Green pointed out.

"We paid Jon to create music for our game because we understand that he needs to be paid in order to spend time creating that music. If someone else uses his music without permission, we also believe he should have the right to determine the consequence. And if there is revenue being drawn from that use, we believe he should be compensated," Green said. "We did not intend to make copyright claims or to force anyone to take down their videos, we simply intended for Jon to be able to draw some income from the original soundtrack to our game that he poured his heart into."

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Latest comments (13)

Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 4 years ago
that's the problem with twitch etc.. people are getting even too lazy to play the games themselves..
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Andrew: and worse, if you poke at the comments, it's a ton of "welp, you just saved me some bucks" and such for many indie to AAA games. That said, I do notice that when I get codes to review (I don't stream at all or monetize), often the PR person or dev asks that major spoilers NOT be posted or added to a review (which makes sense to me).
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Jordan Lund Columnist 4 years ago
So the people doing the Let's Play videos didn't pay for the game?
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Show all comments (13)
Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Maybe it was because your game was boring and had next to no gameplay. If there's nothing you can get out of playing a game that you couldn't get from just watching it, then maybe you should think about why you're even in the games industry to begin with.

I don't think there's much of a market for "depressing game that reminds how awful real life is" when one of the reasons people play games in the first place is escapism.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
@Jordan: I'm gathering a small load of review codes were offered for free to streamers, as that's how some indie games get the word spread via LP channels on YT and Twitch.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios4 years ago
I don't think there's much of a market for "depressing game that reminds how awful real life is" when one of the reasons people play games in the first place is escapism.
Again, replace "games" with "books" or "films" or "plays" in that sentence and see if you still agree. Why would anyone go see Hamlet when they could watch a nice cheerful pantomime instead? Nothing wrong with pantomime, kids love it and I enjoy them if there are decent jokes for the grown-ups - but I wouldn't want that to be the only option. It's challenging games like That Dragon, Cancer which will make our medium relevant in the long term.

Unfortunately Ryan Green is in the position of trying to sell a tragedy to a crowd that loves pantomime because it's all that's on at their local theatre.
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Vladimir Sky Game Designer 4 years ago
Telltale games got hours of gameplay, that overall got encouraging effect. Their games are all about discovery, about drama you wanna get into. Overall, they are close to the Pixar movies, in the way of tensity of story and quality of story-drivers.
For example, when you dive into Walking Dead series, you are asking yourself constantly "what will happen next? will this guy survive? will I survive? will we survive? will we meet other survivors? will we just die in some awful place? will I be able to hence this stuff?". Mostly important - "will we be able to overcome this and that, and how?"

In current game it's just straight one-time experience, that's predetermined - the tragedy is ongoing, and it will end in the predictable way.

I do understand why they choose a game as an art form here, not a book or a movie - but still, it's just an art, just a story.
That's not a game in a huge way. It's nor entertaining, nor demanding to get your hands on it IMMEDIATELY after release.
Apparently - it's exactly opposite.

And as it was pointed - the world is awful enough place to live, were tragedy happens everyday with a huge amount of people.
Again - I do understand need to express themselves, and to share the tragedy. But the developer really lost focus on reality - which is "even good games fail to gather money".

It's very clear, to the state of obvious, that not-entertaining games are doomed to get close to zero sales. Boy, and this game sold over 10k copies - which is counted as great start in indie-scene.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Vladimir Sky on 30th March 2016 1:29am

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Michael Harrell Studying CS, University of Utah4 years ago
I'm still not sold on this line of thinking. There should be enough to your game that players will see the gameplay and then want to play it themselves.

Look at Stardew Valley. People saw that on twitch and bought the crap out of it. I know I did!
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
Again, replace "games" with "books" or "films" or "plays" in that sentence and see if you still agree. Why would anyone go see Hamlet when they could watch a nice cheerful pantomime instead? Nothing wrong with pantomime, kids love it and I enjoy them if there are decent jokes for the grown-ups - but I wouldn't want that to be the only option. It's challenging games like That Dragon, Cancer which will make our medium relevant in the long term.
That's different. A better analogy would be "why go to a theatre to see a play when you can watch this recording of it instead", where the recordings were freely and legally accessible (whereas in real life, they aren't).

At the end of the day, your game is a product, and if your product is so niche that very few people are interested in buying it, then that's your own fault. Don't blame it on streamers.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia4 years ago
I find it very disrespectful to read opinionated comments here from people who don't appear to have even played the game. For one thing, if you work in this industry you should have upfront respect for your peers because you know how hard the work is and the difficulties of success.

Then consider this. That Dragon, Cancer is a game that made me teary-eyed for the better half of it because it is the most emotionally charged gaming experience I've had in my life. If you can't appreciate the fact that any form of entertainment brings sentiments other than "fun" then I believe you should reconsider your overlook on life because there's a much wider range of emotions out there. That Dragon, Cancer may not be for everyone but it has absolutely every right to exist as a product. At the very least, have some empathy.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer 4 years ago
That Dragon, Cancer may not be for everyone but it has absolutely every right to exist as a product. At the very least, have some empathy.
I'm not denying that. Anyone should have the power to make a game about whatever they want. But making an extremely niche product and then expecting it to sell spectacularly and then blaming the lack of sales on streamers is what I have a problem with.
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Vladimir Sky Game Designer 4 years ago
Respect IS speaking the truth, no matter how harsh it is.

Blaming someone for not buying the game, because it only delivers a disposable experience, and most importantly - sorrow experience? Seriously?

Raph Koster pointed, that game designed badly, when it designed to follow designer's needs. When the game designed to declare designer's self, instead of letting players declare themselves.
It's badly designed, when it just tells something, without actually letting people think for themselves, decide by themselves, and discuss it among themselves. Because people buy and play games that let them dig into it, find something similar to their inner self and make it personal. Promote it. Discuss it.

If you are the one of those 10k people, who are happy with finding sorrow in this game, and making it personal - good for you, mate.
But don't call on empathy and respect, when 99,99% of gamers do not wanna make this stuff their personal.

Really, the only people who will play this game are - "let's'players", who will play anything for money; truly hardboiled and kinda masochistic gamers, who are ready for heavy emotional narrative, and are lurking for some; or just hipsters, who all about new, and art, and no matter what, gimme hype, off we go!

And by the way - I'm really jealous, that some game become most emotionally charged experience in your life. Again, - good for you. For me such experience was, let me see... first of all, when my ex-gf's dad died while we were at my birthday party, and second one - when my mom left me. That's the top of the list. If you wanna, I'll make a game out of each of this stories - if you're really looking for some more emotionally charged experience in your life.

The point is - while I'm really sorry for the developer's loss, I'm personally do not interested in re-living his tragedy.
- Do not reduce the bad, - increase the good. I'm into delivering something "good", even if I myself receive mostly "bad". I see no good reason spreading the sorrow and grief all around, just because I can't hold it. But I do see reason to make something funny and cheering up - just to help other people feel not so bad, and a little bit less lonely, perhaps.

Speaking of empathy - I do see why people choose to watch this game, instead of actually playing it.
Developer gotta blame himself for making the game so unpleasant, that people just don't wanna play it - even if they are interested in the whole story.
This is how art works - it always was, it always will be. People are not interested in it.

And what's wrong with your empathy? That's so simple - why can't you see it, and most important - why you defend bad choices of developer, instead of scoping reality and pointing out that market is not interested in such games? I remind you, we are talking about sales here. About developer, dissapointed with sales.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Vladimir Sky on 30th March 2016 1:36am

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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios4 years ago
Developer gotta blame himself for making the game so unpleasant, that people just don't wanna play it - even if they are interested in the whole story.
And yet, masocore is a successful metagenre. Which I can't enjoy, because I have better things to do with my time than grind hardskills to pass arbitrary thresholds set by the designer. But that is my choice. It's depressing how many people here are basically saying "serves you right for trying to do something different". No wonder the industry is still somewhat stigmatized.
And by the way - I'm really jealous, that some game become most emotionally charged experience in your life.
Hugo specifically said "gaming experience".
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