After twelve years in games, it looks like Tale of Tales are calling it quits and looking to new artistic pastures. The duo behind such games as The Endless Forest, The Path, and Luxuria Superbia had hoped their latest, Sunset [official site], would have more mainstream appeal - and financial success. It sold only around 4,000 copies in its first month, not enough to cover costs.
ToT said over the weekend, "we don't think we will be making videogames after this. And if we do, definitely not commercial ones." I'd be sorry to see them go.
I might say Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn were "ahead of their time", but they had always just made what they wanted to. Many other people were behind, though - games that seemed strange and unconventional when ToT made them years ago would look perfectly at home in the modern game-o-sphere. Go re-read Michaël's notgames notmanifesto from 2010 and see how unremarkable it is now. They're often great agitators, tweaking the noses of boring conventions and conversations. And their games are full of mystery and wonder, and are more playful and funny than they get credit for.
Oh aye, their games were always wonky, but I still dug them (mostly - I never finished Fatale because of a crash). The Endless Forest's deer MMO is a beautiful playful space of frolicking and nonverbal communication. The Path is a great horror game, weakened by repetition but with such mood! The Graveyard is a lovely vignette, and the idea of the paid version's only addition over the demo being the ability to die still makes me laugh. Luxuria Superbia is a weirdly intimate experience in co-op, especially on a touchscreen.
Sunset was meant to be the game were they got a handle on their wonkiness issue, and maybe find more mainstream - and more lucrative - success.
Tale of Tales explain that they've "always teetered on the edge of sustainability", relying on arts funding on top of sales. Their games found a niche audience, but they wanted to reach a larger one, partially because arts funding for video games in Belgium was drying up but also out of "a feeling of moral obligation." They say, "We felt we had to at least try to reach as many people as possible. To make the world a better place through the sharing of art as videogames, you know."
They Kickstarted Sunset and ended up spending an extra $40,000, thinking they'd make it back in the first month. That hasn't worked out. The 4,000 copies out in the wild include Kickstarter backers, so only around 2,000 folks have bought the $20 game (and it's been half-price for a while). "A small group of people clearly deeply appreciates what we do and we curse the economic system that doesn’t allow us to be pleased with that," they say.
They say they were wrong about a lot with Sunset. They tried studying "successful games" and applying lessons, hired a PR company, assumed friendlier personalities (and hushed Michaël), took out ads on our own dear RPS, and... it didn't get them what they wanted. "Being wrong will set you free," they say. "We don't have to take advice from anybody anymore. We were wrong. Everybody whom we consulted with on Sunset was wrong." They conclude:
"We are happy and proud that we have tried to make a 'game for gamers.' We really did our best with Sunset, our very best. And we failed. So that's one thing we never need to do again. Creativity still burns wildly in our hearts but we don't think we will be making videogames after this. And if we do, definitely not commercial ones."
If they don't return to games, I'll still be excited to see what they get up to.
[Disclosure: I stayed with Auriea and Michaël over a day when they were filming their Sunset Kickstarter video, though I didn't know that'd be happening and at first they didn't even know I write about games. That happened because I'm friendly with folks who consulted on Sunset and tagged along while already in Belgium.]