Why did Enslaved flop?
Why did Enslaved flop?
When Borderlands succeeded
Mark Raymond shares some thoughts as to why he thinks Enslaved flopped.
SADLY, AND unsurprisingly, Enslaved: Odyssey of the West has bombed. It’s so far sold an estimated 75,376 copies on the PS3 and 76,607 on the 360, a combined total of 151,983 worldwide. According to GfK Chart-Track, it entered into the UK all-formats chart at number 7 on the week ending 9th October 2010, fell out of the top ten to 11th place the following week, then to 25th, and now it’s hanging on at 28th. Already, sites like The Guardian and Play-Mag have articles up, exploring why this may have happened and who or what is to blame.
Yet, I think what’s interesting is the context within which this product failure occurred. Compare Enslaved to Borderlands, and you’ll see some similarities:
Both occupy hugely popular genres – third-person adventure and first-person shooter, respectively.
Both launched in the same month, in the fall season, just before the release of a new, super high-profile Call of Duty game.
Both were original IPs.
Both launched on the PS3 and 360.
Both were critically acclaimed, hitting an overall batting average of around 80-82 on Metacritic between formats.
One went on to be massively successful, moving an estimated 2,652,560 units worldwide, spawning four DLC packs in its wake; the other will probably end up a cult gem, gone but not forgotten, along with its friends Beyond Good and Evil, Psychonauts and Mirror’s Edge. What gives?
I think it comes down to two things: too unusual a creative design; and a lack of content per £/$ spent.
The first is to do with what I’d characterise as the game looking straight-up weird to a mainstream audience, who are far more comfortable with what they already know and love. In Enslaved, you’re not a space marine, pirate, explorer, soldier, cloaked assassin or superhero; you’re an ape-like dude named Monkey, wearing a sash that almost looks like a tail, bare-chested and footed, wielding a big pole which you use to smash apart robots in a colourful world overrun by nature. It’s an interesting, but unconventional, character design – and I say this with hesitance, but I think Monkey looks a bit dorky. He is just not cool, and I think a lot of people saw the character, thought “That looks dumb”, and picked up Medal of Honor instead.
The game simply looked too strange and quirky for its own good, people didn’t know what they were getting when they were thinking of buying it, and so they hedged their bets and went for something they knew they would like. And I don’t think this is the fault of the game-buying public, either. It’s the fault of the marketing department, who had a tough sell and couldn’t follow through (unfortunately), and it’s the general fault of the industry that games are priced so high that it’s not worth consumers taking a risk on something potentially new and interesting, rather than tried and tested. (This makes me wonder if Enslaved would have sold better as a series of episodic games available digitally, as opposed to being a full-priced retail package.)
Borderlands, after Gearbox had decided what the eventual tone and style of the game would be, established what it was pretty quickly with a series of gameplay videos and comical webisodes starring the game’s quasi-mascot, Claptrap. It was set in a post-apocalyptic world, something gamers were likely familiar with given Fallout 3’s popularity at the time, and it pitched itself very clearly as a co-op first-person shooter with lots of guns to, er, shoot, with role-playing elements. Conceptually, Borderlands was fairly recognisable as to what type of game it was or was going to be.
The second part, though, and very important, is the value proposition. Enslaved is a single-player-only game, which is reportedly quite short in length (I’ve heard between four and twelve hours from beginning to end) and doesn’t feature elements which would typically aid a game’s replay value. On the flip side, Borderlands was a huge game in terms of content, had both single and multiplayer functionality, and even had a mode dedicated to a second playthrough. You could literally spend dozens of hours in that game world and still be experiencing stuff for the first time. If you were to compare Enslaved to a game like that, it clearly doesn’t even compete, and it’s understandable that people would be reluctant when they’re being asked to shell out £30-40 for an experience as short as that.
As unpalatable as it sounds, Enslaved failed because of a lack of bullet points on the back of the box. It wasn’t a male wish fulfilment fantasy; nor was it the next brain-training. It didn’t offer ‘x’ amount of hours in gameplay. It didn’t have multiplayer. Overall, it didn’t fit into the mainstream paradigm, or the perception, of what a video game should be.