Sunset developer Tale of Tales is shutting its doors as a game development studio following the dismal sales of Sunset.
According to the developer in a new blog post, Sunset only shifted about 4000 copies - and that includes Kickstarter backers.
Many of these games were critical darlings, but failed to reach a larger audience due to their experimental nature. Yet this never discouraged Tale of Tales' Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey, the married couple that comprises the entire studio. The couple was generally able to stay afloat through various arts grants mixed with sales revenue.
"In its 12 year existence Tale of Tales has always teetered on the edge of sustainability, combining art grants and commercial revenue to fund our exploration of video games as an expressive medium," the developer explained. "We considered it spreading our dependencies. And that was fine, because we assumed this situation to be stable. All we really wanted was the opportunity to create."
"Our desire to reach a wider audience was not motivated by a need for money but by a feeling of moral obligation. 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 video games," the studio added.
To do this, Tale of Tales decided to make a somewhat more mainstream game. At least one that would be familiar to fans of Gone Home, Journey, and Papers, Please. "Several games with similarities to our own have been greatly successful," the developer said. "Some of their creators openly admit to be inspired by our work. So we studied theirs and figured out how to make our next project more accessible."
This led to the creation of a game that was fun for Tale of Tales to make, but not so fun to watch tank on the open market. "Abandoning some of our more extreme artistic ambitions actually made work easier and more enjoyable," the studio stated. "And that's when we should have realised that we were on the wrong path. Because whatever we enjoy is never, ever, what the gaming masses enjoy."
It turns out that the $67,636 it earned on Kickstarter wasn't enough to cover the cost of making Sunset and Tale of Tales had to pay for much of it out of pocket.
"So far a little over 4,000 copies of Sunset have changed hands," the developer lamented. "That includes the copies for our backers on Kickstarter. That includes the sale [when it was half off]. There's barely enough income to keep our company going while we look for ways to raise the funds to pay back our debts."
"It's hard to deal with this intense feeling of disappointment in a context of glowing reviews and compliments and encouragement from players. 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."
The studio noted that spending money on a PR company helped Sunset get coverage, "but it didn't help sales one bit."
Likewise, paying for ads on Rock, Paper, Shotgun - a PC site whose readers were seemingly in line with Sunset's audience - didn't help much. "They must all use AdBlock because that had no effect whatsoever," the developer railed.
"We were wrong. Everybody whom we consulted with on Sunset was wrong."
"We are happy and proud that we have tried to make a 'game for gamers,'" the studio said. "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."
I actually had the pleasure of speaking to Tale of Tales just a couple of weeks ago, where they teased a possible console port of Sunset. In light of recent events, I requested an update on that. This was their reply:
"We will continue to support our existing games. And that includes finding ways to bring them to different audiences."
"We are discussing porting Sunset to consoles with a company who offered to do this and fund it themselves. Of course the low sales on PC are discouraging. But it's still a possibility."
Indeed this is a sad state of affairs for Tale of Tales and the fans who appreciate its eclectic electronic experiments, but the dev raised some interesting questions. Why didn't Sunset sell better? After all, Eurogamer contributor Simon Parkin recommended it.
"Sunset, despite its minimalism, is a rare treat," he stated in his Sunset review. "It tells a story about revolution via the reflection of domesticity, an unusual and thrilling use of the video game medium, and one that expands both its scope and its definition."
In light of Tale of Tales closure, Michaël Samyn has started a Patreon called Unfettered Commentary on Video Games and the World. This will fund Samyn's commentary on what he finds problematic about the video games industry at large these days.
"I don't see a bright future for this medium if some radical changes don't happen soon," he said. "I am ready to share my views on this and the broader economic, political and social context. I have no commercial interest in the game industry anymore. I have nothing to lose. I can safely bite the hand that was unable to feed me."
"Maybe this will inspire some to make the many changes necessary to improve the situation. If not I hope it will contribute, however modestly, to the utter annihilation of video games as we know them."
"That would be nice."