Tale of Tales abandons game dev after poor sales for Sunset, art-funding cuts

Sunset screenshot

Art-house game developer Tale of Tales announced they are leaving games following the “complete commercial failure” of their acclaimed adventure game, Sunset. Tale of Tales have always made unusual, artsy pseudo-adventures, and came to prominence with the release of experiments like The Graveyard and feminist fable The Path.

While Tale of Tales are not closing-up shop entirely, it appears their days as a game developer are done. And the reasons for that are troubling.

In their farewell blog post, laced with gallows-humor, Tale of Tales founders Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey give a pretty unsparing post-mortem of Sunset’s failure and why the studio has been driven out of business. It’s an upsetting story, and one with ramifications beyond purely art-house creators like Tale of Tales.

Tale of Tales have been done-in by a combination of declining arts-funding in Belgium, an attempt to reach a wider audience with higher production values and a more traditional game and narrative in Sunset, and marketing money that apparently achieve nothing. WIth their future riding on Sunset’s commercial performance, their initial sales of only 4,000 came a brutal disappointment, and one that left them with no way forward. Saddled with debt from Sunset’s development costs, they explain, “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.”

Now, I am sure someone, somewhere, is all too happy to explain why “the market” got this one right and Tale of Tales deserved to fail because they were bad business-people and they were fools to think they could sustain themselves making niche, artistic games. I'm not sure I agree, but I also don't think it's relevant to this case. Consider the modesty of Tale of Tales’ ambitions, and the sheer magnitude of their apparent failure.

Tale of Tales weren’t looking for a hit. They were looking for a modest return that would enable them to keep making games. Yet despite a good and established reputation, and generally favorable reviews, they moved only 4,000 copies of the game (many of those going to Kickstarter backers who had already paid).

That’s abysmal. And I don’t think there are only 4,000 people who would enjoy a game like Sunset. Think about how huge PC gaming is. How many people it encompasses, and all their different tastes and preferences. This game probably has a bigger potential audience that could have saved it. It’s that the game sank like a stone before they could ever hear about it.

One of the great promises of the digital storefronts was that they could, at least somewhat, level the playing field between smaller, niche developers and blockbusters. You might never have a prayer of wresting shelf-space away from Assassin’s Creed and FIFA at Best Buy or GameStop, but digital distribution would let your find your audience, and vice versa. But the fate of Sunset and Tale of Tales suggest that utopian future was a mirage. The digital storefront can life some small games to unexpected heights but it can also bury the small-market games faster than ever before.

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Ananym avatarOcid avatarTovias avatarboniek83 avatarZptr avataricheyne avatar+7
Ananym Avatar
104
2 Years ago

I thought the whole point of a successful kickstarter was that it paid for production costs. How did they make a loss?

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A highly priced indie point and click narrative game is about as niche as you get; I don't think anyone is surprised by this outcome. The quality of the marketing material on their steam store page does a good job of living up to the negative stereotype, which IS surprising given their prior experience. Anyone could have told them that people would not be willing to pay £15 for something that conveys itself like that.

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I'm not saying they deserved the outcome - after their previous offerings they obviously do have talent - but the mistakes in this attempt are obvious for all to see, and their handling of the affair was pretty inexcusable.

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I don't think this says anything against the market. It is not "troubling" that consumers are capable of making sensible choices.

6
Richie Shoemaker Avatar
125
2 Years ago

Indeed. The reviews on Steam would appear to paint a different picture than what the press have said about the game.

2
Fraser Brown Avatar
960
2 Years ago

You are the second person in the comments to think £15 is too expensive, and frankly I'm baffled. It's the price of a meal in a decent restaurant, earned after an hour or two at work.

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Also, Kickstarters rarely cover costs and they create a false impression of how expensive it can be to make a game.

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Ananym Avatar
104
2 Years ago

They're not competing with a restaurant meal, believe it or not.

3
Aever Avatar
623
2 Years ago

That's not very relevant. I mean, it is if you have already decided to buy the game and are considering whether you can afford it. What is relevant, and what is killing games like this, is "what else is available for this amount of money". Between discounts and free-to-play you can find a massive number of alternatives, all promising incomparably more content (questionable or not) and hence better value for your money (again, questionable).

It seems to me they simply didn't have or couldn't reach the audience that would allow for such games to be made. Sad, but ... that's the market really.

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Tovias Avatar
1025
2 Years ago

Maybe the product really isn't that good.

4
Ocid Avatar
272
2 Years ago

The thing with PC gaming being so huge is that there's now a ton of developers vying for your money.

If your marketing achieves nothing then no-one knows about your game to buy it.

3
DustyGerkin Avatar
190
2 Years ago

Reading the post they put up explaining what happened it's like they are blaming everyone but themselves. And the more posts on this subject it seem the more is coming to light about how poorly their games work. Not looking that good for them selling any more of their games and ToT doesn't look like a developer you'd want a game from.

Weird

3
The Great Gratzby Avatar
118
2 Years ago

"Consider the modesty of Tale of Tales’ ambitions." Look, say whatever else you will in their favor, there has never been anything 'modest' about ToT. It's only becoming more obvious the more they have to say on the matter. That blog post alone is horrific, passive-aggressive and completely damning.

I take no pleasure at all in an independent company losing their business, but Tale of Tales didn't capsize because Ubisoft or Football Tycoon or whoever have a stranglehold on distribution, or because "gamers" hate "art", or because of the unforgivable evils of capitalism. They crashed this ship all on their own.

3
boniek83 Avatar
110
2 Years ago

Marketing is important. Nobody I asked knew the game even existed. That and this is simply not for me.

1
icheyne Avatar
209
2 Years ago

I was interested in the art style and basic premise, so I had a good look but reviews were lukewarm at best.

1
Reikhardt Avatar
132
2 Years ago

I like to try arty indie games, I even buy the odd game I know wont quite live up to expectations so that I can at least experience it as there is usually always something to take away from even the shonkiest of creations.

But £15 for a new release is just way too much of a punt. I guess a lot of people like me just added it to the old wishlist waiting for the inevitable Steam sale or appearance in a Humble bundle.

It would be interesting if the devs were to discount the game and then release the sales data afterwards.

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NihlusGreen Avatar
630
2 Years ago

I didn't see much of the marketing attempts....not sure it popped up once on my Steam recommendations page despite my regular delving into point and clicks.

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VastGirth Avatar
4
2 Years ago

I'm another one who thinks it was too expensive. I was interested in this game and still intend to pick it up at some point, but a combination of the high price point and having loads of other games yet to play in my library put me off.

For a very very niche indie game like this it should have been half of what they priced it as. Even then i would have probably waited for the inevitable sale.

1