You Can’t Escape

While engaged in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit, to promote our Akaneiro Kickstarter, I was asked about my experience working with UK-based Shy the Sun on the trailers for “Alice: Madness Returns”. You can see a compilation of the three trailers in question via YouTube. My Reddit post follows:

They are fantastic in terms of creativity and capability. If you check out the trailers they did for A:MR, all you can say is “Wow!” What was frustrating was how EA Marketing interfered – telling STS from the start that ALL creative direction and final say would come from them, not from us (the developer/creator of the story/tone). That resulted in trailers that were much darker and gorier than the game … and that was a calculated disconnect created by EA. They wanted to “trick” gamers into believing A:MR was a hard-core horror title, even though we refused to develop it in that tone. Their thinking is, even if the game isn’t a hard-core horror title, you can market it as one and trick those customers into buying it (while driving away more casual customers, like female gamers, who might be turned off by really dark trailers). It’s all a part of the race to the bottom EA, Activision and the other big pubs are engaged in. Expect to see it get worse before it gets better.

To my surprise, this ignited a firestorm of press coverage from the game media. It attracted a few pissed messages from EA. Some readers have even suggested this has killed any possibility of my ever being employed by a game publisher again.

Allow me to expand on my original post while at the same time making a correction (call it a retraction if you like). “Tricked” is the wrong word. I take that back. Apologies to EA and anyone else whose feelings were hurt. Electronic Arts doesn’t trick customers into buying things. They carefully apply proven marketing techniques to achieve the desired customer response. If they were bad at this sort of thing they’d have been crushed by their competitors long ago and you’d be playing Madden Football from Activision or Atari or something.

We live in a world full of marketing. Marketing tells us the “2013 Land Yacht” is more stylish, powerful and awesome than last year’s model. Or that a certain toothpaste is going to get us laid more often. That a wrist watch will finally force the world to understand just how adventurous and manly we are. Or that a game contains lots of blood and guts – even when the creators don’t think that’s the primary selling point. “Alice: Madness Returns” does contain a lot of the stuff you see in those trailers, but my concern was that the main character was being portrayed in a way I felt didn’t align with her character as I understand it.

Beyond that, there has always been and likely always will be tension between publishers and developers over stuff like this. Truth is, publishers are giving audiences what they want – again, if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business very long. Maybe I don’t agree with where gaming content seems to be going – but isn’t that the prerogative of aging creators? To complain that things are too loud, too bright or too fleshy?

At the end of the day, I’ve got (well, had) a good relationship with EA. They helped put my name on the map. They funded two of my favorite creations. And they helped me bring strikingly original content to a gaming world that often seems dominated by bullets and boobs. I can’t and don’t fully fault them or their marketing for whatever the “Alice” games might or might not have done sales-wise. As a developer, do I grumble into my beer about how it could have been different if only… ? Sure do! But I also recognize my own faults, and actions which are to blame for things not being 100%… or for inadvertently igniting firestorms.

Call this a mea culpa, an apology, a clarification or a cop-out if you like. My feelings around these topics are nuanced and complicated enough that I myself barely understand them most of the time.

The firestorm, for your reading enjoyment:

American McGee: EA tried to “trick” gamers into believing Alice: Madness Returns was a horror title

American McGee: “Marketing of Alice by EA Showed a Calculated Discount”

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I live in Shanghai, China. I make video games.

24 thoughts on “You Can’t Escape”

  1. Hey American, the time to complain about how your game is handled is the moment it’s being handled. Otherwise you look like an attention-seeking so-and-so.

    GG, McGee.

  2. after having no desire to patch the bug riddled madness returns or even offer some dlcs etc or any kind of support once the game was set free, i think it’s pretty sad that anyone should apologize about anything in regards to EA.
    they really couldn’t give a crap.
    i really wish a more competent company could acquire the rights to alice somehow

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