Originality vs mass market product

Rachel and Jesse

Before I go on with the blog post topic, a small announcement: Love Notes beta is now live on itchio! You can check it out here. The game content is complete, expect only some minor bugs.

Later this month I’ll have my usual “end of year review” post. But today, I want to discuss about two different approaches to storytelling: making a very original story/plot or a mass market product.

Of course, it’s really hard (if not impossible) to come up with a completely original story. So let’s say “original enough” story ! And for mass-market product I mean a product that’s going to appeal to the masses, at expense of originality.

You can obviously have an idea for a product that is both original and appeal to the masses (ie Minecraft) but it’s not like it’s going to happen for 99% of us, right? 🙂

I’m going to take as example some of my games.

Bionic Heart vs Always Remember Me

Tanya and Helen from Bionic Heart

Bionic Heart was undoubtely one of my most original stories to date. Even the game flow itself, with its many choices and branching, is probably unmatched by my most recent products. Of course it had its problems, for example it was one of my early works, I didn’t use editors or external writers yet, indeed the first draft was even made in italian, my native language! So here I’m not talking about the “writing quality”, but about the originality of that game’s story.

the beginning of the game Always Remember Me

I am comparing it with Always Remember Me, which is a much more mass product instead. Yes it has some originality (the main premise of your boyfriend losing the memory is “moderately” original) but for the rest is a classic dating sim.

Now, Bionic Heart was appreciated, despite its flaws, by a LOT of people. Even fellow indies who normally don’t even play my games, asked me for free keys (we sometimes exchange free copies). Steam reviews are good enough, etc. So, for “the critics” this was a good game at the time (consider that it came out 12 year ago).

Always Remember Me instead wasn’t considered particularly original, or innovative, or anything, and yet, it was way more popular. We need to take into consideration that at the times (was 2011) mobile gaming was still in its early years and most of female players were still on PC (while now I think most of otome/dating sim players have moved to mobile/console). Anyways, it was a huge success. I am not even comparing the two financially because would be insane, since Bionic Heart sold maybe 1/50 of Always Remember Me.

How to explain this? Simple, Bionic Heart was perhaps a more original and interesting story but was for a much smaller target market. Also, it was sci-fi, the worst genre ever to write a visual novel, and since had a male protagonist, also a different target market. Always Remember Me instead had a less original story but it had a much bigger potential market, and for that market the game was good enough.

In summary: you can even make a masterpiece (it’s just an example, not referring to my own games) but if it targets the 0,1% of gaming population might become a sort of cult game, but it won’t make you rich.

An average game instead, but that can appeal the 99% of the gaming population, won’t give you big reviews or appreciation but can still make you WAY more money than a niche product.

Conclusions

For some of you reading this, it might seem obvious, and in practice it’s what happens also in books/movies, but I still wanted to talk about it for those who wonders how it works.

Now with crowdfunding luckily it’s a bit less risky (I wish I could have done one for Planet Stronghold 2 at the times). For example At Your Feet was definitely an original idea (no other foot fetish lesbian game around before I launched my KS) but it will be also a good seller? Early numbers are encouraging but it’s still too early (to see the real potential of a game you need to wait 6 months or one full year): but even if it won’t be, having done a succesful KS has somewhat mitigated the potential losses.

That’s why when you see developers doing yet again the same unoriginal “good vs evil” fantasy story, or short yuri games, or adult only games, etc etc there’s a reason: they are “safer” to do, guaranteeing a minimum amount of sales.

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