Ursula Le Guin: Product vs Art

22 Dec Ursula Le Guin: Product vs Art

Tameem Antoniades

I wasn’t going to write a blog post this week until I saw this speech from Ursula Le Guin:

If you’ve been watching or reading our Independent AAA Proposition, then you will understand why this struck a chord.

I remember very well conversations with Alex Garland and how he saw the lack of creative ownership and independence in games development as a problem.  This is what he said to Edge Magazine in a rare interview back in October 2010:

“What I do think, though, is that the games industry has some very serious problems to address. It seems to me that what’s happened is that in its organic development, it has leapfrogged some key stages and has jumped straight to bloated Hollywood megabucks, mega-resources-type products. That’s really dangerous…

…It seems to me that it’s going to be very, very hard for the game equivalent of Taxi Driver to exist, because I don’t know where the niche for it is. I don’t know how it’ll get financed, and I’m also not sure who’ll buy it. You have a hope with these things that, like Kevin Costner in that Field Of Dreams movie, if you build it they will come, but unfortunately that’s not true. I thought Ico was a very good game but it didn’t feel like people came to that.”

The mention of ICO is prescient. This is from the Wikipedia entry on ICO:

“The game has received aggregate review scores of 90 out of 100 at Metacritic…  The game is considered by some to be one of the greatest games of all time… Despite the positive praise, the original title did not sell well. By 2009, only 700,000 copies were sold worldwide, with 270,000 in the United States and the bulk in PAL regions”

ICO was sold into retail by a publishing system that is built to sell blockbusters. It was widely considered a commercial failure and served as an example by publishers and developers of how such unconventional games are not worth supporting. Developers have survived by largely focusing on making commercial “products” as that is what the retail publishing system demands.

It is my view that ICO was not a failure, it is a wonderful game, a beacon of hope for artistic expression.  It was exclusive to a single platform, there was no social media to help promote the title, no mature digital distribution platform, and little flexibility on retail price.  Yet it still sold 700,000. What would it have done in this day and age if sold digitally on any platform at a smaller price-point?

I suspect that games driven by art, story and other forms of inner expression have a bright future in store for those who dare seek it.  Ursula Le Guin shows us that this future is worth pursuing across all forms of entertainment media.  I hope we find it.

7 Comments
  • Mark Griffin
    Posted at 05:32h, 23 December Reply

    Games / works of art like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, Flower, Child of Light, Rime, Vane, Zelda, Okami, Bayonetta, Majin, Papo & Yo, Toren, El Shaddai, Asura’s Wrath, Darksiders, & everything by Ninja Theory etc. is what I live for. Based on art / aesthetic, style, story / characters, fantasy / worlds, adventure / exploration, & music. I feel like film, literature, & music has its blockbusters but they also have huge variety as well. It seems like games doesn’t. I thank you wholeheartedly Ninja Theory for forging your path & staying strong through the struggle..

  • André Vila Franca
    Posted at 15:00h, 23 December Reply

    She’s so right!!
    Thank you so much for staying true to your beliefs.
    Games should be an art form and i trully believe Hellblade will acomplish that, Show them all what a true game should be.
    Keep up the great work!!

  • zagham Karim
    Posted at 00:38h, 24 December Reply

    The game looks more interactive than many others, its a rare experience to see how you are working hard on it, however the thing that really matters is the perpective of gamers but I can readily say that I like the uniqueness and artistic mould this game is taking.
    All the best for all those who are working hard for all of us

  • zagham Karim
    Posted at 00:39h, 24 December Reply

    Cant wait for another dev video

  • Vital (Brownie_USSR)
    Posted at 14:14h, 07 January Reply

    Greetings to the whole team! I really miss the new news and a diary – do not want to think that you have any serious obstacles. Protracted holidays – it would be a good excuse for you. 😉

  • André Rogers
    Posted at 22:12h, 07 January Reply

    Great entry! Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • IchigoMait
    Posted at 17:18h, 09 January Reply

    Nice, And ICO is one of the best games ever made, though I liked Shadow of the Colossus more, but I beat ICO at least 2 times, and SoC many more times, (just an idea ahead) yeah the problem why it didn’t sell well was just the publishers the marketeers didn’t know how to sell it, problem lies in that the publishers or who ever was managing the market advertisement had no interest in such a game, thus not knowing how to advertise it, or just there was not enough money put into it. There are many hidden gems like that, and mostly just because nobody knew about them when they were released and only the time helped it become known as a gem. In a way it’s actually good, because then you will attract only the people who are looking for stuff like that, otherwise you will be getting people (those kinds who jump on any hypetrain, just because it’s famous, and be like that game isn’t for me so I bash it) there who hate stuff like that, and that could actually hurt the game, even if it’s masterpiece for many others.

    SoC was my first ps2 game I bought, at the same time I bought my ps2 in 2007. I’ve never known about the game, but when I saw the box art and the name, I knew this will be epic.

    Can’t wait for The Last Guardian.

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