MCV looks at what the arrival of the toughest game, Namco Bandai's Dark Souls, ever says about the market...
Expanding the games industry has had the inevitable effect of ‘dumbing down’ the more challenging elements of interactive entertainment. New interfaces and new audiences mean that games have to be accessible, fair and friendly – not cruel and punishing.
Today, however, one game stands up to be tough and uncompromising. Billed as ‘the hardest game ever made’, Namco’s Dark Souls has been scoring pages of positive reviews – the Metacritic score sits at 89 as we go to press – and its existence proves that there’s still a market out there for games aimed at the hardcore.
Death and failure is a prominent part of Dark Souls. So much so that ‘Prepare to die’ is the advertising slogan. Wii Sports this is not.
“I think the market needs to wise up a bit as there are still proper gamers out there that need a challenge and a game that doesn’t end in four hours – this is that game,” said Namco Bandai’s marketing director Lee Kirton.
“Dark Souls is a proper game which will challenge its audience.”
In some respects, that kind of fervent gamer has been ignored by the big blockbusters, so Kirton’s team at Namco have been courting it.
He explained: “It can’t all be about a big FPS and the game with the biggest marketing spend. We are marketing the game, but carefully, strategically and we’ve invested a lot of time with the communities, events and talking directly to gamers. It’s important to have these relationships.
“Core gamers relish a challenge, which doesn’t come along that often.”
That perfect barometer of core gamer sentiment – specialist press journalists – agree with him.
“Dark Souls is important because it proves that there are people who want to play a game rather than an interactive movie,” IGN’s UK games editor Keza MacDonald told MCV.
MacDonald knows the game inside out, having recently flown to San Francisco to join her IGN US colleagues for a 24-hour Dark Souls marathon streamed online to readers.
“Dark Souls isn’t old-fashioned, it’s extremely modern – an experiment with the limitations of the game form,” she added. “It’s the kind of story that doesn’t happen in the risk-averse games industry any more, and Namco deserves credit for its part in the tale.
“It’s a game you play to see how far something can push you. It pushes you further than anything else, and for that reason it’s the most intense gaming experience there is.”
360 Magazine deputy editor Dan Howdle agreed: “What Dark Souls shows is that sometimes the most rewarding experiences are those for which one has to fight the hardest. I find it disappointing how unchallenging games have become, because when completion is an inevitability, I feel I’m waiting for it to end rather than enjoying the ride.”
But can something like Dark Souls cut through and reach a wider audience used to paying for mainstream games? Especially with Bethesda’s Skyrim around the corner?
“We hope so,” said Kirton. “Bethesda make great games,” he adds, pointing out how the Battlefield vs Call of Duty drama has only benefitted both brands in terms of coverage. “I’d love to see fans of Skyrim buy into Dark Souls.”