Saturday, April 11, 2015

A humble theory on why Beyond Good & Evil is not very popular.

     We all love our cult classics, right? We all love our Twice Upon a Time, our Psychonauts, our Firefly. We love 'em.

     And almost as much as we love to promote them, we love to defend them, explain to others why they did not reach a more mainstream success. Released before their time, bad promotion, censorship, other reasons.

     And today, for your amusement (at least I hope you'll be amused), I am going to explain why Beyond Good & Evil remains a cult classic, despite enough years having passed to build a bigger audience through word of mouth.

     Let's get lack of promotion our of the way first, since that is not really the biggest issue. Over the years, good things find an audience. The INTERNET allowed hundreds of ppl to tell thousands of other ppl of under-appreciated games like Psychonauts and Ico. And the info on BG&E being a good game was widely available online for many years. And yet, BG&E did not become a game beloved by the mainstream.

     So, now I will tell you, the reader, the two biggest reasons on why Beyond Good & Evil does not appeal to a wider audience even now, one subjective and one objective.

                                                        ONE: objective and minor.

     The biggest thing about the game, the game's heart if you will, is the feeling of you changing the minds of an entire planet's population. Jade is a photographer who *ahem* with her photography exposes a supposedly good military organization for the monsters they really are. In a way, BG&E is a revolution simulator.

     In order to feel like you are changing the minds of the people, you need to feel connected to them. You connect with the population, and learn of their lives, by talking to them between missions. The problem? It is almost entirely mandatory. You can talk to a Hyllian or two in order to learn where to find more pearls, the game's currency. However, pearls can be just as easily obtained by exploring the world map, or going off the main path in dungeons. To learn about the hardships of the people, of the kidnappings, to find out how the population feels, you need to speak with EVERYONE after each mission. You are never reminded of the importance of talking to everyone between missions. Most players will miss 90% of dialogue on their first play.

     Another thing you do in the game to feel like you caused change, is reading the underground paper with the photos you took. The problem? You NEVER have to do that. 100% optional. Never told to do that either.

     Now, you might be saying "smart players know to explore everywhere and try everything to get all of the story!" True, true. Players who ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO DO. You, smart player, are very much in the minority. You are either a huge fan of adventure games (there aren't a lot of you), very OCD about 100%ing each level (again, minority), or already played the game.

     The majority of players will miss most or all of the optional dialogue, and never watch a single news report. Those who won't miss that on first playthrough are not large in number, as explained above. In a game focused mostly on STORY, and not innovative deep gameplay, missing on lore will make you feel like you haven't accomplished much after each mission. You won't feel like you spread the truth to the population of Hyllis; you will feel like you beat a dungeon.

     "But I did all the optional stuff, I figured out everything by myself!" you might say. Well, smart cookie, you are from the tiny village of Smart Cookie. Most gamers are from Plebville, a large metropolis populated by average Joe and Joannes, who don't care and don't know. They will miss half the story and will feel underwhelmed. Many of them will not like the game, or merely think it's "meh". That would mean less favorable reviews, less success, less popularity.

                                                      TWO: subjective, and major.

     The game looks like a cartoon. That's putting it short, and a full explanation requires long paragraphs.

     Regardless of what you say or think, the fact is: the general populace does not accept serious drama in cartoon form. Serious drama is preferred bundled with a strong dose of realism (like BG&E used to be bundled with cheese). To be taken seriously, a piece of fiction needs to be realistic. Give the audience a cartoon, and approximately 50% will walk away, thinking it would be wacky comedy (something Mature Adults™ do not enjoy on principle). And sooner than later, 25% more will leave, disappointed after not getting the wacky comedy they came to see. You will be left with a quarter of the original group, accepting of your cartoons with dramas.

     A cartoon with serious/dramatic elements is not enjoyed by many people. By "serious/dramatic" I simply mean that actions have consequences: when punched, people go "ow!", when stabbed they bleed, when killed they die. Anvil dropped on the head will smash the guy, killing the bastard instantly.

     And I won't waste my (and your) time with bullshit about historical and cultural reasons on why serious cartoons are not popular. I won't, because I know people are they way are just because. I accept that, and so should you. You will never change society to like dramatic cartoons more, even if you make a HUNDRED YouTube videos, or write a HUNDRED blog posts. And convincing people IRL won't help either. You can only change the minds of others when they are about to change themselves, with you helping them by providing a push. If someone isn't already open to the idea of serious cartoons being something they might like, you won't change their minds.

     Beyond Good & Evil is a mostly serious game with a cartoony presentation. That combination naturally does not appeal to the majority of people. And that is a major reason for the game not being super popular.

     Well, there's everything I wanted to say. Next time someone wonders "why isn't Beyond Good & Evil more popular?", tell them this. Or give them the link to this post, that would be nice also!

     Next post will be more Satyrday!