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That Dragon, Cancer dev blames Let's Plays for lack of sales

That Dragon, Cancer developer claims "our studio has not yet seen a single dollar from sales" due to Let's Plays.

Numinous Games developer Ryan Green has spoken out on the damaging effect Let's Plays have had on sales for That Dragon, Cancer in a blog post on the game's official website. He claims that the studio hasn't seen one dollar from sales so far. 

Green goes on to explain:

"That Dragon, Cancer was created by a studio of eight, and for many of us it was a full-time effort that involved thousands of hours of work. This huge effort required taking on investment, and we decided to pay off all of our debt as soon as possible. But we underestimated how many people would be satisfied with only watching the game instead of playing it themselves."

That Dragon, Cancer was a deeply personal creation for Green and his wife Amy, also a member of the development team. It chronicles the tragic death of their own child, who succumbed to cancer at just five years of age after being diagnosed with the illness at 12 months old. I can imagine that adds further pain to the fact that despite amassing millions of views on sites like YouTube, this hasn't translated into sales.

The perhaps now ironically titled Thank You For Playing, a documentary following the family through the 2 year creation process for the game, is due to see a release on digital platforms on March 29.

Later on in the post, Green clarifies his stance on Let's Plays, stating:

"We feel the Let’s Play culture adds value to this medium. And for games with more expansive or replayable gameplay, it can directly benefit developers."

But he points out how this can have the opposite effect on shorter, more story-driven experiences like That Dragon, Cancer. When you've watched someone play through an emotionally intensive, yet narratively linear experience that's over after 90 minutes, is there really much incentive for viewers to go out and buy that game to play it for themselves? Especially when, as Green points out:

"...many Let’s Players post entire playthroughs of our game, posting links to all of their own social channels and all of their own merchandising and leaving out a link to our site."

Some have criticized Green's argument, however, stating that it comes with the territory of the genre, and that it is a consequence of charging $14.99 for a game that only lasts an hour and a half. The studio drew further criticism when, in error, copyright claims brought down a number of YouTube videos featuring the game for using Jon Hillman's soundtrack.

Green explained that the intention there wasn't to make copyright claims or force content creators to take down their video, but they wanted Hillman to be able to "draw some income the original soundtrack to our game that he poured his heart into."

Still, some Let's Players reacted badly at the time, and took to Twitter to question the decision, like the fellow below:

But really, who is profiting off of who here?

What are you thoughts on the situation and on Let's Plays in general? Let us know in the comments.

Published Mar. 28th 2016
  • Mathenaut
    Blame being an expensive walking simulator for lack of sales.

    I feel bad for these guys having high expectations because sympathetic ideologues want to lie to them about what they've made. None of that makes the MPAA/RIAA piracy alarmist nonsense any more true.

    People watching videos =/= people that would buy the game.
    Curious people =/= Sales

    Case in point: Dark Souls
    This is a game that has defined a culture within gaming, yet only small fraction have actually played it.
  • Angelina Bonilla (Red Angel)
    Featured Correspondent
    I'm a bit torn on this one all things considered. On one hand I understand the Developers plight since this is a very personal game for them and they want as many people to enjoy it as possible. There are a few problems with it though and a lot of it comes down to marketing.

    I wonder if the developers know how hard it is to market a game like this. This is newer territory for games to cover and the style of the game itself just makes this look like a PR person's nightmare. How do you market a game like this other than "A unique Emotional Experience." I understand why the game was made and what it means to them as developers since it's about their son but this is the sort of game that doesn't make a lot of money. It changes and shapes the medium but it doesn't doesn't become a best seller. For multiple reasons, most notably, not everyone wants to experience the exact same thing they experienced and would rather watch it.

    Now, I don't like the fact that some Let's Players aren't linking back to the game's store page or the game's web page. I thought that was part of some unwritten for Lets Players to link the Indie Steam Game they're playing for the thousands of views. A mutually beneficial relationship.

    At the end of this, I think the developers should work something out with the Let's Play community that benefits both parties rather than point a finger at them. Also, I think the Let's Play community should be open to suggestions and be willing to post links back to the games they play for their channel.
  • HaoxNarz
    Featured Contributor
    For the type of game this is, I honestly would side with the Dev, but I think they should have been a bit more strategic with their marketing. If the game is 1 1/2 hrs long, that's a major weakness that could of been turned into a strength if done properly.

    An idea(not refined or anything just speaking my mind) would be to have allowed Let's Players to play a version of the game that cut off at some point in the story 30 mins in.To see the rest, possibly purchase it.

    Of course there is hardships in stopping someone from broadcasting the game after they fully purchased it, but that would inevitably be why there would be two separate versions with a legal team involved.
  • Tobbpitt
    Featured Contributor
    "Some have criticized Green's argument, however, stating that it comes with the territory of the genre, and that it is a consequence of charging $14.99 for a game that only lasts an hour and a half."

    This is a pretty legitimate criticism since it doesn't really have any gameplay either. $14.99 for an hour and a half long "game" where you're pretty much not doing anything is a rip off, no matter how you look at it.

    I can understand the dev's frustration but honestly that's the side-effect of making games that have no gameplay and only serve to push along a narrative. If your game can be fully experienced/appreciated just by players watching it, perhaps film is better suited to you.

    The fault here doesn't lie on the LPers. I don't like them, I don't watch them, but they're just doing what they do.

    If nothing else, this type of thing should be a lesson to potential devs trying to crank out story-driven games with no gameplay: Games are called "games" for a reason. And $14.99 for such a short experience with minimal player input is nothing short of a rip off.
  • Tobbpitt
    Featured Contributor
    And just to add to this: these types of games never sell well. There's no market for it. Blaming it on LPers is irresponsible.

    So many indie developers that create these types of games blame LPers, but the reality is there are not many people who want these types of games, much less want to spend money on them.

    So I guess the tl;dr of all of the above is:

    Make a game with gameplay if you want it to sell.
  • Auverin Morrow
    Commissioning Editor
    I'm with the devs on this one. Let's Players have a whole industry's worth of games that they can make money off of creating videos for. Those devs ONLY have That Dragon. That's literally the only avenue they have to generate revenue, and instead that revenue is going to let's players who then have the audacity to complain about someone else making money off their videos, even though those videos couldn't exist without that someone else creating the content in the first place.

    LPers don't need to showcase the whole narrative of an indie game. They need to support the indie community that's making their hobby/livelihood possible.
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I'm typically with the devs when it comes to people profiting off the game more than they are, however, I see a hole in their argument.

    The main one I see is that "That Dragon, Cancer" is an *extremely* niche game. We're talking a *very* small group of people who would even consider picking this game up. I get it, the game is a story-driven experience that you can't really sell after someone posts a video of the whole game online, but by that definition TellTale Games should be eating cow fodder at this point.

    Once again, the argument could be made that TellTale has much more resources. This is true. However, their only games are all story-games. That would mean constantly taking a hit from Let's Plays.

    "That Dragon, Cancer" on the other hand isn't marketable. Its market lies with people who are going through the process or have suffered the scenario in the past. That niche is remarkably small, despite cancer rates. Tack on top of that the fact that a smaller group of this minority of people actually play video games, and then have actually heard of this game's very existence. Then put the nice cherry on top that is the game being overpriced. The math adds up to one game that just doesn't sell well.

    Once again, the Let's Plays probably don't help their cause. However, that's what happens when you try to sell an hour long game that doesn't have any replayability. If they wanted to market this as something that made money - from a purely business perspective - they should've gone with something more relatable to the masses, or simply made an animation instead of a game.
  • Scott Simpson
    Featured Contributor
    The thing is TellTale is also working with already established, marketable brands like Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, etc. These already have established fanbases ready to pump money into them, plus they provide players with a choice, or the illusion of one anyway, which at leasts adds replayability.

    Niche or not I think games like That Dragon, Cancer are important in expanding the medium as an art form and I'd hate to see games like that not getting made just because there's no money to be made from them on account everything they have to offer being put up on public display for other people to profit off of.

    There's no doubt that a lot of indie games owe their huge success to the exposure they've had from Youtubers playing them, but at the same time, considering these Let's Players are essentially making their money and in many cases their livelihood off other peoples work, i think they need to be more conscientious about how they are going to effect developers by doing so.

    People can argue the game is too short, too niche and too expensive all they want, and I definitely agree with them on the price point at least, but the fact is that doesn't justify other people profitting off it at the developers expense.
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    I'm with the devs on this one. I agree with Auverin and Scott's points. This game deserves to be recognized on its own and not be milked by Let's Play. There are plenty of games for them to use.

    Games like That Dragon, Cancer need to be made in order to expand the medium, but if things like this will hurt them, what is to encourage them to do so?

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