Pre-Release Jitters

Listen, as far as I can see, the land of the Red Steel 2 release (March 23rd!! 25th in Europe!! 26th in Australia!!) looks pretty okay. Reasonable. Encouraging. And that’s freaking me out a little bit.

Here’s why: it has happened before. I’ve learned over the course of my career that just because things look good right now, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will continue to.

Even so, the fact that said response is (so far) based on the opinions of hundreds of people who have actually played the game (many of them for over three hours) makes it easier to develop some faith. I figure if you can get three hours into the game, and you’re still enthusiastic, something’s working for you. And, really, for this game, the next few hours resemble the first few, except with more stuff, so if you liked that, ideally, you’ll like the rest.


However, it’s still faith. It’s way, way to early to be able to relax. I’ve noticed, for example, that my typing has become more jackhammer-like over the past few weeks, a sure sign of tension.

I’ve mentioned this before. Like, fifteen times. That’s because it’s become the majority theme in my existence for the past several months, and until the game is fled and out there in the wild, rampaging around like a katana-wielding Tyrannosaur (yes!!), it’s going to be the majority theme. Sorry if it’s boring. I ease my conscience by reminding myself that if you’re reading this, it’s by choice. I sleep better that way. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Now, what I want to talk about here, today, is something about how the whole ‘release’ situation is made more complicated by the nature of the factors surrounding it.

See, normally, when you are releasing a new installment of an existing franchise, once the game is done, the team immediately begins planning and developing the next version. Generally, games are planned well in advance, and so you tend to know exactly what the next steps will be at the moment you hand the final disc over to manufacturing.

This case is a little bit different.

[ASIDE] In the press, my answer(s) to the question of “Will there be a Red Steel 3?” has been, shall we say, ‘re-emphasized’. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it has lead to some misunderstandings. I’m gonna try to straighten out the issues a bit here, while we’re chatting. You’ve been warned. [/ASIDE]

Why is it different?

Let’s talk about the franchise a little bit. And I’m going to try to do this without violating my corporate responsibilities… which is always challenging. Let’s see how it goes.

As a franchise, Red Steel has a surprising amount of affection among gamers. There’s (very vocal) exceptions, but on the whole, people who played it were disappointed, but somehow that didn’t interfere with their hopes for the future. “It could have been better,” they seem to say, “and we’d really appreciate it if you would make it so.”

That’s 100% why we are here now, with a new installment. People wanted it.

Why wasn’t a sequel more of a sure thing? Well, let’s be honest with ourselves here: it’s not the hugest brand in the industry. The name recognition of Red Steel, while quite high among gamers who were early adopters of the Wii, isn’t quite what is referred to in the Intellectual Property biz as “universal”. Add to that the troubles with controls and other factors in the first game, and you get an overall mixed perception.

Still, though. People wanted another Red Steel, and they wanted it to be awesome.

Fast forward to NOW!


[ASIDE] Do you gol-darn kids even know what ‘fast forward’ means, for chrissake? Is that phrase even in common use any more? I’m starting to feel like a dinosaur for using it. It’s a reference to cassette tapes, people, and those haven’t been sold in stores since…

…uh, since before the Wii came out, that’s for sure. Woah. Anyway. Maybe “skips to the current track” would be more contemporary? No, that sucks. Listen, help me out here, if you can. [/ASIDE]

Dammit! Where was I??

RIGHT! Now. Now is when people are still wanting another Red Steel! And how does that relate to the overall topic of anxiety about the release, and the bizarre sub-topic I introduced about what I and the Red Steel team are doing at the moment??


Here’s how: we believe this game will do well. It appears to be moving along a ‘positive trajectory’. See above about uncertainties about that, but here’s the thing: even in a perfect market (which we are not in) it’s very tough to be sure about anything. Very tough, indeed.

So, imagine yourself as a Ubisoft planning person. You’re smart (just trust me, they are), experienced (yes, also true), uncynical (I’m not making this up, I’ve actually met these people), and you really want the company to do well financially (duh) and make great games (listen, I’m serious – have you met them?? no?? well I have, and this is what they are like).

Okay, so you’re this planner, and you’ve got Red Steel, a much-beloved, much-troubled franchise, on one platform (ouch), and the new game requires the Motion Plus attachment (always dangerous), the Wii market is going through these weird contractions and rumbly upheavals… everyone is panicking. And, the team wants to know if we should be going full-guns and dumping a whole new bunch of money into Red Steel 3. And, if you make the wrong call, everyone in the company loses, the stockholders get pissed off, and you get a bad review that year. Your annual raise will be smaller, so your kids’ braces are going to have to wait for another year.

What would you say?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking I’d say something like, “Hey, guys – what say we just hang out for a few weeks and see what happens? You know, just to make 100% sure that the market for this game even exists.”

And that would be the right call.

But you know what that means for the dev team? It means that the answer to the question of “so, what are you doing now?” is really complicated to answer. And when people say “will there be a Red Steel 3?” you tend to hem and haw a little. My answer has come down to something like this: “We don’t know. Depends on what happens when this game ships.”

Now, what I’ve learned about that answer is that it is easy to hear it as “The Future Of Red Steel Franchise Depends On Red Steel 2 Success” (to mis-quote recent web headlines).

Let’s take a second, though, and look at that. Ironically, such a statement is, in fact, a tautology – it’s obviously, always, necessarily true. And, not just for Red Steel: it’s true for every product in existence in the markets of the world.

More: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s even true for every product in the entire universe. Even Alpha Centaurian planners use this axiom: prior success often gives you an indication of future success, so plan accordingly.

But it’s not a binary operation. It never is. There are uncountable factors that go into a complex decision like pushing a game into a third iteration: sales, reviews, hardware, economy, other games, individual interest, whim, marketing, appeal… it goes on and on. And, frustratingly, there is just no sure way to know with anything like certainty which direction these market winds will blow.

So, we hire scads of weatherpeople. We hope. We plan. We invest in wind-detecting science. We measure.

And then, one day, we get in our boat, pack our goods for the journey, look to the heavens…

…raise our sails…

…and wait.

By |2017-11-25T06:30:30+00:00March 7th, 2010|Categories: Blog|7 Comments

About the Author:

I design.


  1. WiiFolderJosh March 7, 2010 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Wow, read it all and I have to say you should be more calm about the game’s success. Stop for a second and look at it this way.. You and your team have made a game that for the first time in gaming history actually allows players to swing around a controller like a real sword with very precise controls. On top of that you’ve combined cowboys with ninjas as the game’s basic theme… COWBOYS and NINJAS, what could be more bad ass? I guess… cowboys, ninjas and space men? Iunno.

    I think the buzz surrounding RS2 is very positive. I host a Wii media site and hear a lot from fans everyday, all of them planning on picking the game up and are very excited. Hell we’ve even transformed the website into a RS2 theme complete with a countdown to launch. The hype is certainly pretty powerful for the game, so be more confident!

    I look forward to Red Steel 3 in a couple years sir. 🙂

  2. Kirk VandenBerghe March 7, 2010 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Thanks for cutting a porthole into the ship. Amazing workings in there. I imagine that the current dev team is perceived as an amazing asset–that the company wants to retain this crew if at all possible. You can provide shore leave, but sailors tend to get an itch for the sea if they stand on solid ground too long. Rumors move fast through the docks. There always seems to be another ship sailing for the new world.

  3. the skeletor March 8, 2010 at 9:48 am - Reply

    FACT: I recently played the “swordfight a bunch of dudes on a bridge” game in Wii Sports Resort. All I could think at the time was, “Red Steel 2 is gonna be more fun than this, AND I get a GUN!”

    My copy is pre-ordered; you have nothing to worry about. Short of an actual lightsaber duelling title, you’ll have the sword-fighting market all to yourself for the forseeable future — and let’s face it, every little boy dreams of having a sword and a gun in an oriental Old West.

    And if too many sailors jump ship, send the press-gang to San Jose…

  4. Scott Bonds March 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I don’t know jack about this game, but this post was awesome.

  5. Mdk7 March 9, 2010 at 8:05 am - Reply

    I strongly hope your game succeeds (since i had a blast with it two weeks ago!) but frankly i am very doubtful about its destiny.
    The Wii market has become like a sort of surreal blackhole where random shitty games sell millions of copies and fun, clever products (Dead Space Extraction, Zack & Wiki, MadWorld, ExciteBots just to name a few) completely bomb.
    What makes the situation even more absurd is that the so called hardcore crowd is ALWAYS complaining about the lack of core games on the platform, and whenever something cool targeted at oldschool gamers comes out they just don’t give a shit about buying and supporting it and all they do is just illegally download it.

    It’s frankly a depressing situation, since the Wii could be such an amazing platform with its unique approach…

    BTW in this very specific case i blame Ubisoft: where’s the advertising and marketing push for Red Steel 2!?!
    Fuck, you have an amazing game that does sick stuff with a very popular add on and you just refuse to support it as it deserves?
    I’m VERY perplexed (still i do wish that a creative project like RS2 sells more than well!)…

  6. Goobermister March 9, 2010 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Phew…read the whole thing, and yeah…dunno about this game. Well, that’s not true. I think the game itself is going to be amazing. It reminds me very much of some of the older classics, where the gameplay and setting mesh perfectly, I love the whole gun and swordslinging and how well it fits the gameplay.

    This game is quite the unknown quantity when it comes to predicting sales. For one, it’s trying something completely new with the sword fighting style. Secondly, like you said, it REQUIRES Wii motion plus. However, I don’t think this is a huge problem. It comes boxed with the M+ and is displayed in big writing that the game requires it. Wii owners don’t seem to have a huge problem with buying games that require peripherals. I work for BestBuy and one of the HUGE things they mentioned was that customers don’t really mind cheap addons (extra controllers, mics, ect) as long as you mention it early.

    The big problem I was wondering about is can you actually demo this game? I can’t seem to remember if you’re allowed to have teen games on the demo floor in stores…I’m certain you can’t have mature games. A demo would be amazing, this is the perfect sort of game for an in-store demo, but without it it could be tough to get the message out.

    Anyways, hopefully it will work out for you guys, a Red Steel 3 coming off the success of Red Steel 2 would be great, good luck!

  7. MG March 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Mr. Vandenberghe

    You seem to be an honest guy and I respect that so I’ll share a bit of honesty of my own. You may already realize this, and I have stated it before on your blog, but the chances of RS2 being a success are slim.

    Let’s look at the facts.
    1. Red Steel 1 sucked
    2. In spite of it sucking RS1 sold a million copies
    3. It took ubisoft 4 years to care enough to follow up on a sequel
    4. In those 4 years Ubisoft ruined their brand by releasing nothing but garbage on the Wii. (not counting all of the insulting statements by them)

    You of all people should know that you need to build a userbase. You need to build respect and confidence in your buyers. You can’t just dump singular, mediocre games on a console and expect to sell millions. Yet that is what 3rd parties do on the Wii. One mediocre game here, one mediocre game there.

    3rd parties, especially ubisoft, are not serious about finding success on the Wii. They want quick cash with little investment. IT’s the antithesis of their PS360 strategy and consumers are not stupid.

    Let me ask you a question – a real question. If Red Steel 2 was on the PS3 or 360 would you release it in its current form? Yes or no? See, I know that if RS2 was on the PS360 it would have online multiplayer with tons of achievements and features. It wouldn’t have taken ubisoft 4 years to release and they’d be doing a butt load of advertising for it. So why should I buy RS2 when I know that because I am a Wii owner I am getting an inferior experience? I don’t blame you though. I blame Ubisoft.

    Even now I keep seeing tons of youtube trailers for your game and I keep thinking what a waste of time. Does Ubisoft really expect to sell millions with youtube videos? Do they expect to reach the mainstream consumer like that? Do they realize that the “hardcore” gamer who follows youtube videogame trailers wants nothing to do with Ubisoft Wii games?

    I’m sure your game will be well received by the videogame industry (aka the videogame media), but by now everyone should now that good review scores from the guys who refused to review Endless Ocean and who consistently bash Wii games does not guarantee good sales. Wii gamers have learned not to go to or trust these sources. Didn’t the videogame media say that Dead Space extraction was so awesome even though Wii consumers knew that they were getting shafted by EA?

    It’s sad that it has come to this, but selling a game on the Wii has become more than just about it’s quality. Wii gamers don’t trust anyone because they’ve been getting shafted by everyone. Unless you come with your AAAAA game and show Wii consumers that you mean business and are willing to spend 100 million on advertising and are giving us all the features that the 360 gets you aren’t going to get very far. Wii consumers aren’t stupid and they’ve wised up after getting burned so many times.

    I can only hope that when your game fails that you realize this and blame the real culprits for the crappy sales environment on the Wii – 3rd parties.

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