Can Sadness Sell?

The video game PeaceMaker challenges traditional approaches, by being a game that makes you think. When I worked on the project, our main sell point was this is a “game for peace,” not a game about violence.

Electronic Arts, the largest video game company, asked in the 80s: “Can a video game make you cry?” And we were really taken by that idea when we developed the prototype.

But I’m surprised by how reluctant advertisers, marketers, and game producers are to put a big push behind products and game titles that challange the status quo — that make people think. Silicon Valley for example, is rabidly investing in these silly start-ups with obscure value propositions. Little risk. Little reward.

Why doesn’t someone just give these guys a bunch of dough, and then capitalize on the next big thing?

Recent video game blockbusters, like God of War, are game design achievements no doubt — combining cinema, mini-games, storytelling. But the subject matter of today’s games focuses unanimously on primitive plots and emotions: conquer, combat, destroy. Alternatively, Nintendo has taken a path of pure fun with the Wii — rated “E” for everyone — but what’s the motivating force behind even the most seemingly jolly Nintendo game? Win vs. Lose. The same Live vs. Die paradigm.

So bottom line to my diatribe: Take more risks with new approaches. It’s the only way you’re going to reap the big rewards.