#113: Odd numbers

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Hello! I have woken to a stinking cold, so let’s make this quick. (It’s not Covid, thank you for asking — it never is in this house, we just get everything else instead.)

Earlier this week Oddworld Inhabitants boss Lorne Lanning said that signing a PlayStation Plus deal for Oddworld: Soulstorm was “devastating” for the game’s sales. When he signed the deal with Sony, Soulstorm was planned for release in January 2021, weeks after PS5’s launch; Lanning and co figured that, since hardware availability would be so scarce, the game wouldn’t sell all that well, so going with PS Plus seemed like a good business decision. “The most we could sell is less than the money we were getting [for PS Plus inclusion],” he told the Xbox Expansion Pass podcast (spotted by VGC). “We might sell 50,000 units at launch, maybe 100,000 units. It was pretty small numbers because there weren't going to be a lot of PS5s.”

Then, alas, the game was delayed. It launched in April, by which point the PS5 installed base had grown significantly, despite the well-publicised supply constraints. (Lanning also appears to have overlooked the fact that you can redeem PS Plus games if you’re a member, regardless of whether you own the system it’s on.) The game was downloaded for free, Lanning says, almost four million times.

To be clear, I don’t think Lanning is so naive as to think that Soulstorm would have sold four million copies at full price were PS Plus not part of the equation. I would certainly not say so to his face, because he spent the ‘90s cosplaying a Buffy villain and I will as such be forever intimidated by him. Rather, I think he’s saying that had the deal been for a game that was planned for release several months after PS5’s launch, rather than right on its heels, he would probably have asked for an extra zero or two. I do feel for him.

However! It also sounds like the studio needed the money to actually finish the game: Lanning refers to “legacy technical debt issues and talent issues”. Soulstorm’s development had hardly been smooth sailing — it was announced in 2016 and planned for release in 2017, then 2019, then 2020, before finally shipping in April 2021. If I wasn’t still a bit scared of Vampire Lorne I’d maybe point out that he could have seen another delay coming and negotiated the Plus deal accordingly. Maybe, were it not for his shoulder-length locks and nu-metal-session-musician facial hair — and were it not for my suspicion that he still owns at least one knee-length leather overcoat — I would suggest he be grateful for having financed the completion of a game that was beginning to have a whiff of the ol’ development hell about it.

More broadly, this exposes the downside of the subscription model. It’s something I’ve heard from a number of industry pals since Game Pass et al came along. Yes, launching your game on a subscription service mitigates a lot of the risk of making a game. It guarantees that you will at least get the thing out of the door, and reduces the chance of it bombing at launch. But it also makes it much harder for you to have a hit. Sure, the floor is nice and stable. But the ceiling is pretty low too. Some developer pals like the idea of launching on a subscription service, building buzz for a traditional launch on other platforms — a Fall Guys or Rocket League sort of approach — but this doesn’t work for everyone. It certainly doesn’t work for Lanning, since Soulstorm is console exclusive to PlayStation and is locked to Epic Games Store on PC through an earlier exclusivity deal.

Lanning could have played this differently, I suppose; rather than an up-front lump sum he could have negotiated a deal based on number of downloads or player engagement, which would have surely worked in Soulstorm’s case. But that’s a Pandora’s Box I don’t think many developers want to see opened — even those who look like they’ve tamed a few hellbeasts in their time.


  • The wonderfully monikered forensicgunk gets in touch about Monday’s Hit Points, which looked at review scores in the age of live-service games. “As a bloke who got a letter published in Edge over two decades ago suggesting they drop review scores (they responded by suggesting silver scratch-off panels) I feel this topic will never get old — unlike me,” he writes. “I’ve now reversed my stance because I’m tired and lazy and constantly harassed by two small versions of myself, so I don’t want to deal with complexity or nuance unless absolutely required. I like a score at the end of a videogame review and once I’ve seen it, I will decide whether I’ll read the rest of the review.” Lovely stuff that hit me quite hard in the chest.
  • “The game industry has evolved, a 70/30 split in a negative way,” says Performance Cost. “Reviews have not. Publishers are literally taking advantage of this by adding in unreviewed and game-unbalancing microtransactions weeks after launch. Keep up day one reviews, but do return to them with a second that is more retrospective.” This is a very good point and I really must do a Hit Points on it one of these days. I seem to recall the practice started with one of the CODs, but not sure.

I am greatly enjoying this Mailbag thing, by the way. I realise the whole ‘let us know in the comments!’ thing is hackneyed old web 2.0 stuff but you don’t need to get into it below the line. If you’d like to get in touch, just hit reply. (And if you don’t want it to be published, just say so. I keep a good secret.)


  • Speculation is swirling that Sony has acquired Kojima Productions after a PlayStation Studios web banner was updated to include a shot of your man from Death Stranding. Gosh, Sony’s bad at this stuff, eh. The most over-informed, and yet utterly incompetent, social team in the business. I thought Kojima would be independent forever after his Konami experience — and he’s tweeted this morning to insist that he still is, and intends to remain so — but this would put into context the studio’s recent expansion. The LA satellite, the Tokyo relocation, and the move into film and TV all make a bit more sense when we see them as Kojima fattening the lamb ahead of a buyout. As for what this means for that cloud-based Xbox thing he’s supposedly been working on? Hmm. I am sure we’ll find out in due course.
  • California governor Gavin Newsom has angrily denied reports that he has meddled with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. “Claims of interference by our office are categorically false,” a spokesperson thundered. Still amazed there are Americans called Gavin.
  • I loved this rather sweet, and understandably softball, interview with Phil Fish to mark the 10th anniversary of landmark puzzle-platformer Fez. I met Phil on my first ever overseas trip for Edge and he was an absolute sweetheart, honestly.
  • The next stop on Niantic’s doomed bid to repeat the bottled-lightning success of Pokemon Go is… an AR virtual pet thing called Peridot. Maybe next time.

That’ll do. I’d like to go back to bed now but it’s a public holiday in the UK today and something tells me the children won’t allow it. Perhaps a quick snooze on the sof- no, okay, apparently that’s not happening either.

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Have an excellent weekend, or else. See you on Tuesday.