2006 Was a Bad Year

Not good

At least for horror gamers, 2006 was pretty much the worst year in a decade. Excepting games with horror themes but no intent to scare (like Dead Rising), only two games classifiable as horror were released. One of them, Siren 2, was restricted to Europe and Japan. The other, Rule of Rose, got awful reviews.

Yes, the year of 2006 was a hard 12 months for us horror gamers. I mean, sure, 2001 was a pretty bad year. That year, the average score for horror games was below 65%. And 1997 wasn’t too hot either: games like

Nightmare Creatures and Enemy Zero were all that was available. But both 1997 and 2001 saw the release of five games, and while none of them were all that great, horror gamers at least had some selection to tide them over. In 2006, we got one game (or two, if you live in Europe), a catalog more paltry than any other year since 1994.

What have we done to deserve this? In 2005, 15 games were released with us horror gamers as the target audience. On top of that, some of those games really good (like Resident Evil 4). How can the well have dried up so fast?

The answer? “Next Gen.” Those two small words spelled doom not only for horror games, but for all kinds of niche genres. Developers were hunkered down with their new development kits, spending millions on the creation of new titles for the Xbox360, PS3, and Wii. It was time for them to spend more than they have ever spent before on development (as next gen development is much more costly than current gen), but also a time for developers to assume much more risk than usual. The launch of any new console, not to mention consoles retailing at exorbitant prices, can be hard for developers, as the installed base does not yet exist and

Relative sales of survival horror games (North America, all platforms)

profit projections are difficult.

Next gen complaints are frequent on this site, so I’ll spare you that particular rant. Suffice to say that in the grand scheme of things, horror games are small potatoes. With the exception of the Resident Evil series, most horror games don’t move enough units to really warrant interest from the publishers. I mean, compared to main stream blockbusters, Resident Evil 4 was a pretty successful game. But the sales of Silent Hill 2, 3, and 4 combined can’t match it. Games like the Fatal Frame series are way behind that. And Rule of Rose? It has sold so badly that it barely even shows up in my graph.

In the context of the video game market as a whole, survival horror is barely a blip on the radar. Horror games are released when niche genres can still do well. That is to say, they are an indicator that risk (and cost) is low. The absolute absence of horror games in 2006 indicates that they are just too risky for publishers to pursue at the moment, especially as the next generation consoles have yet to fall into an obvious ranking. That’s not to say that the genre is dead, just that it’s too small to rate with most publishers. When every release must be a mega-hit to make money, genres like this aren’t even worthy of consideration. But when the market sways back into balance (as it will when the next gen consoles begin to reach a larger and larger audience), we’ll see them return. And the big guns, the Capcoms and Konamis, sell well enough that they can assume the risk presented by next gen.

But we may have to wait a little while until the little guys, the games with new ideas and crazy new game mechanics, are able to return to the market place.

10 thoughts on “2006 Was a Bad Year

  1. http://www.silenthillforum.com
    Resident Evil 4 may have sold a crapload of units, but it was more of an action game than a horror game.

    Rule of Rose sold terribly because it had no publicity and, frankly, it sucked.

    You forgot to note that Silent Hill Origins is coming out this year, as is Sadness. There may yet be hope.

  2. I think Origins will probably never see the light of day. There’s been a bit of rumor that it’s canceled already. As for Sadness, there’s absolutely no information at all–not even a single screenshot. I’ll believe it when I see a release date.

    But anyway, I was mostly complaining about last year, not this year. You have to understand that, at these numbers, most horror games are not profitable. If the worldwide numbers for the Fatal Frame series, for example, are as bad as North America, Tecmo isn’t making any money on that franchise. That’s why it’s very hard for them to continue to pursue it when costs are on the rise.

  3. I think the problem with the survival horror genre isn’t just that it’s a niche genre. It’s that it’s a niche genre AND the games requires high production values to be popular. Feel free to jog my memory, but I can’t think of a single popular survival horror game that didn’t have really nice visuals and audio (at least for the time it was released). It’s frankly extremely difficult for an indie publisher to release an effective horror game these days; they just don’t have the budget.

    And with that said, 2007 looks to be a better year for horror games. It may be 1st person perspective, but there’s no way that Bioshock can be mistaken as anything but a horror game (with action & RPG elements thrown in for good measure). Likewise, Alan Wake looks very promising. And unlike Siren 2 (one of my favorite games of last year), both of those are Western games and have been getting a good deal of press so we don’t have to worry about localization.

  4. It’s true that horror games are usually showcases for great graphics technology, but they are also considerably simpler in other areas (RE4 is the exception here). Silent Hill is a good example: the character can’t move in complicated ways, there are loads in between each room as opposed to streaming, the combat systems are much more simplistic than games like God of War or Devil May Cry, and there’s no need for complex tech like physics or AI. There only needs to be two or three characters on screen at any given time, etc.

    I think that this sort of horror game is actually much cheaper to produce than your average Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto clone. I think they put a lot of emphasis on tech, but the rest of the mechanics are technically simple enough that their total risk is fairly low. Even so, I think such projects are going to be considered too risky for a while yet.

    Alan Wake does look pretty hot, as does BioShock. BioShock is an example of an expensive approach to making a horror game, as it appears to be technically complicated in addition to being really nice looking. I hope it does well.

  5. http://www.silenthillforum.com
    No, Origins is still coming out. The producer of Origins was aksed about the rumoured cancellation and he said it’s still coming out, and that the rumours were entirely false.

    2006 was a bad year for horror in general. I hated every single horror movie last year except for The Descent.

  6. The Descent- that was cool. Afterward
    I rented Dog Soldiers and was impressed again.
    Scotland is now the official horror movie
    capital : )

  7. Well, at least you can still see horror origins in many more of the mainstream genres that you used to. Could be worse everyone, could be worse.

  8. True. Although not a horror game, there were definitely horror aspects to be found in several high profile games last year like Gears of War. Although not a horror game, Dead Rising was an excellent homage to a classic horror movie (Dawn of the Dead). Heck, even Zelda was darker than usual last year.

  9. RE4 may not seem horror to us, but to the general public RE4 is horror. Many og us here are battle harden and use to a lot of weird crap.

    On a side note the gore in RE4 is anatomicly correct. Not a lot of games get this right.

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