Despite critical acclaim, Beyond Good and Evil didn't boast a notable marketing budget to accompany its launch into one of the densest release schedules in gaming history. Michel Ancel's beautiful little masterpiece was a commercial failure — an accident of timing and mismanagement that threatened the future of the intellectual property.
2003 was an excellent year for gaming. The pre-holiday season came packed full of bombastic titles such as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Viewtiful Joe, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Without receiving the same torrent of awards and accolades as those classics, some games were able to nonetheless grab the public's attention: Commercials for Mario Kart: Double Dash and Final Fantasy X-2 splashed across our TV screens while Manhunt drove the tabloid press to publish panicked headlines. Amid all the glitz and glamour of the big names, a quiet classic slipped on to the market: Beyond Good and Evil.
Let's find out what mistakes Ubisoft made and how they can avoid them in the future.
In interviews, high-ranking Ubisoft staff were remarkably candid about the reasons for BG&E's failure. In an interview with Gamespot UK, VP of Publishing Jay Cohen said:
We didn’t push it. We didn’t go deep and try and go as far with the marketing campaign. We didn’t put $10 million behind that. And the idea was to see the strength of the game community, and all the editors said they loved it, and the people who went and bought the game went and grabbed it, but it didn’t sell like gangbusters.
Similarly, Managing Director Alain Corre told BBC News:
Last year we didn't do the work on positioning XIII, Beyond Good and Evil and to a certain extent Prince of Persia. The game play was there, the technical excellence was there but perhaps the target audience was not there.
For a number of years, despite Ancel's continued enthusiasm for Beyond Good & Evil, things looked bleak for Jade and her anthropomorphic friends. Ubisoft officially announced Beyond Good and Evil 2 in 2008, only to see it vanish from the limelight again, leading to speculation about a cancellation. Amid this uncertainty, Ubisoft mentioned that the original game would be given a high-definition makeover and released via Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network. When interviewed, producer Wang Xu acknowledged the series' troubled history:
Everyone at Ubisoft knows that Beyond Good & Evil did not get the success it should have had, and, in my opinion, everyone feels a little guilty about that. From the beginning expectations were set very high: this would not be a quick and dirty port to make a quick buck, but instead a polished HD overhaul that would do justice to the greatness of the original, no matter how much time and resources would be needed.
Surely, this would be the opportunity for this overlooked jewel to shine, for Ubisoft to rectify past mistakes, and for BG&E to take its rightful place in gaming history.
Beyond Good and Evil HD launched today on XBLA, as part of Microsoft's House Party promotion. Upon visiting the Ubisoft website, I was surprised to find no mention of the game at all. A web search for the title generated a number of hits from gaming websites, but nothing official. Could it be that Ubisoft had once again missed the opportunity to effectively promote BG&E's launch? More digging revealed the official Facebook page, which last received an update on February 25. To its credit, Ubisoft did make somewhat of an effort by initiating a retweet competition on their Twitter page.
Finally, after filling Google's search bar with every combination of title, publisher, and format I could think of, I stumbled upon the official Beyond Good and Evil HD website. It's excellent! Clearly, the publisher spent a good sum of money on the site design. Now, if only we knew how to find the damn thing!
From what I've seen of Beyond Good and Evil HD, it's a faithful, high-quality port of the original — a labor of love for the Ubisoft Shanghai studio. It would be a crying shame if BG&E failed to meet expectations due to the same simple marketing errors. The fourth largest publisher in the world simply can't afford to make these mistakes again. With luck, sales of the HD revamp will be strong nevertheless. With any luck, Beyond Good and Evil 2 will outlive the recurrent rumors of its cancellation, and Ubisoft will learn the lessons of both releases of the original.
See the original post and more at Generation Minus One, the webcomic of last-gen gaming.