Game Settings that don't sell

I have been teaching a lot of students recently and one topic came up again which I think should be common knowledge, but unfortunately it isn't: Which themes or settings in games do not sell? Which settings do sell well?

I am a big fan of "CNN" compatible  settings, in other words all settings people are used to from watching big TV are fine for games usually, but remember that popularity varies from continent to continent. As settings are very broad it is easier to tell developers which do NOT sell. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule...

If you have access to sales data reaching back for years you can verify this easily:

Underwater doesn't sell
It is a common misconception that underwater sells. It usually doesn't with the exception of submarine simulations, and even the simulation genre is pretty dead (Flight sims aside). It is a sexy setting, feels like space sims but with more interesting possibilities. But somehow people do not feel well underwater. It is a surounding not many of us are comfortable or experienced with. If we dive we usually have our eyes closed or the view range is limited. We mostly know underwater from TV documentaries.
Not feeling comfortable is key here to the setting. People simply like their natural habitat more than underwater. So my recommendation is if you plan to place your game underwater: don't.

Wild West doesn't sell
The classic western theme either from hollywood or the european vision of it doesn't work. I don't know exactly why but somehow it seems the wild west is a part of american history the americans tend to forget as it wasn't very civilized during those times. The romantic view we europeans have due to books or movies is very misleading. Hint for germans: Karl May educated a whole generation about the Wild West which doesn't work for americans.
I think the setting is also pretty old. In my younger times Wild West was cool, as were pirate films. Nowadays a younger generation of  kids like the setting but pretty fast loose interest when Bruce Willis, Batman or Spiderman replaces their picture of heroes. 
Pirate settings did fall into the same category but the recent hits of pirate movies did push sales in this setting a bit. But putting the movie license aside a pure pirate settings is a bad idea if not taken into the correct historical setting.

Sci Fi usually doesn't work
Thats a suprise for many but hard core Sci Fi usually doesn't work. Strangely Sci Fi has many facettes where some of them work quite well. If your setting is close to current living but with a touch of future technology it works very well. If you reach far out into the future the likelyhood that your game works is lessened considerably.
Some years ago Fantasy would have been listed here as well, but Lord of the Rings educated a world what classic fantasy is all about followed by the recent hits of books like Harry Potter or Eragon did their job as  well. Even my mom now knows what an Elf is.
With Sci Fi there hasn't been a major hit recently to educate the masses. Star Wars is long time ago and Clone Wars is aimed at a young audience. But even Star Wars is merely a shakespeare story in another setting, so it works. 
This setting is the only one which you can use if you follow some rules that you aren't too far off from human experience. 

Many readers might not agree with Sci Fi being a bad choice but think about it: why does Call of Duty outsell Unreal or Prey?


  1. Hängt aber auch vom Genre ab, würde ich sagen.

    Bei der Echtzeitstrategie laufen die Sci-Fi Sachen doch eigentlich ganz gut, oder?

    Darf man hier überhaupt Deutsch schreiben?^^

  2. Du meinst wohl Starcraft, die berühmte Ausnahme zur Regel?

    SC kam zu einer Zeit raus als Gaming noch Nische war. Daher der "Ruhm" und das Blizzard es sich erlauben kann es auch heute gut zu verkaufen.

    Übrigends war es lustig anzusehen das als C&C und Warcraft um den Thron kämpften in USA Warcraft #1 war, und in Europa C&C ...

  3. Ja, Starcraft, aber ich dachte auch an Total Annihilation oder vor kurzem der geistige Nachfolger dieses Spiels, wobei ich zugeben muss, da keine Verkaufszahlen im Kopf zu haben.

    Kann mir irgendwie aber auch net vorstellen, dass die so schlecht liefen. Aber sicher nicht so gut wie Starcraft.

    Die beiden Spiele gefallen mir übrigens viel besser, als die Blizzard Echtzeitstrategietitel, weil die mir nicht so stressig vorkommen.

  4. Simon Butler11:06


    Do I need to say anything more?

  5. Maybe bundles and flagship product for a console?

    But yep, it´s still a good selling sci-fi game.

  6. Simon Butler15:46

    Actually I do need to say something more...


  7. You're mentioning games which set industry wide standards. Starcraft coulkd have been an underwater pirate RTS and it would have sold.

    If you take the general RTS crowd on average you will see that non fantasy, SF RTS sell better than those if you leave out the top 5% mega hit sellers.

    Both Warcraft and SC came out when standards were being set. Also take note that in the US SF/Fantasy is the 2nd most read literature while in europe it isn't by far (although Lord of the Rings changed that a bit)

  8. Brilliant games with enough marketing will sell, regardless of setting: See Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock, you name it.

    In the case of Scifi and Fantasy, simplified versions always sell: Fantasy wiht Elves and Dwarfs; Scifi with humanoid Aliens as enemies.