On Wednesday, Deep Silver put up a new Mighty No. 9 trailer on their youtube channel, and it made me realize something. Deep Silver is a terrible video game publisher. A lot of people take shots at EA, Ubisoft, Activision, WB and others for playing it too safe, gross DLC and micro-transactions, annual franchises, and other completely reasonable complaints. However, there is no doubt that those companies make a lot of great games and (usually) know how to sell them. Deep Silver, on the other hand, has a shaky history of putting out quality games, terrible marketing strategies, and seem unaware of how to build a franchise. They are fairly new to the AAA publishing stage, with Dead Island in 2011 really being their first game of any significance, so maybe these are just growing pains. However, they constantly give off the impression that they don’t understand how this industry works.
If there is one thing I appreciate about Deep Silver, it’s their want to be a huge video game publisher. After Dead Isalnd came out, they bought the Saints Row IP and developer Volition from the THQ fire sale as well as the publishing rights to Metro: Last Light. And then when Crytek was in trouble, they bought the Homefront IP and opened Dambuster Studios out of the ashes of Free Radical. They also sought out publishing deals with both Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained, two Japanese kickstarter darlings by storied designers. That’s a decent and somewhat diverse lineup of properties, including two wholly owned studios that have a lot of talent. There is definitely potential, but I don’t trust that they will capitalize on it.
We’ll start with the game of the week, Mega Man creator Keiji Infaune’s Mighty No. 9. This game has been in trouble for a long time. A terrible art style, lots of delays, and gameplay that seems flawed in concept have been a part of the narrative for over a year, and most of that blame can be directed towards Inafune and his team. However, this trailer is 100% on Deep Silver. And we know that because the president of Inti Creates, the studio developing the game alongside Inafune’s studio Comcept, tweeted that the trailer was crappy and referred to it as “Unforgivable”. He censored the name of the people he held responsible, but it’s not too hard to decipher what “D*** *il***” stands for. So what makes the trailer so bad? It has a narration over top of it that is as out of touch with its audience as it could possibly be. The audience for this game would not be receptive to bad internet humor, but this trailer isn’t even that. This trailer is what somebody who has a moderate amount of knowledge about bad internet humor would make if they were told to make a trailer based on bad internet humor. As an example, the marketing for Battleborn was completely off-putting to me, but I could see it appealing to someone. I think that somebody who genuinely loved this trailer would get nothing from that Mighty No. 9 trailer. The perfect encapsulation of not knowing the audience is a joke that makes fun of anime fans. I’m not saying that anime fans are some endangered group that needs to be defended, but the audience for this game, that paid 3 million dollars for this game to be made, is probably made up of a fair amount of anime fans. In fact, there is actually an anime based on the game in production. Why would you directly antagonize them in a lame attempt to make your game look “cool”? I don’t think it’s particularly “mean”; it’s just bad marketing. The marketing of this game should be trying to position itself as the natural successor to Mega Man. That’s why the game got funded, and a good trailer could have undone a lot of the bad will the game has received. And all of this makes me worried for Bloodstained. Does Deep Silver know what they have on their hands there? Do they realize that people are excited for Bloodstained because Koji Igarashi made a lot of great Castlevania games in the same style? I think for a video game publisher that should be obvious, but I have my doubts now.
But this isn’t the only piece of bad news for Deep Silver recently. Homefront: The Revolution came out last week, and according to reviewers it’s not good. The current review average is a 49 on Opencritic. That’s bad. Gameranx gave it an 8/10 and every other outlet gave it a 6.5/10, 3.1/5, or lower. With a game’s press that often gets criticized for being to lenient on AAA games, it is rare to see a big title get almost universally negative reviews. Yet here we are. This isn’t a situation where I feel comfortable putting all of the blame on Deep Silver. This game had been through development hell and back, and it had to overcome the negative taste that the first game left in people’s mouths. It did have an alright showing at Gamescom last year with a trailer and demo that both looked promising, but that being said, the writing has been on the wall for this game for a while now, and it might have been a better idea to cancel it and let this studio of talented developers move on to something else. Now the studio’s name is tainted, and the Homefront IP is damaged beyond repair.
Dead Island is the only huge success in Deep Silver’s history. And even then, “huge success” might be overselling it. The game benefited from an immense amount of pre-release hype, and it was a decent game despite not being mind blowing. And when you take into consideration great sales, it would make sense that Deep Silver would want to make it a franchise. But they did so without any tact or quality control. In the 5 years since the game launched, Deep Silver has announced a sequel, an adventure game, a MOBA, another sequel, and a remaster. Dead Island Riptide came out only two years after the original game and was heavily criticized for basically being the first game but worse. The adventure game, Escape Dead Island, was apparently terrible (I never played it), scoring a horrendous 32 on Metacritic. The MOBA, just like seemingly every new MOBA, was cancelled last year. The remaster comes out Tuesday, and I doubt many people will care. And that’s a crash course in how to ruin your IP. Put out a ton of products really fast that range from mediocre to terrible. It’s a telling sign when the original developer Techland abandoned the franchise due to creative differences and put out Dying Light which is more ambitious, better, and sold more than any Dead Island game. If that game came out last year and was called Dead Island 2, then the series would have been redeemed and would have a bright future. Instead, Deep Silver announced Dead Island 2 at E3 2014 with a Spring 2015 release window, and the game doesn’t appear to be coming out any time soon. The reason for this would probably be because new developer Yager also left the project due to creative differences late last year. The game, which already had some questionable design decisions, is now being developed by Sumo Digital, a great studio known for their kart racers. I’m sure it will turn out fine.
There is one piece of hope left in Deep Silver’s lineup, and that hope is Saints Row and Volition. Volition is a great studio that turned Saints Row into a great franchise. After purchasing both from THQ in 2013, Deep Silver and Volition somehow managed to get Saints Row IV out in pretty good shape later that year. Since then, the franchise has only seen Gat Outta Hell, a mediocre expansion made by High Voltage. Gat Outta Hell could indicate that they are going to do with Saints Row what they did with Dead Island, but the fact that it has been three years since the last proper sequel and we still don’t know about Saints Row 5 makes me hopeful that they are giving Volition the time to develop something special. There are hints that we will see the game at E3 this year, so it might not be long until we find out how Deep Silver handles their one franchise whose name has not been tarnished.
I want to end this by reinforcing that there is hope for Deep Silver. I think that if they play their cards right, they could make the same sort of ascension that Warner Bros. made last generation. However, nothing they have done so far implies that they know how to succeed in this industry, and the recent double play of Homefront and the Mighty No. 9 trailer doesn’t help that perception. I don’t know if this industry can sustain a new AAA publisher, and I don’t know if Deep Silver can be one, but they do have the talent, the IPs, and seemingly the drive to make it happen. As somebody who wants there to be more great video games, I really hope they succeed. I just can’t help but be pessimistic given their output up to this point.
Note: This piece was lightly edited in September 2018 as part of a site overhaul.