Tim Schafer: Gamers Worry Too Much About Sales

The developer of “Brutal Legend” told me why the underwhelming performance of his last game, “Psychonauts,” isn’t the crisis some fans think it is.


Two weeks ago in San Francisco, after storied game developer Tim Schafer impressed me with a live demo of his upcoming heavy-metal fantasy/comedy “Brutal Legend,” I cornered him to ask a key question:

Given how well-received Schafer’s last game — “Pyschonauts” — was received and yet how poorly it seems to have sold, what’s to stop “Brutal Legend” from suffering the same fate? And, worse, what kind of ramifications could that have on Schafer and his studio, Double Fine Productions?

“Fans worry too much about sales, to tell you the truth,” Schafer told me. He didn’t sound worried. “As long as you make a cool game, publishers want to talk to you… [They say,] ’We liked ’Psychonauts. and we think we could have sold it better.'”

I don’t have sales figures for “Psychonauts,” but its reputation is that, despite widespread critical acclaim, it did not sell. The game was published by Majesco in the spring of 2005, and was among the wave of under-performing big-budget games that convinced the publisher to revert to making games just for the casual market. By mid-2006, Schafer noted on his company blog that “Psychonauts” had sold 400,000 copies but was going out of print in the U.S. The game has been made available for digital distribution through services like Steam, but the impression lingers that one of the best-reviewed games of the previous console generation was far from one of the best-selling games.

This is the kind of thing that makes some gamers blue. They see a great game not garner great sales, and they become concerned for the future of their hobby and favorite creators.

Schafer maintains: fans shouldn’t worry about that.

The happy twist for him, he explained to me, is that “Brutal Legend” is a more commercial game than “Psychonauts.” He maintains that this is for creative reasons rather than due to market pressures. He explained that he and his team like to make each game they create to be radically different from their previous one. That led them from a game about a kid in a summer camp who adventures through the psyches of other people to “Brutal Legend,” which, in Schafer’s words, “is a game that naturally has more commercial hooks, like hot babes and Jack Black.”

Have confidence in the hot babes, then, gamers. And don’t sweat the sales.

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