It is, quite probably, the single most depressing piece of news that we have ever reported in the history of Adventure Gamers. Sam & Max: Freelance Police, the hotly-anticipated sequel to one of the greatest adventure games ever created, was officially cancelled by LucasArts this morning. The official word? "After careful evaluation of current market place realities and underlying economic considerations, we've decided that this was not the appropriate time to launch a graphic adventure on the PC."
The sad reality? LucasArts is a company without a direction or a strong leader right now. Former company president Simon Jeffrey left last year, and his position has yet to be filled. This leaves important decisions, like the fate of what most agreed was the most promising and best-looking LucasArts game in development regardless of genre, in the hands of empty-headed suits who communicate with numbers only, with no finger on the pulse of the gaming public.
We have come to be used to tragedy as fans of this genre. We can only dream of what Warcraft Adventures or Secret of Vulcan Fury (to say nothing of Leisure Suit Larry: Lust in Space or Space Quest 7) could have been like. But this cancellation is not only heartbreaking, it is baffling. It's even ludicrous. Every single mainstream gaming publication knew, and cared, about Sam & Max: Freelance Police. PC Gamer US, the most infamously anti-adventure gaming magazine, had named the game one of the Top 10 Games of 2004. And yet someone at LucasArts decided that the sales numbers would be so poor, that it was worth eating all the costs up to this point.
This, despite the fact that Grim Fandango, which carried far less natural mainstream appeal than Sam & Max 2, made a profit and had very healthy long-term sales. I can only imagine what gaming fans outside of our community think of something like this. How can such a high-profile game somehow get tagged as a poor seller?
The answer comes from men locked in a very small room with no idea what's really going on in the real world. Men who get one thing in their head: "Adventures don't sell." Despite the fact that there are multiple profitable adventures from recent years, some that were substantially profitable, and despite the near-guarantee that Sam & Max 2 was going to far outsell any recent adventure, it is somehow "not the appropriate time" for adventures. And without any actual gaming fan in a position of authority to override them, the suits are the final word. It's a sad state of affairs for a once-great company that's responsible for at least five of the ten greatest adventures ever created...a company that has made poor decision after poor decision recently (for more, read Jake Rodkin's editorial at MixnMojo.com), and a company now gasping for the coming air of Star Wars: Episode Three.
I would never be so bold as to tell everyone to act exactly like me. But I want to tell you how I, personally, am going to react to this news.
1. I am going to let LucasArts, and others, know how I feel.
There are plenty of people at LucasArts to e-mail. Randy Breen, VP of development. Mary Bihr, VP of global publishing. And definitely Michael Nelson, acting president and author of the above quote. [Editor's Note: we've been asked by LucasArts to remove the links to their e-mail addresses. We imagine they're getting completely and utterly overrun by angry letters. Please send your letters to email@example.com. We've been promised by LucasArts' PR rep Ronda Scott that all responses will be gathered for the senior staff. Your letters have not gone unnoticed.]
I will also send letters to PC Gamer, GameSpy, Computer Games Magazine, and anyone else who will listen, to let them know that their audience, Joe Gamer, is not pleased with this decision. The more attention that is called to this in the mainstream gaming press, the more likely that LucasArts realizes their mistake.
I will certainly make sure that when I e-mail everyone at LucasArts, that I inform them of point #2:
2. I will not buy another LucasArts product until the company is cleaned up.
Today the term "mismanaged" has been redefined. I'm not sitting here looking at numbers and saying "C'mon guys, I know it doesn't look good, but give it a shot!" I'm looking at numbers and saying "Exactly what numbers do you idiots want?"
There are numbers I haven't seen, though. I don't know how much money LucasArts lost pushing two very poor games, RTX Red Rock and Wrath Unleashed, out the door guaranteed to be DOA on store shelves. I don't know how poor the sales of Armed & Dangerous were when it was rushed out to get buried in the Christmas rush.
I do know one number, though: zero. That's how much energy the sales department believes it will take to sell the inevitable forty-seven Episode Three tie-ins. And any way you slice it, zero is less than the fact an actual marketing budget would have been required for Sam & Max: Freelance Police. What a wonderful world.
I'm not really a Star Wars junkie...just a casual fan. I didn't buy any of the Episode Two tie-ins. But I absolutely will not consider giving a dime of my money to anything LEC puts out until there are clear indications of change within the company.
3. I'm going to go buy adventure games.
I've been stalling a bit in purchasing new games recently. I bought WarioWare and a few Game Boy Advance RPG's, but I haven't really spent anything on adventures in a while. It is now more clear than ever that sales figures are the only language that the decision-makers speak...and I quite honestly feel like I didn't do my part. I certainly think that the sales of The Longest Journey and Syberia and the fact that critics were already embracing S&M2 should have been convincing "economic realities"...but apparently not quite convincing enough. It may be too late for Sam and Max, but I am driving to Best Buy after work tonight and buying Conspiracies and maybe Mysterious Journey 2. I'm not going to go broke doing so, and I believe in adventures enough that I'm willing to take a chance on some games that I may not love if it means I've done my part. I will also place a preorder for Syberia II if I can.
And I understand now more than ever how important the success of Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude will be. Unquestionably I will buy it at full price the moment it's available, and I'll encourage everyone to do the same. Even if the game isn't great...even if the game isn't much of a pure adventure...it is the game that every major publisher is going to look at to evaluate whether or not there's any life in adventures, fair or not. If it tanks, it is a permanent and final death sentence for any hope of Gabriel Knight 4, another Space Quest adventure, another Indiana Jones adventure, or a Day of the Tentacle 2. If it thrives, and the "economic realities" look good, maybe the door opens for another Star Trek adventure or another Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes game. Those games are certainly not likely, but at least there's a chance; there's hope, where there is none if LSL:MCL is doomed a failure.
It sucks beyond all measure, and it's a sad commentary on the state of things. And by no means am I advocating this position as this site's editor. I am simply telling you that personally, if I have to buy a mediocre adventure to keep the possibility of great adventures alive, I may buy two copies.
4. I will not be defeated.
Once the e-mails are sent and the period of weeping and teeth-gnashing is complete, LucasArts is officially irrelevant to me, and I won't give them the satisfaction of a moment's thought until there's actually some positive news. I won't waste a breath calling them names, publicly stating how they've ruined my life, or threatening to lob rabbit-shaped firebombs at their offices.
There's reason to hope for our genre. There's still more promising adventure games than we can fit on our Hype-O-Meter. Sure, we've now lost the game that held the top spot, but we have Dreamfall, Project Jane-J, and Lost Paradise to get excited about now. The genre is still breathing, and some ignorant suits who can barely spell "hand-eye coordination" won't be the ones who kill it.
Independent releases are getting stronger and stronger. Underground games are getting better and more worth playing every single year. Adventure game websites are more popular than ever. The community is alive and growing. Rather than convince myself that we really are the red-headed stepchildren of the gaming world, I will quite happily await my copy of Syberia II and hope that somehow, some way, we can make a difference, and LucasArts can somehow be a great company again.
Let us mourn the loss of what was almost certainly going to be a wonderful game. And then let us move on, committed to reacting positively, committed to doing our part to make the adventure community stronger than ever.