The one place left in the world where adventure games still thrive: Germany
“These days it seems like adventure games are almost a bit of a lost art form. They exist in our dreams and our memories and…in Germany,” joked legendary adventure game designer Tim Schafer in the intro video of the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter video.
It wasn't just a joke though. Even today, long after the adventure game went out of style in most other countries, they're still a healthy market in Germany. Multiple titles have released this year, and more are in development. What's going on in Germany that has allowed the adventure game to live on while much larger markets have faltered?
“Adventure games can be produced with a reasonably small budget, at least if you accept that they will not be able to compete with blockbusters in terms of presentation,” said Klose. “In the past decade, small German companies were able to talk to comparably small German publishers about adventure projects because both sides were able to cope with this kind of project. At the same time, there were enough adventure gamers around in Germany alone to cover the costs.”
It's a situation where four factors came together in unison: adventure games are cheap to make, many of the developers can only handle small projects, many of the publishers can only fund small projects, and there are enough Germans around who are still interested enough to give the genre a shot that they can still make healthy sales.
“When we were pitching 'Ankh' to German publishers back in 2003, we were told, 'Let's face it guys, adventure games are dead',” said Klose. “In 2004, we heard 'Well, maybe adventures aren't dead, but we won't take the risk.' Still, we found a publisher that year and started development in early 2005, and that year it was no problem to pitch a second ambitious adventure game.”
“Until the financial crisis of 2009, it was rather easy for us to find a German publisher for our adventure games,” Klose continued. “This just tells me that it's sometimes not really about whether a genre works or not but about the state of the market, the press, and the gamers.”
But of course, it's not purely about market pressures and the size of german developers. Germans also have a general cultural leaning toward these types of games, and the widespread popularity of PC gaming is helpful as well.
“PC-based games are still pretty strong and popular in Germany; players over here are not so console-focused, and also very open to many games and genres outside of the AAA mainstream,” said Class Wolter, PR director at Daedalic Entertainment, the studio behind recent release Night of the Rabbit. Wolter pointed out that Germany is one of the few countries where simulation games are widely popular. He added that it's also relatively easy to get new players to try new genres because of the way game retail works.
“Germany has a very healthy retail situation, meaning that people still buy boxed games in stores, and are open to finding and trying something new, especially when it’s well presented and comes in a nice box: Retailers allow a lot of shelf-space to PC games – people can browse through huge selections of games, and can find things they might never have found when buying games online,” Wolter continued.
Wolter said that this extends to non-traditional video game sellers like department stores and other retail outlets that he said helps bring in a wider audience than the typical hardcore gamer crowd. German adventure games still have a dedicated audience, however, and that can help shape the way these games are produced, for better or worse.
“The German market is big enough so that you can create a game that feels more 'German' in terms of story, local references and player habits,” said Klose. “However this is a curse as well: you are not forced to produce with a worldwide appeal.”
Unfortunately for adventure game fans, that means that a lot of games don't make it out of Germany. Or if they do, they're not designed to be intuitive to foreigners, a tough hurdle to get over for a game genre that requires intuitive thinking and logic. What might be clear as day to a German player might be completely obfuscated to an American, and vice versa.
The German mind
As for why German players are still willing to give retail adventure games a chance, Klose said that this could have something to do with the German psyche that he suggested might be more mechanical and curious than that of other cultures.
“Maybe it's also because [German] people are often quite inquisitive, take their time to investigate…this fits to adventures (and very complex strategy games which are extremely popular as well,)” Klose said. “Germans love to spend their weekends repairing their car or modding their PC.”
Of course, this isn't to say that those aren't popular hobbies in the United States of any other country, or that people from any other country aren't also inquisitive. However, combined with the realities of the local German games business we start to get a picture of why adventure games have been able to maintain a foothold in Deutschland.