Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Games That Never Made It: Spend the Night

Game development, particularly in recent years, is a costly and risky investment. While anyone can build low-end titles with a little time and effort, the type of game that sells enough copies to fund a studio of artists and programmers is an entirely different proposition. For a new studio, this challenge is magnified tenfold. Programmers and artists do need to eat and make house payments during the development of a new game, and that means the studio has to secure investment funding up front, while the game is little more than a concept. If a new studio loses the funding for their flagship title, it could well mean the end of the studio.

Such appears to be the fate of Republik Games, a Hollywood studio that all but shut down in 2006 when investors failed to appear. Their flagship title, Spend the Night, may have doomed itself before it ever had a chance.

At its core, Spend the Night appeared to be a cooperative multi-player dating game. The idea was that in-game avatars would find dates, and then play out those dates with another player controlled avatar. On the downside, this sounds sort of like an RPG without any character development. Alternatively, it could be seen as the logical extension of The Sims, albeit narrower in focus. Was there a market? Republik thought so.

In 2005, Glennis McClellan who left Buena Vista games to join Republik, said the primary audience for Spend the Night numbered about half the world's population. In her own words:
"There's a myth that women aren't interested in erotic content, which is totally untrue. Women are just as interested in sex as men are but there is little in the way of online content for this vast market. We plan to get women involved, put in features they care about, and make our game both entertaining and accessible."

A social game with potentially endless replay value and immense expansion and marketing potential targeted at a demographic that had largely been ignored by the gaming industry to that time... what's not to love? Done correctly, a title such as this could have been as big as, well, as The Sims. They could have been selling expansion that included digital version of real world popular date locations... restaurants, theaters, theme parks, sporting events, gaming trade shows, etc. This title could have been a gold mine.

So what went wrong? Hard to say, exactly. We do know that in 2006, Republik announced they could not secure funding and were halting development. Today, the Republik website still features Spend the Night, but there is little information, no updates, and not much reason to think this title will ever see the light of day.

As I mentioned earlier, I personally suspect that potential investors looked at the coverage portraying this game as little more than a sex simulator, imagined trying to get it past the ESRB with a rating other than Adult, and decided it was not worth the risk. For Spend the Night to succeed, it absolutely had to have a rating no higher than Mature, else stores such as Wal-Mart would never have displayed it and the target demographic would never have seen it. With much of the conversation on Spend the Night portraying it as something more suited to an adult book store than a standard department store, the game was doomed.

This is not an unusual sage. Games die before they are born more often than we think. Spend the Night, or something very similar, may yet make it to the shelves of your friendly neighborhood gaming store, but for now the idea lays forgotten on the trash heap of abandoned games.

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