Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one heck of a game. Hailing from the underappreciated artists at Ninja Theory – known primarily for their work on the PS3 launch title Heavenly Sword and the all but forgotten Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – it is a tale of vengeance, redemption, and (it’s right there in the title) sacrifice that is well paced, breathtakingly visualized, and expertly told. I mean, some of the writing here, guys? It’s poetry. Gods honest poetry. Good poetry. That’s a rarity in gaming.
While Hellblade’s general quality is its own argument to be made for immediate purchase (and if you’re into character action/adventure games I’d argue it’s a sufficient one at that) I think there’s a larger point that can and should be made for its place within the economic structure of the industry as an unabashedly pro-consumer offering.
Hellblade is an independent title both developed and published by Ninja Theory itself. This has given them a tremendous amount of latitude in choosing the business model that best represents their game to their audience. It’s to their credit, then, that every decision they’ve made reveals a studio interested in getting their title in the hands of as many players as possible with minimal fuss and zero haggling.
By all accounts, Hellblade was developed on a modest budget comparative to other AAA titles in its weight class. With this in mind, Ninja Theory identified a suggested retail price of $29.99 for their game, a price tag entirely at odds with the industry’s monolithic insistence that a top-tier title be delivered at $59.99 or more. Even at roughly half the price of a standard AAA title from other publishing houses Ninja Theory has reported that Hellblade will break even at 300,000 units sold. That’s a lesson in budgeting that this industry should take note of as my next point is considered.
Hellblade has no micro transactions or announced DLC
It’s being delivered as-is with no intention of milking its audience for so much as a solitary penny after its initial sale. Can a game make enough money to be successful without season passes, microtransactions, and months of drip-fed content slowly draining its audience’s bank accounts? Can a studio really just make a game and move on to their next project in this new age of endless development cycles? Only time will tell but with a target of 300,000 units, it’s pretty damn likely.
Hellblade doesn’t waste your money or your time
By today’s standards, Hellblade is a relatively short game. It’s a compact, self-contained narrative that takes less than ten hours to beat and offers practically nothing in terms of replayability. Most major publishers would likely fear-shit themselves at that prospect because they know it makes their phantasmal $59.99 price tag that much harder to defend. EA or Warner Brothers would demand some tacked-on multiplayer or an endless battle mode or some other bit of unnecessary filler to make consumers feel good about that extra $30 they’re dropping. Instead, Ninja Theory did something that seems almost radical by comparison. They stopped spending money when they were finished and charged what they thought their game was actually worth. So instead of grinding through hours of half-hearted development in order to justify your purchase you can pay your $30, enjoy what’s there, and move on.
Ninja Theory doesn’t think you’re a lazy, feckless criminal
Hellblade released on CD Projekt Red’s Good Old Games service day and date with its release on Steam. That means Hellblade isn’t defended by any sort of DRM and is probably getting passed around several major warez sites as this article is written. Regardless, Ninja Theory seems pretty confident that their game will do just fine without slowing down pirating efforts by a day or two and inconveniencing actual paying customers who just want to pay them for their product.
In brief, Ninja Theory has done everything right when it comes to their first solo publishing effort and I hope the market rewards them for it. If Hellblade looks like your sort of thing then please don’t wait for a sale or grab this one off a CD key exchange. Let publishers know that a good game is always worth the price of admission and the good will of their consumers is what sets that price.
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