The Impact of Retailers on the Decline and Resurgence of Isometric RPGs

Many industry veterans have recently come forward to shed light on how retail companies, such as Best Buy, Walmart, and GameStop, have played a significant role in contributing to the decline of isometric role-playing games (RPGs). Notably, Josh Sawyer, the director behind renowned titles like Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, initiated this discussion by attributing the demise of isometric RPGs to the influence that retailers had on the games industry in the early 2000s. According to Sawyer, retailers would create self-fulfilling prophecies by consistently understocking games in this particular genre, ultimately leading to a lack of sales.

Sawyer highlights an instance where BioWare’s success with Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2 was overshadowed by retailers’ negative prediction for isometric RPGs. Despite the sales success of these games, once BioWare announced Neverwinter Nights, retailers immediately concluded that 2D isometric games were no longer in demand. This decision directly impacted the availability of isometric RPGs, with Temple of Elemental Evil becoming the final release in this genre for a considerable stretch of time.

Furthermore, Sawyer recalls countless encounters where sales representatives would confidently assert that a specific genre, style, or look was dead without any supporting data. This vibes-based forecasting approach often resulted in retailers reducing stocks, which subsequently led to lower sales. Sawyer aptly terms this phenomenon as “truly vibes-based forecasting” and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

David Gaider, former lead writer at BioWare, echoes Sawyer’s sentiments, emphasizing that the issue extends beyond retailers. Gaider brings attention to the prevalence of an “industry wisdom” that permeates development teams. This wisdom declares certain game styles or concepts as dead or outdated without any room for opposing views. It is only when someone else comes along and proves this widely accepted belief to be untrue that the industry’s perspective shifts.

While isometric RPGs may have endured a period of decline due to these nonsensical sales forecasts, the subgenre has experienced a resurgence in recent times. This revival can be attributed, in part, to the overwhelming success of Baldur’s Gate 3 developed by Larian Studios. The team at Larian Studios hopes that the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 will serve as a testament to the demand for unique and unconventional RPGs, thus encouraging other development teams to pursue funding for similar projects.

As the popularity of isometric RPGs continues to grow, it is clear that retailers and industry wisdom no longer hold the power to dictate the success or demise of a genre. The resurgence of these games demonstrates the importance of diversity in the gaming industry, allowing for the exploration of various styles, concepts, and experiences. Isometric RPGs have firmly reestablished their presence, captivating both long-time fans and newcomers alike, and the future looks promising for this beloved genre.

The influence of retailers on the decline of isometric RPGs cannot be overlooked. Retailers’ reliance on sales forecasts based on vague industry wisdom and unsupported claims led to reduced availability and lower sales. However, with the recent resurgence of isometric RPGs and the success of games like Baldur’s Gate 3, it is evident that the genre has proven its enduring appeal. The gaming industry must continue to embrace diversity and encourage the development of unique RPG experiences to cater to the demands of a wide range of players.


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