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More on Aufbaustrategiespiele

It always surprises me which posts here get commented on and linked to, and which ones don't (although I am no longer surprised at the amount of traffic I get from people googling 'everquest porn' or 'wow nude patch').

Greg Costikyan commented on my recent post about the Anno and Settlers franchises. I could write him an email back, but hey, this blog doesn't write itself. So here is some feedback:

Translation. If I could've found a good translation for Aufbaustrategiespiel, I would've used it. Strategiespiel means strategy game of course. The hard part is Aufbau. It means construction or building, but not in the context of building another prefab house, but in the context of a major endeavour. It's more like creating something new from scratch rather than just putting one brick on top of the other. I don't know if I can make it clear: it's not my native language either. But hey, Aufbaustrategiespiel goes well with other ueberwords like Weltanschauung and Zeitgeist.

City-building games. The main difference between Aufbaustrategiespiele and city-building games is the former tend to focus on realms, the latter on cities. That is either lame or it supports my theory that genres (or in this case sub-genres) are generated around, or at least strongly influenced by one or two successful games, Sim City in the case of city-building games, The Settlers for the Aufbaustrategiespiel.

Reasons for selling Sunflowers. Greg writes:

The occasion for the piece is Ubisoft's recent takeover of Sunflowers, a German developer that specializes in the genre (they created the Anno series).

I suspect there's a bigger problem than disparity in market acceptance, though; like conventional RTS game, Aufbaustrategiespieler are inherently PC-only--you need a pointing device to handle the many units involved in real-time, and (save perhaps for the Wii), consoles don't have 'em. Thus, you restrict your market to PC owners--and the recent Anno games, at least, have been multi-million dollar development projects. It's very hard to make back that kind of investment with a PC-only game.

Hence, I suspect, Sunflowers' sale.

For what it's worth: Sunflowers is a publisher, not a developer, and as far as I know they didn't create the Anno series, a small Austrian company called Max Design did.

I suspect that Anno 1701 was a commercial success, but it's true that it's hard for a smaller company (compared to Ubisoft) to really develop the franchise. From what I can tell other games published by Sunflowers were not as successful as Anno. I am a bit skeptical about console ports. Since buying Blue Byte in 2002, Ubisoft has made one non-PC version of The Settlers, and that is a) on the DS and b) not out yet. EA seems to be making a strong effort to get RTS games unto consoles, but based on what I saw of that Lord of the Rings games, they're not quite there yet.

Pacifism. Greg seems skeptical regarding what I wrote about marketing differences between Europe and the U.S. I was at Blue Byte during the development of several Settlers games, and worked on a Nations title (a game resembling The Settlers) at JoWooD, and basically the box art had to be changed at the request of the respective US offices pretty much every time. I could infer something from this, but I don't really feel qualified to do so (despite this being a blog and journalistic standards being low). If I was going to play the pop sociologist, I could idly suggest a link between certain game genres that are popular in the German market, and the Wirtschaftwunder, the economic upturn in West Germany in the 1950s. But I don't really know enough about German history to make this connection with certainty.

More about typically German game genres and their political aspects in a future post.