On the second business day of the 2023 Tokyo Game Show on September 22, a rather unheard-of event took place at the booth of Japanese game publisher D3PUBLISHER (hereinafter referred to as D3P). The company hosted a corner dedicated to discussing the commercial failure of their 2023 title ED-0: Zombie Uprising. The panel of speakers included top industry members, who shared fascinating (and very frank) insight on what the game did wrong, mentioning everything from the title and mechanics to branding and marketing.
ED-0: Zombie Uprising is a rogue-like action game that was released by D3P in July 2023, after a 15-month early access period. According to Famitsu, at the Tokyo Game Show, the company revealed that the game has sold only a bit over 13000 copies worldwide up until now, and hosted a very open panel discussion about the game’s underperformance. Speakers included Bandai Namco’s game director Katsuhiro Harada, CyberConnect2’s CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama and Famitsu’s Editor-in-Chief Katsuhiko Hayashi. No employees of D3P participated in the discussion, so there was some brutal honesty to be witnessed.
As reported by Famitsu, the discussion was centered around the three typical causes due to which a game may underperform in sales: low quality, poor concept and low recognition/reach. Harada started off his argument by admitting that though he had received a physical copy of the game as a present, he had not gotten around to actually playing it, mentioning that he kind of understood why the game was doing badly “as soon as he took the package into his hands.”
The game emphasizes its difficulty using “be ready to sweat your brain” and similar phrases, which Harada describes as “not D3P-like,” and the panel agrees that D3P are known for games you play when you want to relieve yourself of stress, rather than experience it, so this creates a gap in expectations and reality at the start. They also mention points such as the title of the game being confusing in how its pronounced (“Edo Zero: Zombie Uprising” is correct) and both the title and box art not being impactful enough to convey what the game is about.
Harada comments that the main visuals of the game feel like they may suggest an “invincible”-style play where you cut through opponents one after the other, but that watching actual gameplay reveals it to be much more difficult and not at all like imagined, which is likely another aspect that betrays player expectations.
Aside from these points relating to the concept of the game, Harada stresses above all the game’s insufficient reach and recognition, which he attributes to insufficient and/or misguided marketing. As the marketing manager of projects such as Elden Ring and Armored Core 6, Harada says one must use any means necessary to get the game into people’s hands and have them play it, which ED-0 has barely managed to accomplish, with only 143 user reviews on Steam.
The 15-month early access of the game is judged by Harada as a mistake, as normally, the early access period would be used to gradually create buzz and guide the game toward its target audience, but as D3P did not have a sufficient budget for this type of marketing strategy, they would have benefited much more from a sudden release announcement, creating mystery and impact, as well as relying on coverage from foreign media. Matsuyama comments that although the game was envisioned to target Western audiences predominantly, half of the total sales were domestic, which clearly indicates that the game’s name simply did not manage to get out there.
Matsuyama also mentions technical sides of the game being part of the problem, emphasizing the game’s lacking action elements and leftover errors in keymapping. He particularly comments how the triangle button is assigned to both picking up and throwing objects at the same time, and asks (quite bluntly) how come an error which can be detected in the first 15 minutes of gameplay wasn’t corrected during 15 months of early access. To this, Harada humorously added that the strange keymapping actually piqued his interest in the game, saying “they should have added more of things like that.”
With that said, Harada goes back to emphasizing that before even venturing into the contents of the game, marketing power has a decisive effect on performance. He comments (while showing fear of being misinterpreted) that with the inconceivably large number of new titles being created in more recent times, games are no longer selling based solely on how good/bad their content is, with a plethora of games (many of them badly reviewed) selling entirely thanks to brand/marketing power.
With a few remarks on the game’s mechanics, the poor commercial performance of ED-0: Zombie Uprising seems to have been judged by the panelists as mostly stemming from the gap in expectation and reality created by the game’s indecisive concept, failure to define and bring in the target audience and insufficient marketing strategies. The curious move by D3P to not only reveal their bad sales figures but also host a whole section dedicated to having their failure analyzed in front of an audience is definitely without precedent, and it was able to bring forth interesting insight from some of the industry’s major figures.
ED-0: Zombie Uprising is available for the PC (Steam), PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X❘S.