Tale of Tales has been making challenging, artistic indie games for over a decade, but their latest release, Sunset, will likely be their last.
This isn’t your typical studio dissolution, where creative differences or high aspirations mean it’s time to take a break. It’s much sadder than that—in a recent blog post, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn made it clear that the reason for the ending is financial: “There’s barely enough income to keep our company going while we look for ways to raise the funds to pay back our debts.”
While many indie games can find success in niche markets, particularly through conventional mechanics, that never seemed to be Tale of Tales’ goal. Their games are challenging in a variety of ways, but the most important is that being fun is rarely the goal—they make you think, connect, and interpret, but rarely do they aim to entertain.
If indie gaming is a niche market, indie gaming that isn’t traditionally fun is an even smaller niche. But Tale of Tales is an important studio regardless, and their impact on the industry will be felt for years to come.
Tale of Tales’ aim as a studio wasn’t achieving AAA levels of success. Many of their games were short, slow, and heavy, lacking traditional mechanics and instead focusing on the potential for interactive storytelling. Games like The Graveyard, The Endless Forest, and The Path don’t follow the structures and staples of game design like levels, combat, or puzzles. Instead, they encourage exploration and reflection without the window dressing of traditional entertainment.
Needless to say, Tale of Tales didn’t achieve wide financial success; that was never their goal. The goal was in pushing the boundaries of what a game is, in challenging people—developers and players alike—to think beyond traditions. And in that, Tale of Tales succeeded.
While games like The Graveyard and The Path may not have achieved widespread success, they still had an impact on the industry. These games directly influenced other indie projects like Journey and The Stanley Parable, and even heavy hitters like Uncharted. Uncharted is often praised for its story and characters, it’s still very much a traditional game, but the influence of Tale of Tales’ work can be felt in the scene when Drake arrives in the Tibetan village. It’s slow and requires no combat or interaction—it’s a time for reflection, not action.
That contribution, while it may not have been widely popular, is still important. And that’s what stings most about the loss of Tale of Tales. Although their market might have been niche, the direct challenge to tradition and gaming staples they presented was a fresh and unique voice in an industry where nostalgia and familiarity often drive progress.
So what went wrong? Unfortunately, the call for art games like Tale of Tales’ is small. They knew that from the beginning, frequently using grants and funding from organizations like the Flanders Audiovisual Fund and Creative Capital. Organizations like these directly fund people in creative fields to help them realize their visions, especially when, like Tale of Tales, the projects they’re creating are unlikely to end in financial success.
In Belgium, where Tale of Tales originated, arts funding isn’t as readily available as it once was, particularly for interactive art like theirs. As more funding for games appeared, the criteria changed and the percentage of a project funds would cover actually shrank. Sunset was an effort to appeal to a wider audience with more traditional mechanics to keep the studio going and allow them to keep making challenging games. Unfortunately, despite a successful Kickstarter campaign, their attempt failed. Sunset didn’t sell as many copies as the studio needed, and the lack of profit made the studio’s future look very unsustainable.
Some would argue that Tale of Tales made a choice—to make games that don’t appeal to mass market audiences—and that they’re simply paying the price for it. Art is often funded by grants and funds like those that were keeping Tale of Tales afloat, as it can take time and a good deal of luck for artists to find success. Without these funds, artists frequently can’t work. And when artists can’t work, we lose art.
Tale of Tales may not have been everyone’s favorite game studio, but they never set out to be. That we’ve lost their vision and voices to a lack of money is sad—not just for fans of their games, but for the gaming industry at large. We need these challenging, diverse voices to keep the industry growing and thriving. For that, we need grants and funding, but not all organizations are willing to fund something as new and frequently misunderstood as games.
As Tale of Tales shuts its doors, all we can hope is that Harvey and Samyn’s future work finds new support; that it’s as strange and wonderful as what they’ve already given us; and that this loss will herald a change in the way we treat challenging art, video games, and arts funding in the future.
Source: Tale of Tales Blog