Remember Me developer struggled with securing a publisher over female protagonist
Remember Me is an upcoming action-adventure game combining stealth, parkour, cyberpunk, and the Inception-like concept of memory alteration. An amazing pitch, one sure to woo plenty publishers—oh, wait, the main character is a lady. Pass. That's essentially what developer Dontnod Entertainment experienced while shopping its game to prospective funders, and in an interview with Penny Arcade, creative director Jean-Maxime Moris says the studio was told more than once that "You can't have a female character in games."
"We had some [companies] that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed,'" Moris recalls. "'You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'"
Dontnod chose to center Remember Me's narrative around Nilin, an amnesiac memory-eraser piecing together her own lost memories among the streets of Neo-Paris in the year 2084. Apart from the inherent coolness of controlling Nilin's agility across the mega-city's rooftops, her role involves recapturing past snippets of her private life, some of which include tender moments with male acquaintances.
That apparently threw up red flags for publishers. "We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin's private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy," Moris explains. "We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game. That's going to feel awkward.'"
Eventually, development reached a point where changing Nilin's character would turn too costly, and publishers began declining any deals. "I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature,'" Moris states. "There's a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it's not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don't know, that's just extremely weird to me."
It seems some publishers believe female-led games won't sell as well. I think there's a proper image response for this stance. Yep, here it is.
In all seriousness, the issue of protagonist gender isn't so cut-and-dried as some publishers would believe. Tomb Raider, a foundational female-hero franchise, saw an excellently received reboot, and reviews praised Lara Croft's younger, more rugged character. Bastion developer Supergiant just announced its next RPG to great reception—Transistor features a female main character.
Luckily, Dontnod found publisher backing with Capcom, and Remember Me is on track for a June 4 release.