Blur was 'confusing' for consumers, says design lead

Develop 2011: Former Bizarre developer Gareth Wilson, now at Sumo Digital, shares what he learned from the racer's commercial failure.

110 Comments

Who was there: Gareth Wilson was the design lead on Bizarre Creations' arcade racer Blur. The game earned unanimous praise in prerelease focus testing, scored well with reviewers, and had a large marketing spend, but it failed to sell enough copies to break even. Publisher Activision shut the studio down earlier this year, and Wilson has now moved on to work at Sumo Digital.

Wilson explains why Blur didn't sell.
Wilson explains why Blur didn't sell.

What they said: As the developer of Metropolis Street Racer and Project Gotham Racing, Bizarre Creations had extensive experience in the racing genre. It had also created launch titles for Sega and Microsoft consoles. However, when it was bought by megapublisher Activision, it released two commercial flops in the form of Blur and James Bond 007: Blood Stone, and the studio was closed shortly after.

Gareth Wilson, who was a designer on Blur, studied economics and business and used his learnings to reflect not just on the failure of Blur, but on game sales in general. New intellectual properties are having a tough time in the market, with Wilson citing Bulletstorm, Singularity, Alan Wake, Enslaved, and Vanquish as recent examples of good games that have struggled to gain traction at retail.

Wilson's first piece of advice to game makers was to reduce the competition. New intellectual properties could find audiences more easily by being a launch title for the Wii U or a release on smaller, cheaper platforms (mobile), or by going out via new distribution methods (OnLive). Wilson cited MotorStorm as a good example; the PlayStation 3 launch title gained immediate sales thanks to a limited number of options at launch, and the resulting profile helped it sell more copies over a prolonged time--much more than either of its two sequels, Wilson said.

His next recommendation was to think about an economic principle that he called "Consumer Theory 101," or reducing people's fear. Customers exist in three states--comfort, stretch, and panic--and during the purchase process, they make split-second decisions that push them between the three.

Wilson used three examples to illustrate his point. Cornflakes are a familiar, comfortable experience for most people. Chocolate cornflakes would be unique and would possibly stretch them into new ground. However, bacon cornflakes would be completely unique and would push consumers into an unfamiliar place that could yield panic.

The sweet spot for game makers is in the chocolate cornflakes area--where consumers are still in familiar territory, but where there are fewer competitors. Two examples he used were Batman: Arkham Asylum and Zumba Fitness. The former game would be considered niche, with the latter being mass-market, but both take familiar concepts and recognised brands and do something new with them.

A more personal example for Wilson was Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing With Banjo-Kazooie, developed by his new employer, Sumo Digital. It was released earlier this year but was a lot more successful than Blur. Wilson said this was because it was familiar (kart racing), combined many different licenses (Sonic, Banjo-Kazooie), and had mass appeal (Sega characters resonate with core gamers and children alike). Blur, meanwhile, was an arcade racer with realistic cars, neon power-ups, and sci-fi weapons: a "confusing" prospect for potential buyers, he admitted.

Game developers who want to experiment should do so on lower-budget platforms, he advised. He explained how Limbo would never have gotten investment as a boxed product, but was the third biggest game on Xbox Live Arcade last year and made over £7 million ($11.3 million), coming from a team of around eight people. In other words, it was an immensely profitable game--and it hasn't even been released on the PlayStation 3 and PC yet. "If Playdead wants to make a triple-A game now, Microsoft will say, 'Sure!'" he claimed. He also praised Valve's approach to bundling the original Portal with familiar titles such as Half-Life 2. "If they did [Portal] as a $40 game, [consumers would] have been like, 'What is this?’"

Wilson said developers should aim to distill a game into a single statement and make sure all its design principles adhere to this statement. For Project Gotham Racing 3, the concept was "Being Cool in Cars." From that, the elevator pitch evolved into "Deliver the drama, exhilaration, and sex appeal of the world's most stylish vehicles and locations on the world's most powerful console." Following that were design pillars, such as "Life begins at 150mph." "If it doesn't fit in your pillars, you're damaging your game," he opined, claiming that PGR3 was the most tightly focused game Bizarre ever made.

Wilson's final option for developers was to build a reputation for excellence. Rockstar, Valve, and Crytek have all done this, and Wilson believes that games such as Red Dead Redemption, Left 4 Dead, and Crysis all managed to thrive in busy genres off the back of their developers' reputations. However, it takes money to do this and is a risky proposition, as developers are often considered only as good as their last game.

Quotes: "We're competing with everything. We're competing with having sex with your girlfriend. [Your game] has got to be better than going to the pub for two nights."--Wilson on the true extent of competition in the marketplace.

"If I released a sim racing game and an arcade racing game, the sim would score higher because that's what reviewers like."--Wilson, bemoaning the reviews process.

Takeaway: Making games is tougher than ever. "To be triple-A, you need to be [scoring] 9 out of 10," Wilson argued. He was clearly burned by his experience on Blur, unable to see why his game sold so poorly following such a positive reaction and a big marketing spend. However, on reflection, and by using economic principles to understand the market, he can now understand why other games thrived while his faltered.

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cowie007

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I must say. Blur is a great game lots of people still play it,even though some say it maybe confusing but it's not.

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EvilTyger

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It was... a racing game. I mean really, how many people play racing games? I really haven't since 4 player Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road. (I'll play them, but it's back to Halo and WoW after beating it.) Too much competition, not enough customers to support a bunch of new franchises. (Maybe a new Demolition Derby, but it's got at least a little name behind it.)

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Dmg051793

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Blur was a fantastic game. I don't think people were idiots in the terms that Blur was confusing. But people were idiots since they weren't willing to go out of their comfort zone from only First Person Shooters and maybe Need for Speed.

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jasonzilla11

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I didn't like Blur. I only rented it, and then returned it after a couple of hours of boring and difficult gameplay.

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wwlettsome

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I'm not sure that bacon cornflakes would make me "panic"...nauseated would probably be the better adjective. He makes some good points but I'm not sure success is ever defined by a few bullet points on a presentation.

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x-2tha-z

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I bought Singularity, Alan Wake, Vanquish and Enslaved. I guess I'm a bacon cornflakes kind of guy.

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vicsrealms

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Hmm, maybe that says something about Activision. After all they made great games for MS and Sega. Why all of the sudden when they are making games for Activsion that those they create flop? After all Activision has completely destroyed anything that was ever good about the Call of Duty series.

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godziothc

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The bottom line is that if you make a very good game, no matter the advertising, people are gonna talk, Mr X will want to play it because his friend Mr Y thinks it's awesome etc. True, sequels of good games sell better right off the bat...but isn't it like that everywhere and with everything? I mean when i pass McDonalds i see at least 50-100 ppl in there as opposed to my local burger shop which is lucky when 5 ppl are there at the same time It's about the promise really. I liked the first one so the second one should be good. And how many people knew Mass Effect when it was first released and how many know it now? Or L.A. Noire for that matter. You think they sold so many games solely by marketing? Sure you can think all you want how to market mediocre games, but I'd imagine you'd be better off with coming up with better ideas for a game itself. They're gonna sell, trust me. Not saying Blur was particularily bad but with so many racing games coming out every year (sometimes it feels like every month) you can't really get a decent audience of ppl that buy every racing game out there especially that many of them don't live up to expectations (TDU2 f.ex.) so ppl rather stick with their favorite, it's like making another football franchise.

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itchyflop

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Rarely does a game with this vision and standard come to the gaming community. Blur was outstanding in every way and like slonekb05 said, with mario kart being the only other game of such high quality and vision. i really wanted a sequel. Still playing multiplayer today!!!!

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DJCartmell

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A novel if not true way of putting his point across lol!

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cdchi1

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Thought Blur was awesome!

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slonekb05

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confusing ? it just wasn't that good. a re-done mario kart...where you get all these original idea's ? .......

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tachsniper

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It was Mario kart for big kids, what was so confusing?

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agpickle

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I loved Blur. Worth every penny.

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HaloPimp978

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I really liked Blur. Too bad it never got the attention it deserved.

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SoNin360

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That's unfortunate... I thought it Blur was a surprisingly good game. I'm a sucker for the Mario Kart series, and Blur was similar to that so that's why I played Blur. Don't see how Blur could have been confusing in any way. Just a shame it flopped financially.

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kazumashadow

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I didn't buy blur, but i rented it and it was a really good game. Today, a game made by a new developer has to be excellent and have a relativelly big marketing budget to make sucess, that is kinda bad because there are a lotta games that doesn't get the apreciation it deserves.

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Accuracy158

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And he is trying to say Blur was like the bacon cornflakes?... because you know we have never played a racing game with weapon power-ups. Oh well guess it was a little too unique for Activision... after all it didn't five plus degrading squeals yet.

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juberline

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it's possibly the most underated game of the past couple of years.

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Sniper_Wolf_08

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@downloadthefile I love the fact that you just used one of my favorite quotes from a movie.

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Ronnie_Rim

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Perhaps BioWare would be on Wilson's list of excellent developers had EA not been their publisher. Dragon Age 2 is something that consumer's won't forget for a very long time. They have to get DA3 perfect if they want people to come back and play it.

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parrot_of_adun

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NO! Don't listen to him! I want bacon cornflakes... ...metaphorically speaking... You know what I mean. Experimentation is good. I don't want safe games.

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S_Pac_316

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I thought it was a good game. How could it have been confusing? It was a modern racer with power-ups.

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bigcrusha

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A large majority of Core gamers are too busy playing games like Black Ops and in result forget that other games exist. My reason for not buying Blur was because after I rented it, I found it to be a good game but not a great or even amazing game, nothing in paticular stood out about it to make me run to the store and dish out $59.99 for it. In comparison to when I rented Assasin's Creed 2, now THAT game blew my mind...

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tomtidona

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@downloadthefile , first of all the guy is liveing and breatheing this kind of business so to think that he is rambling or whatever you said there is not cool and even inappropriate , secondly this guy make some good points about where to aim when you make a game,BTW it can be right for every product, and maby you right and the explanation he gave for blur wasnt exactly correct but again this is not a reason to be rude.

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shimya

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Another reason to hate Activision. They took a developer with an amazing track record literally and just ran them straight into a concrete wall. R.I.P. Bizarre Creations you created amazing games. Now Bungie is up next. I still dont get the 10 year deal with this blood sucking useless publisher.

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DAMSOG

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The fans were expecting an updated PGR and we got Blur instead, you had the formula but strayed from the path....maybe due to the guidance of Activision but I guess we will never know.....now where's my bacon cornflakes?

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ahpuck

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The way I see it, Bulletstorm, Singularity, Alan Wake, Enslaved, and Vanquish are all fine games, but not worth $59.99+ tax. I bought 4 of those games after the price drop.

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DAMSOG

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[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

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TheLemonGelati

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kvan33 Sadly enough it's true, especially for a lot of my close friends. Occasionally I'll tell them about a game--enslaved,castlevania--and they'll say to me "Hm, looks like it only got an 8". An 8 or even 7.5 is a good score, but there are so many 9.5-10 games out there, no one wants to give the time of day to anything below.. I'm afraid of whats going to happend to new IP's--aside from those made by: Valve, Blizzard, Rockstar, Gearbox and the other companies that are well off and have huge fan followings.

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AuronAXE

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Too confusing? No no, there was just no interest. It was just another racing game.

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littleboomer

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Blur was better than Split/Second and Mod Nation Racers but hardly anyone plays it. i think more played the demo than the actual game.

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Shadow4020

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I played the heck out of the Blur demo, but I just didn't have the money to buy it at the time.

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downloadthefile

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How about the fact that Split Second was released a week before your game, buddy? How about that a week before your game, one of the biggest games ever came out (Red Dead)? Mr. Wilson, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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kvan33

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While Bulletstorm, Singularity, Alan Wake, Enslaved, and Vanquish may have all be quality games. They were lacking that special something that pushed them into the AAA realm. I completely agree with the statement at the end of the article that for a new IP to get attention, it really needs to be a 9/10. There's just too many games out there, and people don't want to waste time with mediocrity.

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Cobra5

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Its sad that this is what the games industry has become. There's no passion left- its business, numbers, and economics now. The indie sector is doing really well at least, but I'm not for physics-puzzle games so its a little confined for me...

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SadPSPAddict

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The real problem for Blur was that it released within a week of Split/Second and Mod Nation Racers ( and a week later at that ) and never recovered from the poor start that forced on it!! Chocolate cornflakes ftw!!

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Marasca2

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@MERGATROYDER And awesome real life cars. In my opinion, Blur was one of the best racing games for PC i have ever played.

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Generic_Dude

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What's confusing to me is that they don't understand why Blur didn't sell. Here's two reasons: Gran Turismo and Forza. Still want more? Need for Speed. You're making a game in a genre that's not only saturated, but it's saturated with better games. To say that Blur was 'confusing' is not only condescending, but it's wrong. PS: Arkham Asylum is a niche game? Zumba Fitness is a mass market game? Do I misunderstand the universe or does the author misunderstand the difference between 'former' and 'latter'?

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MERGATROYDER

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Confusing? I thought Blur was pretty forward. Mario Kart with great visuals and Burnout like features. Am I wrong?

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stevelabny

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"confusing to consumers? What an idiot. What everyone seems to be forgetting is that Blur came out one week after Split-Second and the same day as Mod Nation Racers. Split-Second had the 1 week advantage and flashier gimmick, ModNation had the create-a-track (and kart and racer) feature. I bought ModNation. I doubt anyone bought all 3. Oh, and that was also one week after RDR came out. Blur was a bad idea in the first place. Most players who want real cars want realism in the game, not weapons. Most people who want weapons are already playing Mario Kart or bought ModNation for the customization. This article shows the stupidity of devs and suits in a nutshell and I hope it haunts him for a while.

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shadowkiller11

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He didn't seem to use Heavy Rain, Infamous, Amnesia, Demon Souls, Kane and Lynch (which even got mixed reception) and more which gained positive sales, I understand what his saying but I don't like how he is saying to the industry that to be successful you got to milk your franchises and that original fall flat unless it's tied into a license. He should be combating the industry that these are the problems and not too sacrifice new IPs to more unambitious methods such as Arcade/PSN titles/apps etc. Also Blur was released at a poor time and my general opinion of it was it just felt unambitious even if fun.

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BravoOneActual

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Mmmmmmm... bacon cornflakes...

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petey3

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Its sad because blur was a very good game. I actually played last weekend and there were no more then 100 people online

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JackFlakk

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I wasn't confused by or scared of Blur. I just didn't want to play Mario Kart with Ferraris. I probably wouldn't be interested in trying to score Kudos in a go-kart, either. ... Actually, that sounds pretty cool. Gareth, you made the wrong game!

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LondonGamer986

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never played Blur, but to this day PGR remains my favourite racing franchise. So sad what happened to Bizarre.

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TWO1FIVE

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I still play Blur to this day on 360, it is a fun game that should have sold better plus I always loved PGR sad to see what happened to Bizarre. It has lasted longer in my collection than NFS Hot Pursuit and Split Second which I really liked. This and Motorstorm Apocalypse are two commercial racing flops that I really like.

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Evenios

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i thought blur was actually pretty cool.

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stailcookie

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Blur wasn't confusing. It was just an OK racing game that put a bunch of weapons on/in cars to be "more fun." First of all, people such as myself really don't like weaponized car games. Secondly, such games are most popular in a more casual format like mariokart. Third, there had been several such games released in the years before Blur that did about as well for those same reasons. Why did they think Blur was so different?

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Rikufan

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My thing was that blur was a good game but it was released at the wrong time as split second also a racing game was released at the same time not to mention that it was also going up against Red dead in a already overcrowded month of may

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