Last week Square Enix officially released the sales expectations of their recently released titles, including Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs and Hitman: Absolution. These expected numbers fell short, with Square Enix stating they “were very disappointed to see that the high scores did not translate to actual sales performance”.
Over the past year many gaming companies have closed due to poor sales, many more companies have lost money due to their overly high expectations of their games sales. With an industry that was booming only a few years ago, the drops seems extraordinarily high. But is that really the case? Hugh Simmonds and Jamie Briggs tackle the theory that popular AAA titles, might be the reason for seemingly low sales. Could these sales actually be strong, yet companies expect more due to games like Call of Duty, Halo and FIFA?
Jamie Briggs: Now Hugh I personally believe the Call of Duty‘s, the Halo‘s and to a lesser extend the Journey‘s or the Minecraft‘s are giving companies a false sense of the gaming market. For instance, Square Enix was hoping to see Tomb Raider sell 5-6 million copies within the first month, which would rank it in the upper echelon in the history of gaming sales. Hitman: Absolution, which is a franchise that has laid dormant for years was expected to sell 4-4.5 million and the brand new IP Sleeping Dogs was expected to sell 2-2.5 million copies.
These are crazy numbers in my opinion, how could a company like Square Enix hope to sell these astonishing numbers with the titles at hand? Which let me remind you, were a reboot, new IP and a franchise that has been absent for 6 years. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sold 11 million copies in its first week and Halo 4 sold 3.8 million copies.
Could these numbers of well-known, ‘exception to the rule’ franchises be blinding companies expectations for their own games?
Hugh Simmonds: I think it has blinded companies as they think there’s a large gaming market for which it is possible to sell these numbers. They don’t understand that within the market there is a section who’s only purchase each year is Call of Duty or that is one of their only ones along with the latest installments in sporting franchises like FIFA or Madden for example.
What Halo and Call of Duty also has is a recognisable brand and it has been years since we have seen a new title in the Hitman or Tomb Raider series which has cost them. As they’re no longer unique and their fan base has aged and so may no longer be able to afford to get a load of games each year and need to be more selective with the titles they buy. Then there’s a generation of gamers who won’t know or heard of these franchises aside from the movies if that so to them it’s effectively a new IP.
Sleeping Dogs on the other hand suffered because it is a new IP and in the industry now, new mid tier IPs struggle against the AAA titles and the indie games, which is a shame as that title was hugely enjoyable and sold well, not ground moving but well enough.
However, the crux of the problem here lies in what Hitman, Tomb Raider and Sleeping Dogs have all got in common; Square Enix. That company has been a shambles lately and is being completely unrealistic with a new mid tier IP which was never going to be a mega hit and 2 franchises which has slipped out of relevance due to their years of absence. They’re also no longer the juggernauts they used to be and the spaces have been taken over by others.
What do you think? Is it just Square Enix?
Jamie Briggs: On one hand, it seems Square Enix either rates what they produce among the best in the industry. Not to say they were not great games, but in no world were those three games going to sell those numbers. I don’t think I have spoke with anyone that agrees, it was shocking Lara Croft’s reboot didn’t sell Call of Duty numbers.
Though, I don’t think Square are the only companies that seem to think their games have chances to sell Call of Duty numbers and in a sense, hurting the franchise. Resident Evil 6 was shambles from what many hardcore RE fans have said, Dead Space 3 turned its cheek on horror as its main vocal point. Capcom stated Resident Evil 6 sold poorly, were they expecting amazing numbers because they focused on action? Even though, last I heard it sold in the millions. As for Dead Space 3, EA set the bar high saying they expected 5 million copies sold. Did they expect an amazing rise because, again, they decided to take a more streamlined approach?
Not only does increasing these profit predictions cost companies money, cost people jobs, but it is costing gaming experiences for those hardcore fans that eat and breathe their franchises.
2 years ago the industry was in the green, selling amazing numbers that astounded many and I don’t think companies have ever looked. Maybe it isn’t the fact games are selling exponentially less than previous years, maybe it is actually companies expecting figures that are just not possible.
Hugh Simmonds: I totally agree, I think a lot of companies believe changing essentially core of their game to try and appeal to the mass market is guaranteed success but it has affected them negatively. Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 are great examples of this, moving away from what made them successful franchises.
The ones that suffer are us fans, but we have to remember that these are now businesses and we don’t know how much it cost to make these games. I think over the 2 years, costs for making games has increased. Developers are also the cause of their downfall by making games which are so big and immersive that people simply don’t have enough time to play all of these games. Another point to consider is that we are also in economically tough times so people aren’t able to buy as many games as they can and so are selective.
Jamie Briggs: Economy is definitely another key factor, gaming was one of the few mediums to stay strong over the last few years, so it was bound to catch up to the industry eventually. But without boring our readers with economics, what does this mean for gaming?
Deep Silver made an outrageous, yet possibly correct claim just last week. “They are the only ones that make money”, when comparing themselves to EA, Activision etc. It made sense, they are a mid-tier developer who doesn’t throw truckloads of cash at games. Yet have been quite successful with Dead Island, proving a great narrative and gorgeous graphics are not needed to sell a game.
I think publishers expect games to sell crazy amounts, as you said they are a business. But I think realism has to step in, we have seen Radical, Zipper and of course Vigil all fall by the waste side because their games didn’t sell. Darksiders 2 was the strongest selling title the month it came out, yet look what happened.
Do you see the industry wising up? Or do you think they will continue to overstate their expectations, causing more loss of profits in the end?
Hugh Simmonds: What this means for gaming is what has happened with the movie industry where you will see games at either end of the cost spectrum. Those with the big budgets will be your big franchises and overall will be successful with the occasional flop costing that franchise. Then you’ll have “indie” or games done on a very small budget which succeed in making back money. And they will tend to be over a lower risk. The riskier games will be those middle tiered games like Sleeping Dogs which will do well but not well enough to merit a sequel. For all of these there will be exceptions which are just massive successes.
The industry will wise up and become a bit safer on the whole with regards to what games are released. I think there will be risky projects but they’ll be calculated or more “artistic” titles. The industry cannot survive if they continue to overstate their expectations.
Jamie Briggs: Well here is hoping the industry can start to see the numbers on the wall, as a fan of the industry I think there is no need for panic buttons yet. But if we continue to have these conversations years from now, who knows what state the industry could have taken.
What are your thoughts on companies sales expectations? Is it their own fault they are not meeting their expectations? Or are AAA games like Call of Duty giving them hope to their titles will sells millions of copies?
Hugh Simmonds is an editor for Analog Addiction follow him on Twitter to see what Sunderland’s demise is doing to him. Jamie Briggs manages Analog Addiction and you can like them on Facebook, follow his daily life on Twitter @JamieAA and his videos on YouTube.