I Stand On My Soapbox: Expecting Too Much From Your Game

I Stand On My Soapbox is a series of editorials that cover more specific topics in the games industry and community. These articles are a little more extreme than normal editorials published here, and could just degenerate to outright ranting. Have fun and enjoy the show!

Take a look at the featured comments section of this article. Read the comments? Now I ask you, have you noticed a pattern here? A good chunk of the comments there mention Atlus and/or Catherine. The people here are reacting to a comment made by James Mielke of Q Entertainment, in which he states that Monster Hunter will never be as successful in the west as it has been in Japan. The first commentor, Taggart6, mentions that Monster Hunter Tri has sold over 470 thousand units in the US and questions how the hell that is not considered a success. Catherine sells 200,000 in its first week, and Atlus was thrilled to sell that much (and pretty much alluding to it being a success). Two companies, two games, both high sellers, and the lower selling one is a success. Why? Well, it’s all about expectation, and from the looks of how some games end up selling, some companies still have trouble understanding their audience and just how many units is expected to sell.

It seems like everywhere you look in the game industry, companies want to join the exclusive “Six Zeros Club,” an elite group where you hang out with other companies and gloat about how much your game has sold. They bring up review quotes, make appearances in awards shows where idiots vote, and thoroughly milk their franchises to dust. This is enjoyed by companies like Activision, Ubisoft, EA, Capcom, and any other company that has a flashy splash screen.

So let’s create a scenario. Some company decides it wants to make a game and make it sell millions. It spends a lot of money on resources, people, and ads. Then come release…their game flops. “We only sold 300, 000 copies. That’s not good…” Meanwhile, another company, relatively small, makes a game. They don’t have that many people, only have enough money for internet ads, and depend on word of mouth. They too sell 300,000 copies and are ecstatic over this. Why? Well, we can go under the assumption that small companies normally have their expectations low, so they know ahead of time that they are not going to sell 1 million. The bigger company though wanted to sell millions and poured a lot of its funding into its resources and ad campaign. Their game… was a kart racing game. Besides Mario Kart, do you know of any other company that would spend so much time and money to create a million seller kart racing game? Let’s be realistic here. I like kart racing games, but if you want to make the Halo of kart racing games, it’s not going to happen.

Despite selling 470,000 copies in the US, Capcom states that it did not meet their expections (and thus being a failure).

Going back to reality, let’s look again at Monster Hunter Tri and Catherine. Monster Hunter is a crazy popular game series in Japan and tops the charts the moment someone comes within a 50 foot radius of the game. Here in the US, it’s a niche game series. It doesn’t sell gangbusters like in Japan, but it’s well liked in the niche community. So Capcom decides they will go all out and advertise Monster Hunter in hopes of making as big a hit as it is in Japan. They first do this through train ads for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Train ads are effective as many people here in New York take the train. Nintendo’s done it with Professor Layton and the DSi. They also make the usual rounds of advertising (magazine, internet, and TV ads). Come release… it “struggles” to sell copies. Capcom tries again with Monster Hunter Tri. Same thing, same result. What sort of frustrate me here is that Capcom had their expectations too high when it came to both Monster Hunter games. Monster Hunter has something in it that appeals to Japanese gamers. I don’t know what it is in the game (I’ve tried it, it’s meh), but it has massive appeal in Japan and not here. The first Monster Hunter game (first released on PS2) was a niche game here, but not in Japan. Hell, Monster Hunter 2 (the original PS2 version) never came out here. Monster Hunter has always been a niche game. For MHTri to sell 470 thousand copies is an amazing feat for a game like this (especially for the system it’s on). But not for Capcom, and now it’s paying the price for not understanding its market.

Catherine sold 200,000 copies within its first week. As evidenced by this cake here, Atlus was ecstatic.

Then there’s Catherine. The only thing this game had going for it was that it took place in the Persona (thus MegaTen) universe and that the Persona team was making it. The game was a quirky puzzler with many titillating images and scenarios. I don’t remember seeing internet ads for the game (there probably were), but word of mouth brought Catherine into the spotlight. Even before it was announced for the US, fans were begging to a US release. As stated earlier, the game sold 200,000 copies in its first week. The gaming community and Atlus sees it as a success. Remember, at its essence, it is a puzzle game. No one thought this game would sell the amount it did in its first week. Maybe not even Atlus. But why is it that Atlus, and companies like it (i.e. NIS and XSEED) succeed on a regular basis but sell such few copies of their games. Quite simple: They understand their audience, they know what they’re going to sell, and know that there is not going to be much appeal outside of this audience. It also helps that these smaller companies interact with fans on a regular basis and reward them for their support with special edition versions of games (that don’t coconut milk!).

Enslaved sold over 640,000 copies worldwide. Although Enslaved doesn't really need a sequel due to its terminal ending, Ninja Theory cites poor sales as a reason why it's not getting a sequel. What!?

Let’s look at a more recent game: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. This was a game made by Ninja Theory, known for making Kung-Fu Chaos, Heavenly Sword, and are making DmC: Devil May Cry. Kung-Fu Chaos was a weird Mario Party meets Smash Bros. type of game made in 2002, Heavenly Sword was God of War with boobs, and Enslaved was an adaptation of an old Chinese epic. Enslaved being an adaptation should’ve been a red flag to Ninja Theory in that not many people know about Journey to the West, so some people may not understand the themes. Plus, this is essentially a new IP. So already expectations should be pretty low (not too low, just pretty low). I’m not ragging on the game by any means, I’m just simply stating the situation here. And now Ninja Theory states that it’s not getting sequel. To one editor, that’s a good thing. I would agree. But Ninja Theory states that, “Enslaved should have done better…Right now we should have been doing a sequel…” Ahem, What!? It sold 340,000 copies in the US alone. Worldwide it sold 640,000 copies. It didn’t sell enough? Many, many companies would love to have that many copes sold. But not Ninja Theory, who spent money on resources they didn’t need to spend it on. Everyone would love to have an Assassin’s Creed-like success (new IP, massive success), but it’s just uncommon for new IP to be that successful. Am I against new IP? No, but if you make a new one, know what your getting yourself into.

Many companies would love to have million sellers. Who wouldn’t want to make that much money and sell that many games. But there are only so many games that can reach that level. Over 300 games are made and sold yearly, and only a handful of them can sell 1 million. Game companies need to be realistic when it comes to expectations. So many games come out selling over 100,000 copies in the US and being deemed flops. This is because game companies expect too much from games and thus allocate funds and resources to unnecessary things. While it’s easy to blame gamers for not buying enough copies of a game, companies are as much to blame as well. I still say for game companies to make people aware of their games, but do it realistically and in a way that won’t cost them in the long run.

One thought on “I Stand On My Soapbox: Expecting Too Much From Your Game

  1. Pingback: The Last Story Sells Well For XSEED, Sells Second Prints For $30 | The Wired Fish

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