The underwhelming sales of Watch Dogs 2 and Titanfall 2 mark an interesting conundrum in the games industry.
This article can be both watched and read. If you can’t watch a video at this time, a transcript is provided below, however, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’re able to watch the video.
Watch Dogs 2’s sales haven’t been confirmed, but are pretty pitiful if the numbers are to be believed. According to Eurogamer, the game sold less than 80,000 units in the UK in its launch week. Watch
(UnderScore) Dogs, by comparison, sold 380,000 in its launch week. Titanfall 2 has similarly struggled to compare to its predecessor in week-one sales. In fact, the recent half-price sale of the game doubled the player-count on PC.
This is an interesting trend, because both games seemed to release without anyone realising. This is in stark contrast to the former games in the series, which were heavily pushed to be the ‘next great step’ in gaming. The real irony is that the sequels are far better than the originals, so much so that the originals look lackluster in comparison. Watch Dogs 2 has a style and polish to it that the first game sorely lacked. Titanfall 2 has an incredible singleplayer - which fans cried out for with the original - and the developers are supporting a multiplayer free of season passes and map packs. These are genuine improvements to the originals, and not just the sequelisation that we’ve seen so much of lately.
Especially surprising is the shift Ubisoft has made recently. In the last few years, especially around 2014, the infamous ‘Ubisoft formula’ reared its ugly head. Every game made by them involved climbing towers, unlocking repetitive side missions, and occasionally letting you fall through the map. Watch Dogs? Map segmented into parts, with content unlocked by ‘hacking’ the top of buildings. Far Cry 4? Climb a tower, unlock side-content. The Crew? Drive to a radar, unlock missions on the map. Assassin’s Creed Unity? Well, that speaks for itself.
Ubisoft has made a real effort to escape the formula that gamers have become increasingly aware of in recent years. In fact, Watch Dogs 2 has hackable spots, yes, but they only provide money and the such, not anything on the map. Side-missions are instead unlocked as the game progresses. We’ve also seem a similar shift in mindset leading up to the game’s launch. The four games mentioned previously were heavily advertised as being ‘incredible next-gen experiences’, ‘changing the way you play’, et cetera. Of course, we know that they were mostly talking out of their arses, but the cynics were in the minority. People were incredibly hyped for these games, and the day-one sales were immense as a result. Years of misleading trailers with visuals far too good to be true were thrown at us. Big, bold statements of ‘how it was going to change the world’ were slapped onto bombastic gameplay trailers that weren’t very representative of the majority of the game. It was easy to sell a product that didn’t exist. That is, until lately. No Man’s Sky is a great example of people tiring of immense hype before a game’s launch. Let’s not forget that the game “was a mistake”. It only goes to show that this method of selling games is not sustainable, as you can only prey on the innocent for so long.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that 2016 has been the year of cynicism. World politics and negative news stories may have also had an impact in this aspect, but people are noticeably less approving of new games than they used to be. Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare released its first trailer to a surprising amount of hate. Usually, CoD games are showered in praise, but the choices they made finally annoyed fans enough to speak up, which is a surprising change. I’ll give them this; I thought the fans were all-bark, no-bite, but the game sold pretty damn poorly at launch, 50% less than Black Ops 3 last year. I commend the people who chose to finally act out against the oh-so-beloved Call of Duty franchise to demand change. We just don’t see enough of that in this industry.
Ubisoft provided a very interesting comment in the Eurogamer article that shows this shift in mindset for marketing. They claim that they’re hoping for stronger sales than usual in the coming weeks for Watch Dogs 2, as word-of-mouth spreads and the game is promoted by its fans. Emphasis was put on it being exclusive to high-quality games, though, and this is what really signifies the switch. Publishers are increasingly eager to go the way of Rainbow Six Siege, a somewhat underwhelming game at launch – overshadowed by the crazy hype for The Division - but one that saw a playerbase increase of 40% over the months thanks to its free updates. In fact, it was recently announced that the game would get another year of free updates, and what was a niche title with sales figures to represent it is now a beloved tactical FPS. Titanfall 2 definitely appears to be going this way with how much they’re promoting its completely-free maps and weapons -instead relegating payments to cosmetic weapon skins.
This kind of mindset that’s sweeping the industry is one I wholly support. It’s based on a game being genuinely good at launch, so good that the majority of people buy it after hearing the good word-of-mouth, much like how Titanfall 2’s sales doubled. The reality is that people will likely always pre-order games to get the ridiculous bonuses, and believe everything dished out to them at each E3, no matter how believable it is. We are seeing a transition though, to an attitude that promotes quality games and pushes down the ‘No Man’s Sky’s of the gaming landscape.
However, this is the games industry. Let’s not get too optimistic. It’s unlikely we’ll see the ambitious games with big promises that the ridiculous levels of hype gave us before. Studios will be less likely to take risks, as they’re afraid of how unreliable day-one sales are. That means we’ll see ‘safe’ products, you know, your ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s and ‘Far Cry Primal’s. Games that see comparatively little promotion before release, and turn out to just be decent iterative sequels. That’s not even to say that pre-release hype will die. Old habits die hard in this industry, and we’ll likely still see many disappointing launches when games turn out to be completely unlike what they were promised to be. Such is a constant we’ve come to accept over the years. But just for one moment, let’s think of what could be, now that we’re starting to hold developer and publishers accountable. This could be a beautiful trend.
Or, you know, it might just tide over in the next year or so, and things will return to the sub-standard they were at before.
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