I’ll be the first to tell you that the game industry is ultimately about sales and profit, and that it always has to boil down to the business side of affairs. No matter what the conversation is, whether it be the change in direction for a beloved series, the philosophy behind DLC production or the design of a new console, it always has to be about making money.
That’s not exactly a bad thing, despite the connotations. You can have a good studio culture and still have your eyes on those sales figures. In an increasingly entitled world, it’s a common expectation for development studios to do exactly what the fans want, when the fans want, as if they were a charity for the good of the gaming community rather than a business. The fact is that to continue producing the games we love, the studios have to turn a profit, and it’s very easy for fans to lose sight of that.
So what happens when a game performs well but is poorly received by its core audience?
“We’d prefer a game that got a 9 and sold less, than got a 6 but sold more.”
– Stuart Turner, Capcom Europe COO
Capcom has recently addressed the issue in an interview with gamesindustry.biz following Resident Evil 6’s critical panning & glowing reviews for Resident Evil 7, despite RE7 only reaching around 5m of RE6’s 7m sales thus far. On paper it would surely make far more sense to continue producing titles using RE6’s action-oriented formula rather than the claustrophobic return-to-form style of RE7. Popular usage would dictate that core fans want more explosions and guns whilst critics are looking for jump scares, but the truth is far from this.
“While we have shareholders to appease, it’s not just about commercial performance, there is an artistic element that always comes in where we know this is the right way,” said Capcom Europe COO Stuart Turner. “While if we compare RE7 to RE6 the absolute numbers are not the same, in terms of the profitability… it’s completely fine. [RE7] ticked all of our boxes internally. It was really well received. And in some respects, getting some very good review scores counts as much for Capcom as a game that sells millions and millions and millions. We’d prefer a game that got a 9 and sold less, than got a 6 but sold more.”
This is a shining example of a studio listening to their audience for the best possible reasons. It can be very easy to rely on the top review hubs for an accurate representation of what a new game means for its series, but you’ll struggle to get any closer to the truth than that of the core community. As a die-hard Resident Evil fan myself I’ll happily tell you I thoroughly enjoyed RE6. Knowing what I now know about the design and direction of the game I’d still buy it today if it were a new release (in fact I did when it was ported a little over a year ago). However, I’ll also always tell you that it’s not the game that I (and many others) wanted.
When RE6 launched, a standalone title called Revelations had been out on 3DS for several months, and fans immediately cited it as the game RE6 should have been. It was heavily limited by budget and hardware, but had all the key elements nailed down – isolation, tension, limited ammo, the works. Both titles have seen ports since their 2012 release, and yet Revelations has only sold 25% of the units RE6 did. Again, any board room looking at the black-and-white figures would say to do more RE6, but audience awareness and artistic passion prevailed to give us not only the excellent Resident Evil 7, but greenlit an exciting remake of Resident Evil 2 which I’m certain will be just as well-received.
In fact, it more or less already has. It’s this very reaction which is leading Capcom to talk so openly about their philosophy over sales vs. ratings. Turner later continues in the interview to express how taken aback they were to the reception and pre-orders following the E3 reveal.
Of course it’s not as if this move will cost Capcom anything in the long run. If anything, they stand to make more growth from this than they ever could have by continuing with the RE6 style. Two years after RE6 launched many were talking about the series as though it was on its deathbed. An action-oriented RE7 would certainly have sold at least as much as the real RE7 did, but that would have been the final nail in the coffin for brand identity. Core fans would continue to move onto titles like The Evil Within that embraces the classic RE style and Resident Evil would hold an increasingly smaller group of action fans who could never fully identify with the series.
On this current trajectory, fans are already looking for a Resident Evil 8 now RE7’s return to form (albeit with far less replay value) is being followed up with a classic remade in the style of the legendary RE4.
RE7 was held back by lack of community trust and general hesitancy, a point fully demonstrated by the continued sales stamina it has held for well over a year thanks to its ratings and VR support, likely soon to catch up with RE6’s figures as it is. This time around, the studio’s faith in the fans will deliver results that will more than satisfy shareholders and players alike.
Ultimately this is a story of investment. Nobody should have expected a studio in the position Capcom was in after RE6 to change their style because, alongside RE5 (which followed a similar style), it was one of the best selling titles in the series by a country mile.
Ultimately, I would hope that everyone can take two messages away from this story: it’s an amazing thing when fans get what they want and it works… but it doesn’t mean that route will work every time. Hubris can be extremely dangerous.
RE7 worked, RE2 is almost guaranteed to work, but if we’re not careful RE8 mightn’t be so lucky. Fans know what they like, but what they overlook is the value of mystery and surprise that can only come from passionate developers. The vocal majority has made their impact for the better, now please let the studios take that energy forward and craft something incredible.