February turned into a busy month this year, with the release of over a half-dozen “AAA” games and the steady flow of smaller indie titles. It was also a month of disappointments. Apex Legends (free-to-play), Metro Exodus, DiRT Rally 2, and Trials Rising all impressed; however, we also got the underwhelming and anemic Anthem, a dated and boring Crackdown 3, and a perfunctory but unremarkable spin-off Far Cry New Dawn. The problem? Go take a look at the digital and physical sales charts for the month.
Despite a troubled development cycle, previews calling for caution, disappointed first impressions, and a raft of technical issues reported before and after launch, Anthem dominated in both retail and digital sales. It was the number-one selling game on the Playstation Network for February, in both the European and North American regions. Given that the PlayStation 4 is dominant outside of the NA territory, this probably represents the bulk of Anthem console sales. In addition, the Xbox One has always been a platform of competitive online gamers, so I’d think it safe to assume it dominated digital sales on that platform as well.
It’s easy to see why marketing constitutes a huge chunk of video game development costs, and it’s a stark reminder that even the largest websites and content creator channels only reach a fraction of the total market (PS4 sales alone outnumber PewDiePie subscribers by over 30 million - and he’s not exactly known for his informative content these days). All the concerns brought up before launch - and outcry after it - are echoing around the same corner of the internet.
So long as Anthem sells at launch, and players - many of whom may feel obligated to get their money’s worth - stick around, waiting for drip-fed news from the developers and incremental patches, the developers, publishers, and shareholders will only be interested in the numbers. There are players criticising the game and demanding changes, including many who have sunk hundreds of hours into the game. These are the fans whose voices should be amplified to the highest level yet, on paper, at the next board meeting, they’ll simply flag as a consumer who purchased the game on day-one, at full price, and engaged with it for 100 hours; not a gamer that was deeply dissatisfied with the experience and business model.
Ultimately, we need to do the research, be wary of the hype, and withhold our money until we get a good product; not facilitate a business model that asks us to pay 6 months in advance, receive a buggy game at launch, and expects us to hang around for 6 months to get the product we were promised. If this doesn’t change, the “live service” model is simply going to replace the “early access” concept - only you’ll be expected to pay full price upfront, and then still be hounded for extra purchases before the game even reaches an optimal state.
As a final point, given the polarising response to Anthem from the user base, I just want to clarify that if you’re enjoying the game, don’t give into the urge to respond to negativity by ignoring obvious problems in the defense of the game. Anthem can’t be judged in a vacuum, especially as it apes many elements from other games in the genre, and doing so simply sends the wrong message to developers and publishers. A loyal user base defending a subpar product is not going to improve the industry. If you’re enjoying the game in spite of these issues, give yourself 8/10, not the game, and please don’t reward Bioware or EA with microtransaction purchases until they’ve delivered on the game they promised.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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