How does one measure success in the videogaming world? The global ratings over Metacritic? The sales and people using the product? The fanbase that builds and grows as the development process continues into sequels and additional content? Is it a profit that success is measured by? These are the questions I ask myself as I see one news report saying that Square-Enix are due to make net losses for this financial year, which are attributed to failings in games including Tomb Raider, and yet I then see another news article stating that the development company have had the most successful launch since the original release back in 1996.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, or even a newcomer who enjoys the new direction Tomb Raider is going, Tomb Raider would be considered a monumental success this year, reaching an average of 86% across the board on Metacritic scores across all consoles. And from those views and reports I’ve seen of people playing it, there are very few complaints about the game at all and they are enjoying this fresh wind blowing through. So it doesn’t surprise me when they, like myself, are wondering why Square-Enix see it as a reason for the shortfall in this financial year. I mean, what were they expecting?
Even the development company are pleased with the results. It’s the best-selling release since their initial release back in 1996 AND the highest rated since their sequel to it in 1997 (the original PlayStation release hit review scores of 91, making the newest Tomb Raider release second to it, with Tomb Raider 2 a very close third with 85). In any other company, perhaps even at any other time, this would be seen as the kind of success that would warrant development on additional content and a sequel to follow on in the same vein. But they seem to have an idea of why Square-Enix are adding their latest release among the failed projects that caused losses financially.
“Actuals and expectations, I guess, are two slightly different things. What I’m telling you is the actuals, and they’re communicating expectations.” -Darrell Gallagher, GDC 2013
That quote effectively sums up the key between development company Eidos and production company Square-Enix. They were expecting sales higher than the projected 3.4 million units within the month, which means it missed a target. The same is said for Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs, each projected to hit 3.6m and 1.75m respectively. While the source article does make light of how they got to these numbers (though another one does ask what kind of expectations they have), it does show a great divide between developers, gamers and publishers when it comes to what each expects to be successful.
Though this does seem to be a rare case (it should be noted that Square Enix are having problems of their own, with Square’s flagship franchise Final Fantasy causing many financial minefields back in home territory, which may also be part of this yearly summary), it does show a scenario where a gamer and developer can be satisfied with the results, but the publisher may decide they cannot succeed with a development company. It would also cause the publisher in that scenario to see themselves in a catch 22 where if they sell the developers off, they would get further negative feedback, adding more fuel to the fire, and if they keep them they may have to consider lowering expectations for the company, reducing interest publisher-wise in new IP’s being developed.
Then again, other games have come out recently which would see this formula of “publisher being wrong” out the window. I don’t need to beat the dead horse more about Aliens: Colonial Marines (which publisher Sega has no comment so far, Gearbox consider a good release and gamers consider a monstrosity of nature) or the failings of SimCity (that you can Google seach over, but in short sales figures show it as successful but the two weeks since launch would deem it a failure) but these are examples that test this measurement of success across the board, leaving skeptics, writers and analysts picking at the fragments of information for some resembelance of the truth.
My view? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Any game can be considered a ‘success’, it simply depends on your perspective. And sometimes, being able to see the truth from only one perspective doesn’t make it the actual truth.