At the time of the Resident Evil 6 release, Capcom was confidently touting over-the-top action in their latest flagship survival horror installment. However, after a mixed-to-negative response from critics (read our Resident Evil 6 review) and uninspired word-of-mouth from faithful gamers, the publisher began to significantly tweak the recently released title – undoing a number of clear-cut design decisions: adding a co-op character for the “solo” Ada campaign and expanding the auto-assist QTE option to all difficulties, among other updates.
While Capcom has positioned the changes as a commitment to “evolving” the game, most players know that, love it or hate it, Resident Evil 6 was shipped with a number of frustrating and outright broken mechanics that undercut potential enjoyment in a title that was promised to be the biggest and best franchise chapter yet.
While sales for the title were strong out the gate, Capcom is now claiming that the game underperformed in the subsequent months, leading the publisher to warn investors of decreased profits for the financial year.
Here’s the official word from Capcom:
“Sales of the major new title Resident Evil 6 were initially strong but subsequently weakened. As a result, sales for this title are certain to fall short of the plan.”
While the developer does not list a finite number, we do know that (prior to release) Capcom was expecting to ship over seven million Resident Evil 6 units prior to the end of the financial year on March 31, 2013. The number was later revised to five million units – a number that Capcom no longer believes is feasible.
Even though sales have failed to meet expectations, it’s important to put the numbers in context – specifically: it took over two full years for Resident Evil 5 to sell 5.8 million copies. It’s possible that, even if Resident Evil 6 numbers are well-below expectations, there’s still room for the game to out-sell its predecessor. That said, sales aren’t everything – since profit is the main concern in a title’s longterm return on investment – and Capcom hasn’t (and won’t) release specific information regarding overhead for either game. As a result, without detailed numbers it’s impossible to know whether or not the new action-focused direction of Resident Evil 6 has helped or hurt the overall viability of the brand.
One thing is certain though, word-of-mouth (which helped push sales of Resident Evil 5 higher and higher for the last three years) is not in Capcom’s favor when it comes to Resident Evil 6. Unless the publisher can turn the negative buzz around, it’s definitely possible that game sales will continue to flounder. Overturning unenthusiastic word-of-mouth is certainly a major factor in the publisher’s “work in progress” game commitment – as they remove/alter frustrating elements of the title until gamers stop complaining about it (in the hope that players might, instead, recommend it).
But what does the underperformance of Resident Evil 6 mean for the future of the franchise? Specifically, will Capcom continue down the action-adventure path in an effort to expand the series’ appeal – given that many of their action-focused design decisions were not warmly received?
Even if Capcom’s “evolving” game campaign ultimately leads to improved sales, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ship a title with so many unneeded modes (we’re looking at you “Agent Hunt“) and overly-complicated/interwoven story campaigns. While fans might have at first been excited for the “biggest” Resident Evil 6 game yet, it’s clear that Capcom over-extended themselves and, in this case, more content did not mean a better gameplay package.
However, it’s unlikely the publisher will allow Resident Evil 7 development leads to stray this far into the action genre either – at least if they can’t, at the same time, deliver a supremely satisfying action experience. Capcom has previously stated they want to attract Call of Duty gamers but neither Resident Evil 6 nor Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City presented the polish and spectacle of a Call of Duty game (whether you’re a fan of the shooter franchise or not). Over-the-top vehicle crashes, combat rolls, and intrusive QTE sequences aren’t the core pillars of a great action title – so unless the developers intend to significantly overhaul how they approach action, they risk further alienating core franchise followers, without satisfying the expectations of those coveted blockbuster shooter gamers.
Of course, as many fans have been arguing, there’s also the possibility that Capcom needs to simply admit that taking the survival horror out of Resident Evil actually hurts, not improves, the game’s appeal. Maybe the Resident Evil brand, saddled with nearly two decades worth of baggage, genuinely can’t evolve into a full-on action experience? In their effort to movie the franchise forward, the publisher keeps running into the same problem: at what point do you change the gameplay so much, that you lose sight of what made the series stand out in the first place? For many, Resident Evil 6 will stand as a example of the developer straying too far. Instead of releasing two attempted action titles this year, they could have gone the Metal Gear franchise route – i.e. rely on spin-offs (Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) to extend the brand. After all, that’s what we all expected when Capcom first announced Operation Raccoon City. Moving forward, they could ratchet up the quality and polish in a Operation Raccoon City 2 and dial-back over-the-top elements in Resident Evil 7 (while restoring fan-favorite survival horror elements).
Still, there’s no way of knowing exactly how Capcom will approach development on future Resident Evil titles. It’s possible that the next numbered game will also become “the biggest” and, as a result, contain even more unneeded features, modes, and gameplay tweaks. However, our hope is that Capcom will take this time to seriously consider where they want to take Resident Evil in the future – instead of rushing in with a “me too” mishmash of ideas. We understand that the publisher wants to expand the brand, and we’re open to action-focused Resident Evil games, but hopefully they’ve learned a few lessons and will try for a more focused and refined adventure next round.
Bigger is not always better (and doesn’t necessarily lead to better sales).
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Resident Evil 6 will be out March 22, 2013 for PC players and is available now on PS3 and Xbox 360.