Just why do so many acclaimed videogames fail to sell?

It’s a familiar occurrence — despite glowing reviews, many acclaimed games fail to shift in significant numbers. So what’s going wrong?

This weekend, I found myself in a strange scenario. Having wandered into my local games emporium in the hope of picking up a copy of Platinum’s Vanquish, I scanned the shelves and couldn’t find it anywhere.

Pushed for time, I rushed off to another town some 15 miles away, safe in the knowledge that the next games shop would almost certainly have at least one copy of Vanquish lurking on its shelves. I was wrong. The shelves displayed row upon row of Medal Of Honor and Force Unleashed II, but Vanquish was nowhere to be found.

Confused, I politely asked a shop assistant if they had any copies in stock. “Yes, we have plenty,” he replied, “But they’re all behind the counter.” Taken aback, I tried to recall what the cover of Vanquish looked like – was there something obscene on it that couldn’t be displayed in public? As far as I could remember, it was a simple depiction of protagonist Sam Gideon shooting at things while wearing his ARS suit.

Ad – content continues below

“I don’t know why they’re not on the shelves, to be honest. I suppose we just didn’t put them out,” the shop assistant told me.

Now, I’ve no idea whether the same is true at other games shops up and down the country, and for the sake of Platinum games I hope it’s not. While some have criticised Vanquish for being too short – and its lack of an online multiplayer is a cardinal sin, in some gamers’ eyes – it’s nevertheless a fantastic shooter, and adds a much-needed zing of speed to the genre.

At the same time, it worries me that Vanquish has been released at an unfortunate moment on the gaming calendar. Appearing on 22 October, Vanquish came hot on the heels of the inferior but better-known Medal Of Honor, and mere weeks before Treyarch’s shooter behemoth Call Of Duty: Black Ops. Add Force Unleashed II to the mix, which has the heft of the Star Wars name behind it, and there’s the possibility that Vanquish could become lost in the crowd.

It’s not just Vanquish that faces such a problem. Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, also released in October, was greeted with almost universal acclaim, yet its reviews have so far failed to translate into decent sales – in the first three weeks of release, the PS3 version of Enslaved sold just 75,000 copies worldwide.

Looking back over the top-rated games of the last few years, and the same thing keeps happening time and again. Clover Studio’s remarkable adventure game, Okami, failed to sell in significant numbers in either its PS2 or Wii incarnations, and the DS-exclusive reboot, Okamiden hasn’t been hugely successful in its native Japan.

Ad – content continues below

And while the shifting sands of the videogame market could be to blame for the slow sales of Japanese games in the west, the same can’t be said of Enslaved, which had an expensive marketing campaign and the presence of Andy Serkis behind it.

Nor does it explain the mysterious failure of Raven Software’s Singularity. While not without flaws, Singularity at least attempted to do something a little different with the first-person shooter genre, marrying heavy weaponry with a refreshingly unusual time control mechanic.

Released in June to little fanfare from its publisher Activision, Singularity didn’t make much of a dent in the videogame charts. And like Vanquish, it failed to make an appearance in my local game shop.

Activision later admitted that sales of both Singularity and Bizarre’s excellent racing game, Blur “fell short” of its expectations.

Ad – content continues below

So why are so many excellent games, all of which received positive reviews, failing to sell in significant numbers? Blur was expected to “do for racing what Call Of Duty did for racers,” but such a run-away success never materialised.

That almost all the games mentioned are based on original properties is undoubtedly a large part of the problem. With big-name franchises like the previously mentioned Call Of Duty taking up a large section of the market’s time and money, it appears that consumers are becoming increasingly wary of original titles.

The huge number of games that emerge every month is also a factor. There are only so many titles one gamer can afford to purchase every month, and it’s inevitable that less well-known or well-marketed games will lose out.

One of the most frequent comments I’ve seen at the foot of online game reviews goes something like: “This looks good, but I think I’ll wait until it’s cheaper,” or, “I’ll pick up a second-hand copy.”

It’s a precarious situation for most studios, and one that has existed for many years. But as the cost of game production continues to climb, so does the risk that a studio faces when its title fails to sell.

Ad – content continues below

Meanwhile, the popularity of single-player games appears to be continuing to wane, as punters ignore them in favour of multiplayer shooters such as Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops.

This is a genuine pity, particularly for studios such as Platinum Games, which thrive on creating unusual games and original properties. Unless there’s a significant shift in the way games are sold or marketed, the financial penalty for attempting to create new properties could become too risky for most studios to even dare to attempt.

Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.