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Do developers that try to widen their game’s appeal actually increase sales?

I know of basically two ways to manage a game franchise: Either you try to cater to your fan base by giving them what you believe they want, or you try to go out of your "niche" and appeal to what you think gamers who were not interested in the first titles would want.

What franchises ought to do is a very divisive subject among gamers, with part of the community feeling betrayed or at least misled when their favorite series is trying to appeal to the "casuals" (a polite wording of "noobs") and other just as vocal gamers bashing on what they see as "entitled, self-proclaimed harcore crybabies." But before the argument even begins, why not at least try to assess whether or not widening a franchise’s appeal actually helps or hinders subsequent sales?

 

Of course, it is not honest to solely attribute any causal effect sales-wise to any particular choice the marketing, publishing, or development team made. But it might be interesting to see what happened to franchises that tried the strategy of wider appeal. After all, contrary to popular wisdom, action Japanese role-playing games have sold less than turn-based JRPGs this gen, so looking at sales can only teach us interresting things.

It’s complicated to know which franchises we should examine — the ones that tried to "widen their appeal." To avoid relying on my sole gamer experience, I’ve looked on forums to decide which franchises that players accused developers of trying to widen the game's appeal. Here and there, gamers named names, and I then looked at VGChartz to see the verdict for sales, the god of the free market.

Franchises that did not significantly gain or lose any sales by developers trying to widen appeal

Mass Effect

Divisive among the divisives, Mass Effect 2 decided to take the franchise closer to Gears of War and further from Bioware’s older titles. Mass Effect 2 sold 2.85 million on 360 and 0.26 million on PC while the first episode that was less shooting-oriented sold 2.61 million on 360 and 0.53 million on PC.

In the end, the alledged removing of RPG elements neither hurt nor helped the franchise even though one can make the case that the move hurt the Mass Effect series in the long run since Mass Effect 3 sold slightly lower numbers than its predecessor on PlayStation 3 and 360.

Resident Evil

Resident Evil 4 is famous for having completely reinvented the series by adding a strong action element and at the same time playing down the survival-horror element. Being such a critical success, we can imagine Resident Evil 4 to have greatly surpassed the titles before it in sales. Well, that's just not the case at all.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis on the PlayStation sold 3.72 million while Resident Evil 4 on PlayStation 2 reached a close equivalent of 3.62 million. On GameCube where Resident Evil 4 debuted, it sold 1.69 million copies, a number that is only 11 percent higher than what the remake of the original Resident Evil sold on the same console three years before (1.42 million). Not very impressive when we know that remakes genreally do not sell as well as initial releases.

Splinter Cell

I cannot make the direct comparison between Splinter Cell: Conviction, which did away with a lot of the franchise's stealth elements, and the preceding title as VGChartz does not have any sales data of Splinter Cell: Double Agent on PlayStation 2 and Xbox. But Splinter Cell: Conviction sales on 360 (1.96 million) is actually in between the original Splinter Cell (3.02 million on Xbox) and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (1.48 million).

I’ll let you decide whether or not that makes it a success.

Franchises that lost a significant amount of sales when developers tried to widen appeal

Dragon Age

Dragon Age II has garnered so much negative division among fans that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what hurt sales, but much of fans' ire was at least partly directed toward the dumbed-down, action-oriented combat. On PC, Dragon Age II sold about as many physical copies as Dragon Age: Origins. But the franchise lost a whoping 60 percent of its sales on Xbox 360 and 57 percent on PlayStation 3.

Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden 2 on Xbox 360 sold close to a million copies (0.96 million) while Ninja Gaiden 3 on the same system achieved only 10 percent of this number. On PlayStation 3, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 sold 0.75 million while Ninja Gaiden 3 sold 0.16 million. In the end, Ninja Gaiden sales went down 84.5 percent from second to third entry in the series — a result of a loss of quality or a dumbing down of the games' notorious difficulty, perhaps?

So, that's how it is. Any other big franchise you think I should look into?


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