DmC: The Devil Kind Of Cried
The dust has already settled on DmC: Devil May Cry, but understandably it’s still in the headlines and gamer conversations seeing as how, at the time, it was the only big title to release so far this year. After a fair amount of self-reflection, and of course playing the game for myself, I’ve come to realise through various discussions with the eGamer staff that I wish to cease venting. Yes, I’m human and undoubtedly I’m going to encounter a game in the near future that I seriously think is underwhelming, not deserving of the praise it’s getting and worth expressing frustration over, but I’m going to change the style in which I do it. I figure that I’ve been a part of the industry for four years, and a gamer and writer my whole life. As such, there’s far more good I can do for the industry, and I hope you’ve been seeing some of that with all the exposure in indie and to indie developers. Now, I’m returning back with my next discussion on a triple A game, and naturally I’ll be focusing on DmC: Devil May Cry.
DmC: Devil May Cry has been no stranger to controversy, and even that is the understatement of the year. The amount of negative fan reception this game has been getting since its announcement has been quite astounding to see at times. Some of it had grounds and was justified, and a lot of it wasn’t too. But in this article, I’ll be focusing less on the actual game and what it did wrong or right, and more on the facts surrounding it. However, I first want to tackle the issue many fans initially had with the game, and that’s the matter of why it was rebooted at all. Let’s get into that business right now.
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As a writer myself, not just for gaming, and as someone who has spent a lot of his life reading and learning about storytelling and narrative, I can understand the idea behind the reboot. Now, I’m sure fans were thinking, and it’s absolutely fine to think this, that a reboot was entirely unnecessary because Devil May Cry 4 was both a critical and financial success, shipping two million units in its first month and becoming the fastest title in the series to reach that mark. By March 31, 2012, it was recorded that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions actually sold 2.6 million copies, which is great. So why, if the series was on such a high note with fans and critics and effectively riding the gold train, was there a need to throw it all aside and start new, taking fans away? Well, in today’s age it’s been instilled on people that reboots happen only when things get killed off. But, that’s not always the case at the heart. Let’s liken it to the Spider-Man movie series for instance. While I personally thought Spider-Man 3 was a horrible movie and it was critically panned, it was a gigantic financial success and they could have easily carried on to make Spider-Man 4 with great rewards. Now, corporate reasons aside of Sony wanting to hold onto the license, there are the questions of “where do you go from here?” or “how do you top this?” to answer, and there I can respect the idea of wanting to start fresh when you’ve hit a creative dead end.
Think about comic books. They’re an industry practically built around retcons (retroactively altering something in the story, basically undoing it) and reboots. That’s not completely a good thing, but it’s far better, and most fans would secretly agree, to end on a high than drill a much-loved creation into the ground before starting off fresh and leaving the past buried. That’s like walking away from the scene of a crime. This way, you can prevent the possibility of the series running dry and getting stale, and keep it inventive and fresh. In fact, one can only look at the Far Cry series of games, where there’s a clear IP and franchise, but each game is effectively a reinvention and a reboot and has no ties to what came before it. That itself is admirable. Now, understand that I’m not saying DmC: Devil May Cry was a great reboot, or that the execution was perfect, but I am saying that the fundamental idea of rebooting it was a good one. However, a reboot is always going to be a dangerous thing, and fans need constants to hold onto so that things can stay spiritually the same. What are constants, you ask? Well, it’s made-up term I’m using. Basically, constants are things that stay locked firmly in place even when you’re changing up something dramatically, so that fans can feel that same attachment, and still recognise the series underneath what’s flashy and new. Effectively, fans have familiarity, which is a priceless asset.
Look at the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It’s my favourite game series in history, personally, and it’s honestly one of the best gaming franchises ever created. However, look at the main series of four games. Each one is dramatically, almost in every way, different to each other, and each sequel was effectively a reinvention of what came before it. But there were many constants and staples in the series so that fans were never alienated. The protagonist Snake, himself, was a constant, as he looked the same, had the same voice actor and was characterised similarly across games. That’s a huge one. Then there were many trademarks of the series, like the core game mechanics and little quirks like the exclamation marks and question marks over soldiers heads that kept fans completely within the realm of familiarity. This is not “more of the same”, but retaining spirit. But that series stayed bold, it stayed fresh and it stayed incredible. But was it the same with Ninja Theory’s DmC: Devil May Cry?
Well for fans, Dante the much-loved series protagonist was completely unrecognisable, in appearance and personality. To avoid spoilers completely, his brother Virgil as well was nothing like the original creation. The brutal difficulty of combat, which had long been a staple of the series, was mostly gone. The usual quirky and often cheesy humour had been replaced with teenage-style, crude sexual themes and angst profanity. On top of that, Ninja Theory also sort of showed fans the finger during the opening sequence of the game where a white mop falls on Dante’s head, to make him bear the same appearance as before, and he arrogantly dismisses it after a few seconds glance. Maybe Ninja Theory’s intention was light-hearted humour here, but it came across as tacky and as a deliberate, uncomfortable F-You to fans. Whether or not these were good or done well is up for another debate about the game, but what I’m trying to say here is that DmC: Devil May Cry had very few or almost no real constants, which made it very difficult for series fans to relate to it or like it from the beginning.
Once that was the case, the game has been bombarded with negative reception ever since. Many people, even those not in favour of the game, would have said that all the bitching and whining wouldn’t matter once the game was out. But if we take a closer look at the financial results, is that statement really true? Well, alarm bells started ringing over a week ago when LaserLemming posted the figures for the first week of sales, which revealed that DmC: Devil May Cry’s console sales actually failed to meet that of its predecessor Devil May Cry 4. However, we could let that one slide seeing as how it was releasing after a busy Christmas period and it was only the first week, and the real figures get released after that. However, the real cause for concern emerged yesterday, when Eurogamer revealed that Capcom has reduced its sale target for Ninja Theory’s reboot. Originally, Capcom had hoped to ship two million copies of the game by the end of the financial year, but now it has lowered that target by a staggering 800 000 units, and now expects to only ship 1.2 million copies. Remember that not all shipped units get sold. As of January 2013, one million copies of the game have been shipped. This means that the demand isn’t high enough to give Capcom confidence in shipping more units.
Now, the sales of the PC version of the game aren’t included in Capcom’s figures, but there is more bad news. Even though the game topped UK sales charts at launch, it seriously failed to match the sales performance of previous games in the series. To hit the point home, in the UK launch week sales for DmC: Devil May Cry were a measly third of the amount that Devil May Cry 4 sold during its launch back in 2008, and what makes this worse is that DmC had an extra three days on sale. In Japan, the home of the franchise, DmC sold less than half of what Devil May Cry 4 did in the first week of release. The game sold 110,429 PS3 copies in Japan, and the Xbox 360 version didn’t even make the top 20, although in all fairness the PS3 is the dominant console in Japan. But, it’s a real cause for concern that the Xbox 360 version must have sold less than Pokemon Black & White 2, which sold 5,724 units. However, by comparison, Devil May Cry 4 sold 205,290 on PS3 and 40,023 on Xbox 360 during its first week, which completely thumps DmC for a total of 245,513 units. Take a moment to absorb all of this.
It’s clear from these results that the negative reception from fans actually did have a significant impact on the game, gamer mindsets and its sales performance. Personally I didn’t find it to be a bad game. It wasn’t a great one for me, but it was decent and fun to play. It made some mistakes, and didn’t do well in certain areas, but it also did quite a lot right and deserves credit for that. More importantly, I do respect Ninja Theory because, unlike BioWare, they had the creative confidence to stick with what they made in the face of all adversity and pressure. But, they didn’t do everything right, and the sales speak fact that fans weren’t happy. But what does this mean for the franchise, the industry and for gamers?
Well, for gamers it proves, or rather reiterates, that fans have power. Their wallets, feedback and happiness can make a big difference to the success of any triple A production. That seems like an obvious lesson, but you’d be surprised by how often people underestimate their own ability to make a difference. For the industry it goes to show that you want the fans on your side, and you should be strongly considering what they say where it’s constructive, important and helpful. That while you shouldn’t do everything to make them happy and obey their every word, and you should indeed take risks, you shouldn’t do so without communication or with any negativity towards fans. Ninja Theory expected the backlash they’d get, and they could have handled it better and opened a firmer line of communication with fans over why it was happening. Unfortunately, when you have a publisher like Capcom at your back, whose reputation is at rock-bottom with fans, it’s always going to be difficult.
Finally, for the franchise this could mean many things. On the worst side of things, it could mean that DmC: Devil May Cry doesn’t have a strong future, and that it may be taken back to the drawing board for any potential sequels. On the other end of the extreme, it could mean that this new direction is completely done away with and hype starts brewing about the return of the original Devil May Cry, and a true sequel gets made to Devil May Cry 4. This is not an option I favour, because it hurts creative integrity, would be a move motivated completely by money, and it would be preying off fans’ distaste for the new game. The middle solution is the one I think would be a good way forward, where it means that Ninja Theory or Capcom will take a more balanced route in future and bring back many elements missing from previous games, while still maintaining their creative integrity and mark on the franchise.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that DmC: Devil May Cry kind of did shed a few tears.