Dead Space 3: Where It All Went Wrong For The Franchise?
Dead Space 3 released a month ago and ever since I played it I’ve been itching to write about it. Well, I would have if EA hadn’t kept the sales figures to themselves for this entire time, making me seriously skeptic about the game’s performance and success. But the curtain has been lifted and in this write-up I’m going to talk about the game and why I believe it all went wrong for the franchise right here. To do that, I’ll be talking about the game in many areas, starting off with its initial reveal.
From when this game was announced at E3 in June last year, it earned itself a little bit of a mixed response, especially among us. The announcement trailer featured not a moment of horror, but loud set pieces, explosions, the appearance of co-op and cinematic action. This was a jarring change from Dead Space 2, which was already far more action packed than the original, but still within line of its roots. But a trailer is no way to judge a game completely now is it? We’ve got to wait to see more, we all said. Well, early after its announcement, and in response to the reaction to the trailer, Electronic Arts president Frank Gibeau stated “we definitely do not want to piss off our fans” by toning down the horror in Dead Space 3. “We tried to open up the accessibility of the [franchise] a little bit by adding a little bit more action, but not undermining the horror.” Well, hell, that’s just so reassuring.
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Adding a little more action to the already action-packed Dead Space 2, and we just have to watch while the horror fades? But the worse was still yet to come. And I’m not even going to be talking about the fan reaction to fighting human opponents in cover shooting sections. The worst of this game’s marketing came right before its release, strangely enough. We first learned that the game would have microtransactions, and a week later we were told that the addition of microtransactions and the direction of the game was there for mass appeal and to attract the smartphone generation of gamers. A day later Steve Papoutsis, the executive producer of developers Visceral Games, defended the console-to-PC direct port of the game, which upset many PC gamers. And shortly after that, we learned that there would be eleven items of day-one DLC for the game. Now that is crazy.
If many fans weren’t skeptic of the action approach already, now they had all the ammunition they needed to worry about the game. The game’s launch, however, was perhaps the most interesting of all. It launched to the worst critical performance of the entire series, with a Metacritic score of 78 for the Xbox 360 version and 76 for the PS3 version, down just over ten percent from both its predecessors. The user scores were 6.1 and 6.2 respectively, again much lower than the first two games. So we’ve got bad marketing, bad publicity, and now average performance with regards to critical acclaim. I could argue until I’m blue in the face that 78 isn’t a bad score, but I’ve written far too many times about review scores to talk about it more, and essentially, it doesn’t change the truth that EA does not want to see that kind of score for a franchise it wants to make buckets of cash on. That’s horrible to them.
When I played the game, I have to say that it was below average to me. In fact, I could write a book on why, from poor storytelling (it’s never been the game’s strong point, but this was just terrible), repetitive and brainless action, not an ounce of horror to be found anywhere, questionable game design, puzzles with solutions right in front of your face which meant they were just obstacles, extreme easiness and overabundance of resources and almost total lack of atmosphere with the game being permanently loud and the “scares” bland and repeated in excess – there were even mini-cutscenes to announce the first appearances of many necromorphs. The more I played the game, the more I grew to dislike it. For the entire duration of the game, my inventory included literally ten to fifteen medi-packs and 80 clips of ammunition. Not 80 bullets, 80 clips. That’s around about 800 bullets for my ultra powerful plasma cutter that killed necromorphs in two hits. The boss battles didn’t put a dent in my resources, and before I could even start to lose them, they’d pile up in minutes. I think in my entire duration with Dead Space 3, I was jump scared once and that’s the only moment of horror I recall. It was a joke.
There really was not a single reason to be afraid of necromorphs. It was Space Invaders on crack. Necromorphs had been made faster, and on paper it would be intimidating to have them charge full speed at you, but in the game it translated to brainless cannon fodder running at you to get dropped like flies and do almost no damage. And if the necromorphs weren’t easy enough to kill, well, imagine how easy it is to kill human opponents. And if you really wanted zero challenge, you could always run with co-op. I liked some of the unique ideas in there with regards to the hallucinations, but what little horror dignity this game tried to have got obliterated with that. So if you take out resource management, horror and challenge, you’ve essentially removed three vital components of survival horror, which meant Dead Space 3 was purely an action game. And many fans were not very happy.
However, I of course heard many defending the action. I don’t mind anyone who likes or loves the game or prefers the action approach, not at all, but I completely hate it when people say that the action approach is taking the game in a new or fresh direction. That if Dead Space 3 was all horror again, then it would be more of the same. Well, no it isn’t. The action approach is the “mass appeal” direction. The simple direction. The easy direction. The cop out direction. The money direction. Dead Space 3 had something with its ice planet, that is a new direction, but more action is certainly not. I could picture a million ways in which an ice planet would be a great setting for a horror game, and a number of those elements are even in Dead Space 3 itself, but it all gets buried underneath the never-ending action.
You may have noticed that I haven’t addressed the micro-transactions. A former columnist on our site echoed my feelings in a write-up after we had a lengthy conversation about it, but I can summarise. I love micro-transactions in a game like Valve’s Dota 2, where it’s done perfectly, just for cosmetic items and both Valve and the community benefit from it, profit-wise and happiness-wise. I loathe Dead Space 3’s micro-transactions with a passion, because they’re effectively making money off air by selling you things that cost them nothing to give you. They’re not unique or special, which is at least the argument you can make for any kind of DLC, but its resources you find in spades in the game without much difficulty, and things you’ve already paid for by just buying the game off the shelf. But worse, there was one that really irked me, and it was the supply robot that takes ten minutes to gather resources for you. You can pay R50 (what a damn rip-off, I buy indie games and even full games for that price), to reduce it to five minutes. So let me get that straight. The inconvenience of ten minutes was deliberately put there so they could have you pay to reduce it to five? What happened to in-game upgrades? Hell, you can cheat for free resources in so many games, but Dead Space 3 is special isn’t it?
They didn’t even have much to say about the exploit that could give you free resources anyway. I know there’s the argument that you don’t have to buy them, they’re optional, but I don’t believe in that. When EA said that gamers are “enjoying and embracing” this form of micro-transactions, they also said that they’re looking to build them into their future games. So they’re going to make more money off something they really shouldn’t be making money off. I’m not being an idealist. They’re charging you for free stuff. I’ve also engaged in debate where it was said that EA has to maximise profits in the game’s early hype stages, and that’s true, but there are many ways besides micro-transactions and, well, great lot of good it did for them when we see those sales figures that I’ll be getting to down below.
Alright, it’s one thing for me to have my opinion of the game. But let’s look at more facts shall we? We’ve looked at the bad marketing and underwhelming critical performance, but what of the actual sales? Well, here we get to the most important part of why it all went wrong for the franchise with Dead Space 3. Usually, sales figures get released two weeks after a game launches. Why? Because the first two weeks are the most important of a game’s sales performance, it’s where you can see how successful your game is and evaluate how successful it will be in the future. It’s all the momentum and the excitement, and the chance to sell as many copies as possible. Well, EA refrained to release sales figures for over a month. What made this worrying was that before the game was out, they said that it needed to sell five million to survive. That is one hell of an optimistic figure to say the least.
It was a time of mass speculation when shortly after the game was launched, VideoGamer published a story revealing that, according to their inside source, EA had ceased development of Dead Space 4 due to Dead Space 3’s poor sales. You can read the full story there, which brings a lot of alarming information to life. However, shortly after this, EA responded by saying the information is “flat-out not true,” and that “While we have not announced sales data for Dead Space 3, we are proud of the game and it remains an important IP for EA.” It didn’t help that EA’s Peter Moore said of the story on GamesIndustry.biz forum, that it was “standard, shoddy website journalism recipe.”
You know what’s funny? They still didn’t release any sales figures after all that.
Yesterday, we found out why, when the sales figures were actually revealed, where Dead Space 3 has sold just 605,000 copies in a whole month. That really doesn’t look good. Dead Space 2, by comparison, managed to ship nearly two million units in its first week. Note that note all shipped units get sold, sure, but that was its first week, so EA must have seen very promising signs of sales and pre-orders and such. It’s really hard to get proper sales figures these days, but if we have to compare Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3’s first five weeks of sales on all platforms, according to the figures from vgchartz, then we see some interesting results. Let’s take a look at them down below.
- Dead Space 2 sold 652,642 units on PS3, 764,462 units on Xbox 360, and 93,799 units on PC in its first five weeks, for a combined total of 1,510,903 units.
- Dead Space 3 sold 428,421 units on PS3, 606,103 units on Xbox 360, and 33,047 units on PC in its first five weeks, for a combined total of 1,067,571 units.
There’s approximately a 500 000 unit difference in sales between Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3 in their first five weeks at retail, and that’s seriously not good considering Dead Space 3 wants to supposedly sell five million. Momentum dies fast after the first few weeks of retail, especially the first two, but Dead Space 3 is absolutely not performing well, which makes me wonder whether those rumours from VideoGamer are actually true or not. It wouldn’t be far-fetched since we know that EA would cancel a franchise pretty damn fast if it stopped being lucrative, which spells bad things.
Personally, I absolutely wouldn’t be sad to see Dead Space go down for this. By “go down” I don’t necessarily mean die, but at least get a kick up the ass. Its driving force is to make money, and not deliver you a good game first. Action, action and more action, tacked-on multiplayer in Dead Space 2, co-op in Dead Space 3, micro-transactions and even more action, the objective from EA isn’t to make the best Dead Space, it’s to make the most money. Yes, corporations want to make money, I don’t need to be told that. But I have no respect for those who don’t want to make a great game as their primary objective. There are plenty of developers out there who do, so I don’t need to sympathise with those who don’t, and give me the short end of the stick while they’re at it. I’ll support the good ones.
To wrap this up, if we look at marketing, critical performance, user performance, the actual game and, most importantly sales figures, then it’s clear that Dead Space 3 is where it all went wrong, or where it’s currently going wrong, for the franchise, and it’s very likely that if there is to be a Dead Space 4, there’ll be a dramatic change in how it will be presented to gamers, if it continues to not meet expectations. Whether that’s a reboot I won’t say for sure, but a change of style and approach is very likely.