There are 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 that were not interested in the first titles 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 they franchise is trying to appeal to the “casuals”, and other, just as vocal, gamers bashing on what they see as “entitled crybabies”. Hence, why not at least to assess whether or not trying to widen a franchise’s appeal actually helps or hinder subsequent sales.Of course, it is impossible to attributer any causal effect sales-wise to any particular choice that was made by the marketing, publishing or developing team. However, it might be interesting to see what happened to franchises that tried that strategy. After all, contrary to popular wisdom, Action-JRPGs 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, which are the one that tried to “widen their appeal”. To avoid relying on my sole gamer’s experience, I’ve tried to look on forums what franchises were accused of trying to widen their appeal. Here and there, names were named, and I then looked at VgChartz to see what was the verdict of Sales, the God of the Free Market.
There are a lot of title sales I tried to look for, like the original Fallout, Street Fighter III, and so one, but could not find, probably because data are too old to be public. As I already spent a whole article on Kitase’s approach of Final Fantasy, there is no reason for me to dig into that again, but if you see another franchise I should look into, please say so in the comments.
I. Franchises that did not gain or lose any sales by trying to widen their appeal
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 on 360 and 0.26 on PC, while the first episode that was less shooting oriented sold 2.61 on 360 and 0.53 on PC. In the end, removing RPG elements neither hurt nor helped the franchise, eventhought one can make a case that it hurted in the long run since Mass Effect 3 sold lower numbers than 2 on PS3 and 360.
Resident Evil 4 is famous for having completely reinvented the franchise by adding a strong action element, and, at the same time, dubbing down the survival horror element. Being such a critical success, we can imagine RE4 to have greatly surpassed, sales wise, the titles before it. Well, it’s not the case at all.
Resident Evil 3 on PSX sold 3.72 while Resident Evil 4 on PS2 reached a close equivalent of 3.62. On Gamecube, where Resident Evil 4 first came out, it sold 1.69 million copies, a number that is only 11% higher than what the remake of the original Resident Evil sold on the same console three years before (1.42).
I cannot make the direct comparison between Conviction that did away with a lot of the franchises stealth element, and the preceding title as VgChartz does not give any data for sales of Splinter Cell : Double Agent on PS2 and XBOX. However, Splinter Cell Conviction sales on 360 (1.96) is actually in between the original Splinter Cell (3.02 on XBOX) and Pandora Tomorrow (1.48). I’ll let you decide wether or not it is a success.
II. Franchises that lost a significant amount of sales when the tried to widen their appeal
Dragon Age II has gathered so much criticism that it’s difficult to pinpoint what hurted its sales, but much of the fan’s ire was at least partly directed toward the dumbed down, action oriented combat. On PC, Dragon Age II sold about as much as Dragon Age Origins. However, The franchise lost 60% of its sales on 360 and 57% on PS3.
Ninja Gaiden 2 on 360 sold close to a million copies (0.96) while Ninja Gaiden 3 on the same system achieved only 10% of this number. On PS3, Sigma 2 sold 0.75 while Ninja Gaiden 3 sold 0.16. In the end, Ninja Gaiden sales went down 84.5% from number 2 to number 3 – a result of loss of quality or of a dumbing down of the game’s notorious difficulty ?