In an investor call at the end of the month, Square Enix effectively called the Tomb Raider reboot that had been out for all of three weeks a failure. They said that they had expected the game to ship between five and six million copies and only it moved 3.4 million. Square Enix made it sound like the Tomb Raider franchise was dead on re-arrival.
Over the following 24 months, Tomb Raider and the current-gen (PS4 and XB1) Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition sold another 5.1 million copies to bring the total units sold to a franchise record of 8.5 million copies sold. They’re touting the success of the Tomb Raider reboot in the run up to this fall’s release of The Rise of the Tomb Raider (a timed exclusive on Xbox One and Xbox 360).
So what happened for Square Enix to change their tune?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I talked to Square Enix (yes, I actually did some reporting myself) and they say that free downloads of Tomb Raider through the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection (available in March 2014) and Xbox’s Games with Gold (in March 2015) are not reflected in the reported 8.5 million units sold. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t making money from it. It just means that they don’t consider them units sold in this instance.
I wanted to do a sales analysis to look for a pattern to show why the “increase” in sales but SqEnix weren’t providing that report externally. That’s fair. I can use VG Chartz to extrapolate some patterns. Keep in mind that I say extrapolate because VG Chartz reports 5.75 million in sales against Square’s 8.5 MM so there’s a gap of 2.75 million units or 33% of what Square Enix boasts as a sales total. I’ll disclaim up front that this difference makes for some big assumptions in the analysis below but I think there are some valuable insights to be had.
The biggest surprise from using those unofficial numbers is that PC units sold make up the smallest portion of the total at 5.4%. That shocked me because I was able to by Tomb Raider for 66% off the launch price ($20) less than two months after release. SteamDB says that the game has been offered for as low as $3.99. I would have thought the quick, frequent and massive discounts would result in PC being a bigger Tomb Raider market than PS4 and Xbox One. That could also be a limitation in VG Chartz’s data so we may have to take this with a grain of salt.
Interestingly, of Tomb Raider’s total sales, about 21% are copies of the Definitive Edition on PS4 and XB1. VG Chartz says that sales on the PS4 are nearly three times that of sales on Xbox One. Regardless of the platform breakdown, that’s an interesting statement about the next-gen remaster business. It probably isn’t too hard to convert the PC version to the PS4/XB1 version since it’s all similar hardware platforms now. It’s minimal investment for sales of 1.7 million (based on a quick extrapolation since VG Charts reports next-gen as 21% of 5.75 MM sales). That’s a gross of over $100 million is my math is right (and I didn’t believe the number so I recalculated it five times). Granted, after variable costs, it’s closer to half that but that still comes out to be a massive return on investment.
So one would have to think that the game changer for Square Enix has to be the Definitive Edition. After all, based on both Square Enix and VG Chartz’s numbers, 60% of total sales of Tomb Raider were after the first three weeks on the market. That’s not a massive growth in sales when you consider that’s 60% of the sales in 96% of the time it’s been on the market. That says that it didn’t get some sort of late cult following to boost sales.
One of the biggest gripes about the current state of the current generation of consoles is the number of “HD” remasters on the consoles until new titles are released. It would seem that the reason that they keep going back to those is because they do sell. While I’d love someone with more money than I to do a little digging into how many owners of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition also own copies of Tomb Raider on PS3, Xbox 360 or PC, I can’t imagine that the owner pool is mutually exclusive.
If you consider the initial development of the game to be a sunk cost (costs that were already incurred and wouldn’t have changed with or without the development of the Definitive Edition), the PS4/XB1 edition of the game was damn well near pure profit. Considering that Square Enix seemed so willing to give up on Tomb Raider in March 2013, this would certainly turn from heads at head office. Of course, the irony of that would be that Square Enix now says that Tomb Raider also set franchise record for first day and first month sales. I guess you can’t please everyone.
By the way, one last little tidbit I love: VGChartz claims the PS3 version outsold the Xbox 360 version and I already told you about the PS4 to XB1 sales gap. About 57% of sales were on PlayStation consoles while 38% were on Xbox consoles. So it’s a good time to remind you that Rise of the Tomb Raider comes exclusively (for a while) to Xbox this fall. Hope Microsoft is paying them the equivalent to 60% of the sales they won’t get.