Posted on April 19, 2013, Ross Lincoln Heavy Rain’s $100M Sales A Good Sign For The Future
Insane Lifetime movie/serial killer thriller Heavy Rain was, as it turns out, a great investment for Quantic Dream, and for Sony.
The Playstation 3 exclusive, made from a budget reported to be around $40 million, earned at least $100 million in a market dominated by sequels and blockbuster action games. Quantic Dream co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumiere revealed the sales figures this week at the Digital Dragons game festival, taking place in Krakow, Poland. In stark contrast to Square Enix’s bizarre assertion that all three of its recent certified hits underperformed, de Fondaumiere rightly crowed that Heavy Rain’s success is something any developer would love to achieve. “Let’s say [Heavy Rain was] $22 million to produce. With marketing it’s maybe $30 million. With distribution, $40 million. Sony earned $100 million with the game, so it’s very profitable. It’s the sort of margin that most publishers would strive for, for any game.”
Whatever you think of Heavy Rain itself, that’s shockingly good news for gamers.
Naturally, “let’s say” isn’t exactly specific. Reports on Heavy Rain’s budget has varied wildly, and developers are notoriously cagey about actual sales figures. But $40 million is on the high side, and whatever you think about Heavy Rain, sales of $100 million is good news. Those of us dismayed by endless sequels and the clumsy shoehorning of trendy gameplay and plot elements into everything regardless of whether it actually fits the game now have a solid rebuttal to the notion that such measures are necessary for any successful game.
The success of Heavy Rain is notable for another reason too. As de Fondaumiere noted, the advertising budget was something like $8 million. That sounds like a lot to those of us who don’t drape ourselves in gold-encrusted silk before work, but it’s a paltry sum compared to franchises like Battlefield 3. BF3 reportedly had a marketing budget approaching $100 million, or just over 10 percent of the game’s approximately $927.6 Million in revenues. That’s a very good return on investment, but Heavy Rain beats it with an ad budget that was approximately 8 percent of its eventual revenues.
This suggests that positive word of mouth and critical acclaim did more than their fair share for Heavy Rain’s success, and better, players didn’t just purchase the game, they also played the hell out of it. David Cage revealed 2011 that Heavy Rain’s completion rate was around 72%. That’s astonishingly high when you consider that Mass Effect reached 58%. Clearly, people bought the game, played it and told their friends, who themselves played it.
You might be of the opinion that Heavy Rain is overrated garbage*, but you cannot deny that the fact it was a hit, despite being so obstinately different from most other games (except, of course, for Indigo Prophecy), is impressive. Two scenes manage to put players into the role of a woman threatened with rape and dismemberment without trivializing or exploiting the moment but instead accurately conveyeying the danger and menace inherent in those situations. Half the game is nothing but conversation. Urination and shaving are actual playable moments. And yet, people loved it.
The last few years have been a tremendous let down from the heights of 2007-2009. At the time it seemed that gaming’s time as a serious storytelling and artistic medium had come. Since then, we’ve seen once-great franchises brought low by having core elements neutered in favor of multiplayer; developers insisting that unreasonably high sales figures are the only possible measure of success; and developers citing what they claim is hostility to innovation as the reason for the industry’s lack of creative animus. But here is a game that bucks convention at every level, exclusive to a single console, with no brand name recognition and a frustrating gameplay mechanic, that still landed strong.
This news is no guarantee that developers will realize that gamers are actually interested in new things, in interesting things, in something aside from tentpole franchises. But a better rebuttal of faulty premises could not be invented. If anything else, it’s enough to make me look forward to the next generation of consoles – assuming, of course, that developers don’t decide to ruin the consoles themselves, instead of just the games.
* I’m not.