PlayStation just revealed the sales numbers for Horizon Forbidden West, and they’re pretty good. 8.4 million copies in fact. This is no mean feat and should be considered a huge success by any normal standards. So why do you feel like a failure?
First, let’s quantify that 8.4 million, which Sony confirmed in a blog post yesterday. Sounds good, but is it good? Compared to some of the best PlayStation games, it falls a bit short. One of the highlights of Sony’s first offering, The Last of Us Part 2 sold more than 10 million copies in its first two years. Spider-Man, a thunderous Marvel IP title, sold over 13 million downloads in its first year, a figure that rose to 33 million after its remake and port for PC, and another four years on the shelves. Forbidden West’s predecessor, Horizon Zero Dawn, sold 7.6 million copies in its first year.
So Forbidden West is slightly behind Sony’s golden child with a year to go and has outsold the first game in its own series in sales? That’s good news, isn’t it? maybe. The most apt comparison for Horizon Forbidden West is God of War Ragnarok, another Sony exclusive sequel released in 2022. Kratos’ adventure sold an astounding 11 million copies in just three months, blowing Aloy out of the water. Is it a bad time? Is Norse mythology an easier sell than weird-robot-post-apocalypse-future?
A combination of these two reasons will always favor the big bald guy. The Norse pantheon is probably the most recognizable and marketable myth in the world, closely followed by the Greek, which has already been used to create a core of God of War fans. Ragnarok also came out right before Christmas, while Forbidden West suffered from the same curse as its predecessor, coming out just seven days before the most anticipated game of the year. Zero Dawn is ahead of Breath of the Wild, and Forbidden West was immediately overshadowed by Elden Ring.
Comparing it to Zero Dawn doesn’t make great reading either. Although Forbidden West outsold Aloy’s first edition by around 800,000 copies, that may not be the utility you think. Zero Dawn was establishing an IP, it was completely new, and it had to start from scratch. Sequels should build on this foundation, both in terms of replayability and in terms of better selling the previous games. When Zero Dawn launched, the PlayStation was still fighting in the console war trenches. The PS4 era was when Sony cemented itself as a prestigious triple-A powerhouse, making story-heavy RPGs easy wins on the PS5. He was supposed to take a victory lap at Forbidden West.
In the current financial climate, studio management wants ever-growing profits. They are not satisfied with sustainable income, they want more and they want it now. A sequel that won’t sell better than its predecessor will probably end the series in 2023. I’m not saying that the Horizon series is over – Forbidden West did outsell Zero Dawn after all – but I wonder if the top brass will be happy with these sales numbers, yet especially when they can cite God of War as a comparison.
However, Horizon Forbidden West’s most damning failure isn’t measured in dollars, but in conversation. The buzz around the game died down a week after its release and hasn’t picked up since. Nobody is talking about the Horizon series. They might buy the games, but does anyone care? Even the DLC sparked debate just because of the reviewer bombardment of Aloy’s queer identity. Of course, this is partly due to the Elden Ring effect, but if FromSoftware’s open-world masterpiece had been released a week before Horizon, I think we would have had the same result and Forbidden West would still have gone under the conversational radar. It’s a question of quality, not time.
The Horizon series needs a refresh. In many ways, it feels like a cat over long-extinct open-world games, a techno-dinosaur that somehow found itself out of time while FromSoftware and Nintendo build pyramids around it. God of War has its one-shot gimmick, The Last of Us prides itself on realism and storytelling, and Horizon needs something similar, something that sets it apart from the crowd. Its sales numbers may be doing well, but the series will never stand out and dominate gaming conversations if it continues as it is.
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