DmC: Devil May Cry is a failure. And a success. Just look at the sales!

DmC: Devil May Cry is a failure. And a success. Just look at the sales!

We’ve talked about this before, but the fact remains that we don’t have any idea how well or poorly most games are performing on the open market. This message has been driven home once again today due to the coverage of the UK sales of DmC: Devil May Cry.

The question should be simple to answer: How well is the game doing? The answer is that it’s at the top of the charts, but it’s a failure. Maybe.

We just don’t know

“Launch week sales for DmC Devil May Cry were just a third of the amount that previous entry Devil May Cry 4 sold during its launch week in 2008,” Eurogamer reported. “That’s despite DmC having an extra three days on sale - it launched last Tuesday, compared to Devil May Cry 4‘s Friday launch, the traditional day that new video games hit shop shelves in the UK.”

What’s missing are hard numbers, although I was able to find a press release from February 20, 2008 that claimed Devil May Cry 4 shipped, not sold, 2 million copies worldwide in its first month of availability.

But wait, there’s more! Devil May Cry 4 was also bundled with 360 and PS3 hardware in January of 2008. It’s unknown whether the copies of the game sold in those bundles count towards the 2 million shipped described in that press release, or whatever number is being used to give us that “third of the sales of Devil May Cry 4” statistic. [Update: Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo e-mailed to say that DmC is also available for sale on the PlayStation Network, which makes sales even harder to track.]

Which sounds like DmC: Devil May Cry is struggling, right? Well, the Joystiq story says that the game is “tearing up” the UK Charts. That story also cites the drop in relative sales, but the headline emphasizes the number one slot earned by the game in the charts. Other stories make that the headline.

Here’s the sad truth: Without hard numbers we have no idea if DmC: Devil May Cry is doing well or poorly. We don’t know how many units Devil May Cry 4 moved in the same time, nor how the bundles affected those numbers. We don’t know how many copies DmC has sold. Even if we did, it’s hard to draw conclusions: What were the budgets of the two games? What was the marketing spend? There are many variables that are taken into account when we decide if a game has been a success or not, and it’s rare that the publisher shares any of this information with us for a long time.

What’s left is spin, and statements that are hard to quantify.

There is also the fact that the game hasn’t been released for the PC yet, although the PC version looks and plays much better than the console versions of the game. Remember that services like Steam almost never share detailed or specific sales information with analysts, and publishers will only release numbers or details that make them look good, so it’s unlikely we’ll know what Capcom truly thinks of the performance of DmC, and that information will likely come from an earnings call.

Christian Svensson, Capcom’s SVP of consumer software, in fact disputed the idea that DmC had a larger marketing budget than Devil May Cry 4. “I won’t get into exact numbers but I also believe your statements about PD or marketing budgets between DMC4 and DmC to not be factually correct (details of which I doubt IR would ever make public since we never disclose exact title level budgets for anything),” he told a fan who asked about sales.

I’ve received e-mails today from readers asking for my thoughts on why DmC failed at retail, and others saying it’s good news that DmC developer Ninja Theory finally have a hit on their hands. The forums are filled with people saying the game is already a failure, or that it’s great that it’s topping the UK charts. Both are true, but neither show the reality of the situation, and it’s especially hard to close the book on a game less than a week after release.