Kinguin sales data shows that there are games that never stop selling. Years after release they remain popular and are picked up by new generations of gamers. We take a deeper look at this phenomenon and try to determine what are the ingredients of a timeless game.
An interesting example of staying power is Mafia II.
The game, released in 2010, features graphics and some of the mechanics considered ancient by modern standards. Mafia III, released in 2016, is technically much more impressive, has a bigger scope and mechanics not unlike many hit games. Still, according to our sales charts, during the past 12 months Mafia II’s numbers were nearly four times bigger than Mafia III’s. This is interesting, because the initial reception of both games wasn’t that much different.
Mafia II‘s console versions were criticized for technical issues, while the PC version was considered disappointing due to inconsistent narrative, padding, clunky controls as well as artificial and pointless open world. Its Metacritic score is 77.
Mafia III has had technical issues across all platforms, which influenced the initial reception, yet its storytelling was still regarded as strong and the setting was deemed interesting. The developers provided the much-requested true openness of the game world, but fans regarded this decision as controversial and disliked the repetitive nature of missions. Overall, Mafia III PC scored an average of 62 points on Metacritic.
Sometimes an entry in a series makes a stronger and more lasting impact than other, despite being on a similar technical or design level.
The 15-point difference between the scores isn’t necessarily a huge one, and both titles were regarded as disappointing at release. Moreover, each one stripped some of its respective predecessor’s features, which also caused a backlash. Yet after all these years, there is still interest in the series’ second entry. The third game, more modern and user-friendly, and at least partially created with criticisms of the preceding entry in mind, quickly died in the community’s consciousness.
This happens often within game series: some entries make a stronger and more lasting impact than other, despite being on a similar technical or design level relatively to the moment of release. This cannot be always attributed to the ‘lightning in a bottle’ effect, where a title feels fresh and manages to strike all the right notes, and its sequels are just imitations. Mafia 2 wasn’t groundbreaking. It was a sequel in a different setting. Mafia 3 wasn’t groundbreaking either. It was a sequel in a different setting.
Now let’s take a look at the Fallout series.
Fallout 3 (2008) and 4 (2015) are still very much alive in the gaming community, reaching similar sales numbers and avoiding any significant drops in sales. There is a constant interest in these titles, which is surprising considering that the sales of Fallout: New Vegas (2010) are three times lower in comparison. New Vegas has always been the most praised entry among all three, valued for its story and deep gameplay by the core Fallout fanbase, which considers it a „real” Fallout, contrary to 3 and 4 – perceived as dumbed-down imitations.
Here we have an intriguing contradiction.
Both Fallout and Mafia series are for mature audiences only. Both dare to touch upon serious subjects. Both feature open worlds, violence and lots of dialogue, and both rely heavily on their stories. Yet Mafia’s staying power is the strongest when the game is complex and hardcore, and praised by the most hardcore fans. At the same time, Fallout is remembered when it’s simplified — despite fan backlash.
Mafia’s staying power is the strongest when the game is complex and hardcore. Fallout is remembered when it’s simplified.
One last example: Mass Effect. The sales for the original trilogy (2008, 2010, 2012) offered in a single package, remain on a constant and strong level, without any significant dips or spikes. This proves that the trilogy is still very much alive in the hearts of gamers. The deeply flawed and disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) sold just slightly better than the trilogy over the past year, and noted frequent dips in interest – reinvigorated to a degree with price cuts or special deals.
The obvious reasoning would be that Andromeda is simply considered a bad game, so it has not that much of staying power. However, we also have the original Mass Effect games available separately.
Their sales are significantly lower than the numbers of the entire trilogy in a single package, but even though the interest in Mass Effect 2 (the most acclaimed entry) is relatively smaller, it remains constant. No dips, no spikes – it’s simply a game that keeps selling. And there is Mass Effect 3, the trilogy’s black sheep.
Both Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda suffered initial backlash, mostly due to their uninspired stories, and had to be heavily patched. Out of these two ME3 was a hugely better game and isn’t considered outright bad. Yet its sales aren’t a sine wave like Andromeda’s – because there are no sales. The third entry, as a separate entity, is pretty much dead and forgotten despite being objectively a better game, and more important to Mass Effect’s overall story and legacy.
Knowing this, it’s time to ask our experts the titular question: what is it that makes a game timeless?
Tune in next time for the discussion.