Resident Evil 7 was one of the biggest surprises to come from E3 last year.
Not that its very existence was the surprise, since no one thought Capcom would cease their biggest franchise. The unexpected twist was the path they decided to take with it. Instead of making a new action-based title like the last three numbered installments, they returned to the franchise’s roots with a survival/horror title. Further, they made it a first-person experience; though it contained segments reminiscent of other first-person hide-and-seek horror games, it adhered to Resident Evil’s tradition in presenting a number of options to the player in most encounters.
The decision to make so many changes was surprising thanks to the money Capcom was ostensibly leaving on the table, as despite the divisive opinions towards the previous batch of RE games, they sold extremely well. That especially goes for Resident Evil 6, the most action-packed game in the franchise, which sold 7.8 million copies worldwide (including the one million copies the current-gen release sold) despite having a massive gulf of opinions. It was clear that Capcom took those reviews to heart, and looked towards the a more well-received title like the Resident Evil Remake HD Remaster for inspiration. This experiment resulted in reviews that were far more favorable, with many calling it a return to form for the franchise.
But that’s merely the case among those who purchased it. Capcom fully expected RE7 to sell less than previous installments when they expected it to sell 4 million copies by the end of the fiscal year, which ended on March 31st. That’s less than RE6, which sold 4.9 million by that time, though that title released six months before the end of its fiscal year. The expectations also made sense due to this game having a lower budget than previous games, though it was still graphically impressive.
Despite those lower expectations, Capcom confirmed RE7 sold 3.5 million copies worldwide by March 31st in their financial results report, 500,000 less than the target. But that’s not all bad, since Capcom admitted that they’re still impressed with what it sold. After the game was revealed to be a first-person experience, it was tough to think it would reach that expectation, as they were alienating the big audience who enjoyed the action-based games. The gaming audience also tends to have certain expectations when seeing a first-person horror game, as it was initially thought to be similar to titles like the Amnesia and Outlast games, which were primarily released digitally for a much lower price. While that’s not the case, it’s tough to overcome first impressions, especially after the demo did present a similar experience.
While there’s still some RE7 content coming in the form of the free “Not a Hero” DLC, recently delayed to a currently undetermined time, where does Capcom go from here? Perhaps this first-person experience lowered the budget enough for the company to continue making more with slightly-lower sales expectations, since the critical and consumer reception to the game itself was better than any RE game in years. That, or they could go back to a third-person game like previous installments if they believe they can recapture lost sales.
That said, if they tackled a new third-person experience, don’t expect it to be like RE6. Capcom undoubtedly remembers its critical reception, but they’re also doing everything they can to retreat from the high-budget AAA world while maintaining, and potentially expanding, their audience with comparatively lower-budget projects.
RE7 isn’t the only example of this, as this experiment can also be seen through Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which resurfaced last week. It reuses plenty of animations from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 titles, and isn’t the most graphically impressive title around, despite it having higher sales potential than Street Fighter V. Capcom tried to establish a larger foothold in the AAA space in the latter half of the last console generation, but this ended up hurting them with many of their titles selling below expectations. This explains their current actions, though some of those failures were the result of misreading what their fanbase wanted.
This may not mark the end of third-person RE games, though. The next game could be a lower-budget third-person game that hearkens back to Resident Evil 4, given that it’s still the most well-received installment over 12 years after release. If that’s not the path they want to go down, they could make more Resident Evil Revelations installments, since the first two games put up solid (though perhaps not spectacular) sales.
We’ve also yet to see the Resident Evil 2 remake in action, despite it being announced in August 2015. This will presumably be an isometric title, similar to the aforementioned RE Remake (or “REmake”), because heaven help Capcom if it isn’t.
Capcom could take another extended break from the numbered RE series like they did after RE6 released in 2012, until they’re sure of what they want to do with the next installment. Meanwhile, the RE2 remake should be shown by the end of the year, as they’ll presumably want to release it for the 20th anniversary in 2018.