Watch Dogs 2 is underperforming its predecessor by a significant amount in the United Kingdom. According to the Chart-Track rankings (via GamesIndustry) and leaked sales numbers for other titles, Watch Dogs 2 sold around 80,000 units in the region for launch week.
The first game broke sales records in the UK, enjoyed the 17th best launch week of all time, and had the best day-one sales of any title in Ubisoft history. While Chart-Track only accounts for physical sales in one region, that's not a great start for the Ubisoft sequel. Watch Dogs 2 took the number 2 spot behind Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which was in its third week of release.
Ubisoft is hoping that Watch Dogs 2 will have a long-tail following positive critical reviews and upcoming holiday sales.
"We're incredibly happy with critics' and players' very positive reception of Watch Dogs 2, which should bolster support for the long-term success of the game. It is true that first-day and first-week sales for a number of big games, including Watch Dogs 2 and titles from our competitors, are comparatively lower than previous versions in previous years," said a spokesperson from the company.
"However, we expect both week-two and week-three sales to be above traditional sales patterns. There is a trend toward games, especially high-quality games, having stronger and longer 'tails' as favorable reviews and word of mouth spread. Watch Dogs 2 is already considered a tremendous addition to the open-world action adventure series and we're confident that millions of players are going to love it."
Watch Dogs 2 isn't the only sequel to fall far below its predecessor: Titanfall 2 from Respawn Entertainment suffered a similar fate at UK retail only a few weeks ago. That sequel debuted at #4 in the UK charts, behind Battlefield 1, Skyrim Special Edition, and FIFA 17. In the following weeks, it was eventually outperformed by Forza Horizon 3, a game that came out a month earlier. Even on the North America NPD Group charts, Titanfall 2 debuted at #9.
Watch Dogs 2 and Titanfall 2 are better games than their predecessors. Watch Dogs 2 leaves behind the dour and overtly serious tone of the first game for a sequel with a better cast, better city, better structure, and more fun overall tone. Titanfall 2 has probably the best single-player first-person shooter campaign of the past few years, one that I'd slot on the Top 10 FPS campaigns of all-time. (Doom was equally impressive this year.) I liked both of the originals, but from a craft perspective, the sequels are simply better games.
But quality isn't everything.
Just making a great game isn't enough. There are a number of factors that lead into both games underperformance. Watch Dogs and Titanfall were debuts of brand-new franchises. There was a certain amount of hype and shine driving their sales, in a way their sequels likely couldn't match.
Likewise, the reception of those original games probably did not help the sequels. Watch Dogs promised a great deal in its early trailers, from both a visual and design standpoint. Ubisoft Montreal showed off a highly-detailed Chicago where you could hack everything. In the end, it offered a decent-looking Chicago with a relatively simple hacking mechanic.
Titanfall delivered what it promised on the multiplayer side, but it was starved for content: the multiplayer campaign had a limited number of maps, little player variety, and a single-player campaign that was the multiplayer wrapped in a narrative shell. Given both of those games, it may be unsurprising that players didn't turn out as strongly for round two.
There's also something to be said about when both games were released. Watch Dogs bowed in May 2014, where its biggest competition was Mario Kart 8. Titanfall released in a month earlier in April, up against Hearthstone on iOS and The Elder Scrolls Online. Each game owned their respective months with little meaningful competition.
Compare that to Titanfall 2's contentious release between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, two established franchises that compete for the same audience. Watch Dogs 2 follows all three of those games and a similar open-world title in Mafia III. Both are coming ahead of the holiday sales season, where consumers hold off on purchases in order to get those sweet, sweet Black Friday deals.
Everything matters when you're trying to sell a game. Context is important. How was the previous game received and does the sequel look like it's fixing those errors? What else is releasing at the same time that can steal some thunder? Does the game we're selling look like something players what right now?
I hope Watch Dogs 2 and Titanfall 2 find sales success in the long tail. Both games are damned great and well-worth their asking price. Other publishers and titles have found life beyond the launch window, even if the ultimate outcome wasn't always promising. Ubisoft Montreal and Respawn Entertainment have earned the chance to continue to build on what they've created so far. Hopefully, they'll get that chance.