By the numbers, Outriders is one of the year’s big success stories. And yet, developer People Can Fly apparently hasn’t received any royalties from Square Enix, the loot-shooter’s publisher. As reported by VGC, People Can Fly wrote in an investor note that “this probably means that, in Square Enix’s opinion, [Outriders] has not exceeded the break-even point.”
Outriders, a third-person shooter with a heavy focus on cooperative play, casts players as exoplanetary explorers who wield tremendous space magic. Whereas many games in the genre urge you to duck behind cover for safety, Outriders features a Doom-like gimmick. Killing enemies heals you, forcing you to take on more risk than you would in, say, Gears of War. Millions of players seemed to get a kick out of it, at least in the early goings.
Square Enix did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Kotaku.
Initially planned for a February 2021 release, Outriders was delayed to an April 1 release. When the cooperative sci-fi shooter launched, it did so as part of the Xbox Game Pass library as an effort to build a solid player base from the jump. But, like every online game ever, it released in what one could charitably call a “totally busted” state, including multiplayer disconnects, server shutdowns, and some random but temporarily irreversible inventory wipes. (A May 5 patch eventually restored lost gear.) Those issues plagued the game well into launch. A whole month after release day, some players still had trouble even getting into the game’s lobby.
But the bumps in the road clearly didn’t affect how many people played the game. In May, Square Enix said that Outriders is “on track to become the company’s next major franchise” while noting that more than 3.5 million played the game over the first month. It’s unclear how many of those came to the game via Game Pass. (Microsoft doesn’t publicize such stats.) That said, a week-and-a-half after launch, it was the second-most popular game on Xbox Game Pass. And in June, Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda said that “the digital sales ratio for the title have been very high, and the number of active users has also beaten our expectations.”
So, what’s the deal? Though there are a gazillion variables—including how big the marketing budget was, the specifics of the contract negotiated between both parties, how big the production budget was, how many players played via Game Pass (and thus likely didn’t pay extra for a copy), or how much money Square earned from the Game Pass deal—Outriders is a clear success.
One wonders just what the heck Square Enix’s strategy is these days. Take, for instance, IO Interactive’s long-running Hitman series. For years, Square Enix published everyone’s favorite spy-murder sim. But, following the release of the 2016 reboot, IO successfully pulled off a management buyout—meaning it essentially went indie. At the end of its 2017 fiscal year, Square Enix noted an “extraordinary loss” of nearly 5 billion yen (about $44 million) in regards to IO Interactive and “withdrew” from the Danish studio.
This year’s Hitman 3, the latest game in the series and the first to be published independently by IO Interactive, made its money back within a week.
Then there’s the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. As Eurogamer reported, Square Enix sold 3.4 million copies of the game within its first month. That figure, despite being a franchise highwater mark at the time, fell short of publisher expectations. According to Gamesindustry.biz, Tomb Raider went on to sell more than 11 million copies, making it the best-selling game in one of gaming’s longest-running franchises.
“We had very high expectations for [Tomb Raider]. Looking back on that now, I think the target we set for ourselves was extremely high,” Matsuda said in a 2017 interview.
“We have the entire sales tail of the Outriders game ahead of us,” People Can Fly CEO Sebastian Wojciechowski said. “We also look forward to further promotional efforts on the publisher side. Despite this disappointing news, we believe that the first royalties from Outriders sales will come ... this year.”