Have Shadow of War sales lived up to its ‘triple-A flagship’ billing?

Warner Bros’ Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s first weekend figures came out this morning and it looks
to be down on what the company was hoping for the title. It’s still one of the better-selling titles of the year – in the top ten of 2017’s various Week One openings – but we can’t help but feel Warner Bros was hoping for a little more.

Before release, Warner Bros’ Olivier Wolff told MCV the game was a "Q4 triple-A flagship title" and that the company had "never had such an investment in one marketing campaign."

He continued: “Pre-orders are pretty strong. They are above what we had for Batman Arkham Knight and we are very happy with what we have.”

While we can’t reveal exact figures, we can say that Shadow of War sold a fraction of what Arkham Knight went on to sell at launch back in June 2015. Indeed, while Shadow of Mordor fans were clearly super-keen to play the game and pre-ordered it in large numbers, it didn’t then drive the mass of sales Warner Bros was hoping.

Arguably, that’s because even a good license like Middle-earth (putting aside for one minute the merits of not using the more-widely recognised ‘Lord of the Rings’ moniker) simply can’t compete with a cultural behemoth such as Batman.

Now, it must be noted that those pre-order figures may have been largely digital, creating a wealth of sales that we can’t see in our figures. However, we can’t see any reason why Shadow of War would have a larger percentage of digital sales than similar titles in its genre – unlike, say, Overwatch or Destiny 2 where the long-term play pattern can make having a disc an annoyance.

Comparing physical sales to similar titles, Shadow of War is behind PS4 exclusives such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, despite it benefiting from additional sales on the Xbox One, which amounted to 39 per cent of its total.

Finally, we can reveal that the new game was down in Week One on its 2014 predecessor. Even taking into account a certain amount of ‘digital shift’, this is most surprising to us. The original game gained strong critical acclaim over time as the press lauded its Nemesis system of in-game opponents, it had a highly successful GOTY edition and was heavily discounted at digital as well.

All of that made it look as though the franchise had gained considerable momentum since its initial outing in 2014, but it now looks as though our gut feeling on the franchise’s establishment as a ‘big game’ may have been a little off the mark.

Providing useful analysis of sales figures is a tricky business these days, largely because publishers don’t provide digital sales figures, but also because games can earn so much money post-release through DLC and micro-transactions. Of course, none of that secondary revenue is useful for physical retailers – be they online, high-street or both.

In the end, it’s not a great day for retail, and even Warner Bros surely can’t be pleased with the start Shadow of War has made in the UK, despite the potential for greater earnings over the lifetime of the title.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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