What does a successful VR game look like? Joe Martin attempts to interpret the numbers
Joe Martin investigates what sales are needed for a VR game to be successful.
Unlike some members of the Custom PC crew, I can’t claim to be very knowledgeable about Rick and Morty. I know it’s an animated series for adults on Adult Swim, but that’s about it. I’ve never watched it. The recently released VR game, Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rickality, was my introduction to the series.
What’s struck me most about Virtual Rickality, though, isn’t the game, but the impression it’s made on the wider VR community. It launched in the same week as Batman: Arkham VR and the excellent James Bond simulator I Expect You to Die, but Virtual Rickality seems to have cut through the noise more efficiently than those two games. Everyone was talking about it and it’s been a huge success. Or so it seems.
The big picture
Most developers keep their sales figures close to their chest, only sharing broad numbers if they manage to exceed expectations. Adult Swim Games hasn’t yet released any figures. Instead, I’ve turned to Steam Spy ( http://
steamspy.com), which uses the Steam Web API to infer sales and game data, to answer this question.
Steam Spy isn’t a completely foolproof source, however. It isn’t an official Valve product, but made by a third party with access to all the data. I’ve used it for these purposes because it offers the best data available, and because I believe it’s broadly reliable for the purposes of this article. Still, it’s important to note its flaws and remember that not all games are bought via Steam.
With those caveats in mind, Steam Spy reports that Rick and Morty: Virtual Rickality has sold 22,278 copies (with an error margin of 4,251 copies) at the time of publication. Given the AAA £22.99 price point and the fact that it’s only been available for around two weeks, that figure seems pretty good. Steam Spy also confirms that it’s been popular with the VR community – 18,000 people have played it so far, but how do those figures compare to other SteamVR games?
Pretty well, according to Steam Spy. Quivr, an indie archery game that isn’t out of Early Access yet, sold 18,000 copies (±4,000) in its first six months. The more widely anticipated zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine sold 60,000 copies (±7,000) in the past six months too. Meanwhile, early VR hit Vanishing Realms has sold 85,000 copies (±8,000) over the past year.
Taken at face value, and assuming Steam Spy’s data is accurate, these figures seem healthy. Not only has Virtual Rickality sold comparatively well, but data from other games suggests there’s a healthy long tail too. It probably helps that the platform is still quite young, so the good games can stand out.
The bigger picture
There’s more to a game’s success than just the raw sales figures, however. There’s other data to which
we don’t have access, such as the cost to make the game and the sales expectations. For example, it’s possible that Virtual Rickality isn’t expected to be profitable because the game is viewed mainly as a marketing exercise, or as a passion project for writer Justin Roiland.
While we lack that data, we can add a wider context by estimating the size of the VR community as a whole. Valve’s VR compilation The Lab is handy for this job, as it’s free and available for both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. As such, we can assume that a large proportion of VR gamers will have a copy. Steam Spy says it’s shipped 560,000 copies (±20,000) so far, which means Rick and Morty hasn’t hit the whole market by a long way yet.
We can also flavour this data with personal reaction. In December 2016, Rocketwerkz said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that it would ever turn a profit on the excellent VR strategy game Out of Ammo. The game exceeded Rocketwerkz’ expectations and sold ‘unusually well compared to other VR games’, but it remained ‘very unprofitable’. According to Steam Spy, Out of Ammo has sold 21,000 units (±4,000) so far.
Finally, we can compare these VR sales to non-VR sales, if only to gauge the potential opportunity if Rick and Morty had been released without VR support. At the time of writing, Everything, a niche indie game that explores the philosophy of Alan Watts, has sold 22,000 copies (±4,000) in less than a week. Thimbleweed Park, an old-fashioned adventure game by Ron ‘Monkey Island’ Gilbert, has sold 44,000 copies
(±5,000) in a month. Neither of these games are massive AAA titles with the weight of a successful TV series behind them.
The biggest picture
So, has Rick and Morty: Virtual Rickality been a huge success? It’s hard to tell because the information available comes loaded with caveats and reliable comparisons are hard to find. You could easily argue that there are flaws in Steam Spy’s data, that a licensed title isn’t the best example to discuss or that VR’s unique challenges as a platform are colouring the interpretation. Those criticisms are valid too; so many
discussions about VR are still centred around fallible assumptions.
This month I’ve heard colleagues bemoan VR’s death based on the quietness of a subreddit and praise for its growth by pointing to new hardware. One of these views is correct, but neither is right because the data isn’t available to support it. Until the data is available, trying to gauge the success or failure of VR is largely fruitless.
I started this article with the assumption that Virtual Rickality was a success, based on what I’d seen online, but the reality is more complicated. For starters, I didn’t laugh once while playing it.
Yes, there are poop jokes
Steam Spy reports that Rick and Morty: Virtual Rickality has sold 22,278 copies
But is it funny?
Rocketwerkz: ‘It’s extremely unlikely Out of Ammo will be profitable’
Out of Ammo is a sadly overlooked strategy game