Should Square Enix have let Sleeping Dogs lie?

Square Enix called Activision ‘crazy’ for dropping Sleeping Dogs, but has it’s performance proven them right?

Sleeping Dogs is a game that shouldn’t exist. Beginning life in 2008 as Black Lotus, the debut project of United Front Games under the watchful eye of Activision, the publisher decided that the True Crime name would help it shift more units. It was announced to the world in December 2009 as simply ‘True Crime’ and in August 2010 Activision decided to delay the game, now known as True Crime: Hong Kong, from its autumn release to the following year to give it more development time. By February 2011 though, it had been unceremoniously killed off.

Activisions’ reasoning was rather simple. It wasn’t very good, and wouldn’t make very much money. Announced at the same time as the death of Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk being placed ‘on hold’, it was hardly a surprise. If two of the biggest series in gaming’s recent history could no longer compete, how was a sequel to a poor selling game given to a start up supposed to?

And that, people supposed, would be the end of it. Six months later though, something rather curious happened.  Square Enix picked up the rights to the game, though not the name and True Crime: Hong Kong was reborn as Sleeping Dogs. Just over a year later, Sleeping Dogs finally hit the shelves after a four year gestation period.

What happened next was even more curious. Reception in the US was somewhat lukewarm, selling 172,000 copies across both PS3 and 360, far behind THQ’s Darksiders 2 which shifted 247,000 copies, dropping out of the top 10 entirely in September. The real story however was happening in Europe. In contrast to Darksiders, which did most of its business in the US, over half of Sleeping Dogs sales were in Europe. Half again of these were in the UK, and it’s worth pointing out that it was Square Enix UK that resurrected the game in the first place.

Sleeping Dogs was a bona fida UK smash hit. Topping the weekly sales charts for the first two weeks, including holding off Darksiders 2 in its second week. Guild Wars 2 saw to it that it had to settle for second after that, but a week later it bounced back to number one. Despite having been out for five weeks at this point, sales actually rose 8% and it managed to keep Tekken Tag Tournament 2 off the top the next week, to be number one for four of its first five weeks. Only FIFA 12 and Lego Batman 2 have topped the chart for more weeks this year. In the past three weeks, Sleeping Dogs had continued to stick around in the UK top 10, placing 4th, 6th and 10th.

Certainly Square Enix seemed happy with the performance back in August. Speaking to MCV, the UK sales manager Andrew Larcombe said “We are extremely pleased with the opening weekend of Sleeping Dogs and it’s great to see that players are clearly enjoying the fantastic new features it brings to the genre.”

“The market has been quiet recently, but we’re confident that Sleeping Dogs is a game that you will ‘have to have’ and the buzz it’s generating across the forums is a strong sign that it can continue to stay near the top of the charts through the peak period. There’s always at least one new IP every year that catches people off guard and can launch a new franchise and we think this is the one.

“Big thanks to the incredible talent at United Front Games for creating Sleeping Dogs and to all across Square Enix and the trade for helping it become such a deserved success.”

Still, the numbers pale in comparison to Grand Theft Auto IV, which was what Activision had in mind when consolidating its portfolio. Rockstar’s last fully fledged GTA shifted 3.6 million copies in its first day alone, so it’s easy to see why Activision felt True Crime: Hong Kong wasn’t worth the continued investment. A little under 900,000 sales over several weeks isn’t the sort of thing Activision had in mind back in 2011.

Could the runaway success of Call of Duty and the onetime success of Guitar Hero have clouded Activisions’ thinking somewhat? Sleeping Dogs first week UK sales represented the 6th biggest opening week of any game to that point in 2012. It’s subsequently been dwarfed by FIFA, but then FIFA’s million selling opening week has been bettered by only Call of Duty games.

Its failure to hit the top 10 in North America in September would likely be pointed to by Activision as a sign that they made the right decision, although it’s worth noting that Madden NFL 13, NCAA Football 13 and NHL 13 which take up three places in North America didn’t make too much of a splash in the UK charts. Still, Square Enix seem to be happy with the sales, and United Front Games have described it as a success. After their years of toil, they certainly deserve some of that.

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