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Is 400,000 Units Sold Significant?

Lewis Burnell Posted:
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The announcement by Daum that Black Desert Online had sold 400,000 copies was quite a surprise. Not because I wasn’t expecting some sort of announcement but because the figure struck me as particularly low. For what could be argued as the last AAA title for some time and one that - seemingly - has been anticipated for an age, it’s odd to think it’s had sales of less than half a million. Considering it launched across America and Europe simultaneously, such figures would send many companies scurrying for cover, especially when the long term expense of massively multiplayer games is well known.

I’ve no doubt at the time of writing this that Daum have surpassed well over half a million copies sold and yet when you factor in its buy to play and the loss of players often associated after a launch window, there can’t be that many players actively playing. I must stress when I use the term “that many” we’re still talking several hundred thousand, but they’re the sort of player numbers that some might term as a failure.  

Digressing a little, WildStar, a game I enjoyed very much, was deemed a failure when its player numbers began to shrink. While we’ve never seen actual figures, it was estimated that the game had around 450,000 active players in 2014 (June 2014 saw Wildstar earning revenue of $28 million). Although we don’t know the current status of WildStar’s popularity, I would imagine it’s at least similar if not slightly under Black Desert Online’s 100,000 concurrent users. Why then, are we quick to suggest WildStar is a flop and Black Desert Online a success? (I suspect that’s a topic for a lengthy discussion some other time).

In defense of Black Desert Online, it is in its infancy and in comparison to the likes of WildStar or Guild Wars 2, is most certainly niche and on its way up, rather than down. It does away with so many conventions - while retaining just enough that we’re used to -  that it was never bound to be as popular as its peers. There’s also the fact that there’s a growing sense of lethargy amongst MMO fans. Certainly as someone who has played the genre almost exclusively for well over a decade, even I’m ready for a different approach (Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, is that you?).

The suggestion by Daum that they want to reach 1 million units sold isn’t unreasonable and based on word of mouth, I think it will be easily achieved by the end of the year. My concern however is that Buy to Play tends to allow players to relax when it comes to logging in. A lack of subscription pressure doesn’t necessarily yield the financial returns or player retention they need. You only have to look at Guild Wars 2 and ArenaNet’s clambering to keep players playing to see evidence of that.

Maybe my viewing 400,000 units sold as unimpressive is simply a product of growing accustom to studios and publishers only lauding over products that sell millions: those that fall short of that are often brushed aside. Considering studios such as Driveclub’s Evolution, Fable’s Lionhead Studios and Wipeout’s Studio Liverpool have met the axe in recent years, despite delivering incredibly popular products, it’s with little surprise that people seem somewhat indifferent to Black Desert Online selling such a small amount.

As a wider question in regards to units sold, concurrent players and the prospect of Black Desert Online reaching a million unit sales (whenever that may be): does it matter? As long as there are enough players to have fun and the company making the game is earning enough to keep the lights on, surely that’s all that counts. What do you think?


Lewis Burnell

Lewis has played MMOs since Ultima Online launched, and written about them for far too long.