Control is the latest from critically acclaimed studio Remedy. Despite their fame, they've famously struggled to make a big splash with their games. Control has reviewed well but might actually be performing worse than the rest of Remedy's body of work.
Based on our own site activity — a not insignificant pool of almost 500,000 players — a mere 3,000 unlocked something on the Control Achievements list on launch day, and by the end of the first week a little over 5,000 had started to play in earnest. At the time of writing there are still less than 6,500 players with an unlocked achievement. This isn't down to a tough achievement list by any means. Seeing as there's an achievement for unlocking a basic weapon that occurs before the end of the first mission, every player that has made a proper start on Control should have at least one unlock on record.
The above graph is drawn from TrueAchievements player history. All three games saw achievement activity in the run up to launch, thanks to review copies and earlier time zones - hence none of the player counts start at zero.
The difference is surprising. Control only managed to gain 20% of Alan Wake's day one audience size on site, and just 14% of Quantum Break's player count. While Control has made some advances on player count compared to the two older titles in the two weeks since launch, it's still significantly behind; by day 14 Control has caught up to 22% of Alan Wake's audience size over the same period, and only 17% of Quantum Break's player pool.
What can we tell from this? Obviously the elephant in the room for any long-time Xbox fan is that Alan Wake and Quantum Break were Xbox exclusives, whereas Control represents Remedy's attempts to get out from under an exclusivity deal and go cross-platform. It seems unlikely that even a passionate Xbox community would boycott a game like Control so savagely, but there are other trickling effects to consider — without a specific platform to champion the release, Control doesn't have the same marketing push that Microsoft put behind its predecessors. Quantum Break in particular received a lot of exposure in the early days of Xbox One — for better or for worse — given its blend of live-action storytelling and gaming. It was a convenient flagship for the Mattrick-era Xbox brand, focusing as it was on a multimedia platform instead of a gaming specific device.
There are wider factors at play. Neither Alan Wake nor Quantum Break released into a gaming culture that immediately puts the single-player premium experience on the back foot. Control not only launched briefly before the Gears 5 hype train began in earnest, it also released in a time when there are many, many options for players unwilling to shell out a premium price for a one-and-done experience. As we've seen in the Xbox Gameplay Chart since its inception, free-to-play games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have left little room for traditionally priced games to manoeuvre, and titles like Rainbow Six Siege continue to dole out new content on a game already so old that it can be picked up for a fraction of its original price. Let's not forget how Gears 5 itself launched too — sure, you can own it permanently for a premium rate, but you can also try it out indefinitely on Game Pass Ultimate with an initial payout of just £2 for the first month.
It's hard to see how Control could possibly compete with this from a player count perspective, and it's not alone. We've mentioned Assassin's Creed Odyssey's dogged determination to stay in the Xbox Gameplay Chart Top 40 in the past, and we mention it often because it's the only single-player game to stick around for more than a couple of months. Devil May Cry 5 dropped out of the charts just a couple of weeks after release, returning to its highest position only when it was added to Game Pass last month. Aside from Odyssey all other major single-player games — Sekiro, Resident Evil 2, Kingdom Hearts III — have dropped out of the Top 40 race within 5-8 weeks; RAGE 2 never troubled the chart at all. When you consider the fact that all of the above games had some brand identity and long-term playability, the picture starts to look a little bleak for the more shorter-form single player experiences — especially new IPs with an ambitious concept.
Control itself didn't make the Xbox Gameplay Chart Top 40 for the week of its launch — in fact, it only scraped into the Top 100 behind the scenes for a single week, before dropping out again. Its only single-player contemporary in launch week was the less publicized Blair Witch — which debuted at no. 19. It's hard to see how Blair Witch could have beaten Control so squarely apart from the obvious financial reason: it launched on Xbox Game Pass.
Of course, this is only a small piece of the overall picture. Any analysis of an Xbox audience will exclude an excited PlayStation fan-base eager to finally play a Remedy game on their own platform. Because Control is only available at a premium, there's also a less bleak picture in terms of profits; Blair Witch might have shot up the charts thanks to Game Pass, but it probably isn't seeing the same kind of revenue as Control overall.
Nevertheless, the downturn in player engagement between Remedy's older games and their latest is indicative of a shift in the industry's playing and purchasing culture. It will be interesting to see how Control fares in the coming months, and what steps Remedy may take to try and appeal to an increasingly fickle audience.
Check out our Best Xbox One Third-Person Shooters Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
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