Guardians of the Galaxy’s ‘underperformance’ is indicative of a wider problem

Is Square Enix just hard to please?

Image via Square Enix

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Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was definitely one of the biggest gaming surprises of 2021. Even though slapping the Marvel logo and its characters on anything is enough to get people to pay attention, there seemed to be very little hype surrounding the game following its announcement at E3 2021. Maybe people were still feeling burnt by Square Enix’s Avengers game, which gained notoriety for its live service elements, use of microtransactions, and constant controversies. Whatever the reason, there was just a general sense of apathy towards it.

Then the reviews started to come out and, while some outlets liked it more than others, a quick glance at Guardians of the Galaxy’s Metacritic pages shows an overwhelmingly positive reception from critics and fans alike. Many began to pick the game up thanks to word of mouth and, soon enough, it became a Game of the Year contender for some people. More recently, it was named Adventure Game of the Year and received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Story at the DICE Awards.

There is a lot of love for Guardians of the Galaxy, which makes recent comments from Square Enix all the more frustrating. In the company’s most recent financial results, it stated that the game’s launch sales had “undershot” expectations. Admittedly, Square Enix hasn’t written it off as a failure, adding that sales have improved since its launch and it’s working to “expand sales to make up for the title’s slow start.” That doesn’t make Square Enix’s comments any less infuriating.

It’s hard to take Square Enix seriously considering it has not shared what the game’s launch sales and what the company’s expectations actually were. How are we supposed to believe it underperformed if we don’t have any figures? Square Enix doesn’t say that it failed to turn a profit so surely that means it did well, so then why does it still sound disappointed?

Square Enix has something of a reputation of being extremely hard to please. In 2013, it said near enough the exact same thing about the Tomb Raider reboot. It pushed 3.4 million units within its first four weeks yet Square Enix deemed it unimpressive (via Eurogamer). This has only become hilarious in hindsight since it spawned two more sequels and is now the best selling game in the entire franchise (via GameSpot).

It’s also a bit rich to hear Square Enix bemoan poor launch sales when it didn’t exactly market Guardians of the Galaxy particularly well. Whereas Avengers got an entire E3 presentation dedicated to its announcement, tie-in merchandise, and both closed and public betas, Guardians of the Galaxy was promoted very little by comparison. None of the trailers post-E3 went into much further detail on its gameplay and mechanics either, failing to really sell the appeal of having Peter Quill/Star-Lord as the sole playable character. It didn’t even have a new movie to piggyback off of; Avengers was at least able to ride the high of Avengers: Endgame despite launching the year after.

If Square Enix expected huge triple-A levels of launch sales akin to something like a Final Fantasy, then it only has itself to blame for being disappointed, because Guardians of the Galaxy is not a triple-A product. Between the simple combat, occasional and inconvenient bugs (like missing subtitles), and frequent re-use of locations and assets, the game’s development budget was undoubtedly smaller than Avengers’, going into its visuals and licensed soundtrack primarily.

Despite appearances, Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of game we really don’t see often anymore: the double-A game. The kind of game that can be just as impactful and cinematic as the triple-A fare but offers a shorter, focused experience. The kind of game that can afford to not sell tens of billions of units and still manage to turn a profit. In a world where most of the big name titles demand hundreds and hundreds of hours of our time to the point where they clearly want to be the only game people play, double-A games make for the perfect breakpoint between these bigger releases.

Unfortunately, the reason they’re so rare is because of the weighty expectations publishers like Square Enix put on them. It doesn’t matter if they manage to turn a sizable profit; if they’re not making billions, then they’re dismissed as failures.

Guardians of the Galaxy is proof that not every game needs to be 1000 hours long, feature celebrity actors, or completely reinvent the wheel to find success. It has resonated with so many people for varying reasons, with its story and characters perhaps the most common talking point. The game will soon be added to Xbox Game Pass and, if you look around social media, you’ll see plenty of people and outlets highly recommending it to anyone who has yet to play it. To dismiss its popularity and success just because it didn’t make all the money in the world is a disservice to the people at Eidos-Montréal that worked as hard as they could to make this game worth playing. It’s high time Square Enix recognized and congratulated their efforts.