Something new and exciting is kicking off 2018, something that has actually caught me off-guard. I always figured Capcom’s latest, Monster Hunter: World, would be successful. After all, the series has endured since its debut on the PlayStation 2 years and years ago. What I didn’t expect is the scale, or level, of that success. Monster Hunter is a niche series. Sure, it has been huge in Japan forever, but over here it didn’t start getting consistent localizations until the series went to Nintendo. But now, Monster Hunter: World is doing AAA numbers and it’s barely been out two weeks. Even more shocking, it’s cleaning up over in Xbox land as well and knocked PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds off the top spot in its first week out.
I saw the news and could hardly believe it. Granted, we’re not talking about overall sales, as I believe the representation on the Xbox Store (which mind you, tracks just the Xbox Store, meaning digital sales) is based on the week-to-week activity. But still, PUBG has only been out for so long on Xbox One, and digital is the only way to get it. Monster Hunter: World taking it down from the top spot at all, let alone so quickly and on Xbox of all platforms, is just wild. It defies expectations on several levels. So why is that?
If you look at North American numbers and such for the last several Monster Hunter titles, you see moderate success, but nothing crazy. Why is it now, that Monster Hunter: World is out, that everything seems to be exploding overnight? Well, there are factors both in and outside the game that contribute a lot, and it’s safe to say that these factors all combine together to make Monster Hunter: World almost an inevitable high point in Capcom’s current-gen library.
Monster Hunter as a whole has always been a tough sell. It predates Dark Souls, a game that the series is often compared to. It’s a tough comparison to make, but one that does hold to slight scrutiny. These are both challenging games, which rely on the thrill of (generally) timing slow, meaty attack animations against the punishing speed or super armor of much more threatening opponents. So, in an era where this type of game has much more interest, it makes sense that Monster Hunter stands to benefit. But it’s not just that, otherwise these games would have been flying off the shelves much earlier.
It's also a matter of the platform and even the game’s title. The 3DS is a fine device, with a huge install base (around the same as the PS4, even) and a great library of games. People love their 3DSes as well. But Monster Hunter is a lot of game to cram into such a small space, and the install base is much less hardcore. These games are a lot to chew on, and while the pick up and play nature of a handheld does lend itself well to the game’s style, the tiny screen real estate and lower-end tech does not. The games are also numbered more traditionally in title, which is always a gamble with newcomers, especially with a more frequent release. Even the last 3DS entry, Generations, implies the player knows what they’re getting into.
World, on the other hand, is a much more palatable subtitle. There’s no pressure upfront for the player to really know what’s going on, and it’s simple. A cute comparison to make would be Jurassic World, a huge movie that brought an aging film series back from retirement thanks to its small entry hurdles. It’s a similar idea, with a conveniently similar name. It’s also helpful that a game based on a sense of scale and wonder, as well as danger, is finally playable on a TV again. The demanding control scheme is less so on a tried and true controller, and the modern visual flair does wonders to make this game look just as cool as the dinosaurs on the cover.
There are other contributing factors as well, such as the generally easier difficulty attributed to things like more relaxed resource needs. But that’s pretty insular stuff that would be lost on newcomers anyway. The real reason this is doing so well is that the concept, always attractive, is being delivered in a manner that’s much friendlier to mass market gamers, and it’s landing exactly where it needed to – January is a great time to try something new and weird, and for many, Monster Hunter: World fit that bill. Unfortunately for games like Destiny 2 and PUBG, an attractive new time sink has entered the arena.