Saints Row's disappointing launch won't derail the future of the series

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(Image credit: Deep Silver)

The head of Deep Silver parent company Embracer Group admitted today that the recent Saints Row reboot didn't meet his expectations, but said that his long-term view of the series remains unchanged.

Saints Row landed with a bit of a plop when it arrived in August. Bugs were a big problem, and even before release the game was beset with predictable complaints that the new crew was too young, hip, and/or diverse. Being an Epic Games Store exclusive probably didn't help it gain word-of-mouth exposure on PC at launch. The Epic Games Store page for the game registers a 3.8/5 "Epic Player Rating," that praises it as "Extremely Fun" and "Highly Recommended," but also highlights a "Weak" OpenCritic rating aggregated from publications including IGN, Game Informer, and PC Gamer.

The real issue, though, is simply an overabundance of restraint in comparison to previous Saints Row games. An unavoidable turn of events for a series built on successive excesses, perhaps (the final boss of Saints Row 4: Gat Out of Hell was literally Satan), but still an issue for a franchise that introduced "dildo bat" to the gamer lexicon. 

"Compared to spraying sewage on mansions to lower property values or driving a car while being mauled by a tiger who sits in the passenger seat, the reboot's activities seem down to earth," Jody wrote in our 60% review. (As a reminder, a 60% score isn't bad under PC Gamer's review scale: "There’s something here to like, but it can only be recommended with major caveats.")

"Saints Row is always at its best when it cuts loose, when it goes full dubstep-gun stupid, and the reboot forgets that for long stretches. When it remembers, you get things like a storyline in which you take part in a citywide LARP, fighting Mad Max roleplayers with foam weapons while dressed in cardboard armour, and that's the kind of daftness it could do with more of," Jody wrote.

During today's annual general meeting of Embracer Group, the quiet gaming behemoth that owns (among a great many other studios) Saints Row developer Volition and publisher Plaion (formerly Koch Media), CEO Lars Wingefors acknowledged that he'd hoped for something better.

"Obviously, personally I had hoped for a greater reception of the game," Wingefors said. "It's been a very polarized view, and there is a lot of things that could be said and details around it, but I am happy to see a lot of gamers and fans happy. At the same time I'm a bit sad to see also fans not happy. It's difficult."

Wingefors said Saints Row is still "fairly early in [its] release window," and that further bug fixes and new content are coming. The game's overall sales performance will become clearer following the company's quarterly financial report in November, but he expressed confidence that it will ultimately make money.

"Would it have as great a return of investment as we've seen in many other games? Not very likely," Wingefors said. "But we will make money, and that's a very good starting point."

Despite the problems with the reboot, Wingefors said "no" when asked if the relatively poor reception had changed his opinion on the long-term future of the Saints Row series. "You always want every installment of any IP to be greater than the last one," he explained. "[There] is quite a process to evaluate your position, the outcomes, and there's hundreds of people engaged in this game within the group. So I still have great trust in those people, and I'm sure they will recommend things for the future."

And, interestingly, during the Q&A portion of the presentation he implied that the Saints Row series is not a great moneymaker even at the best of times, presumably a reflection of its relatively high development costs: "We all know that Saints Row, for example, is one of the harder ones in terms of return on investment. Now that's a way behind us—and we will make money."

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.