Conan Exiles Is Selling Like Hotcakes, But What's with the Mixed Reviews?

Despite negative early impressions Conan Exiles is continuing to sell well, and gain more fans. I look at why.

For some people, first impressions last -- especially when it comes to videogames. And early fan reactions to Funcom's Conan Exiles shouldn't have been any different. Fortunately, in modern gaming, it isn't always so black and white, as patches and updates allow developers a bit more flexibility to fix bugs and iron out any problems that gamers are experiencing.

By releasing Conan Exiles into Early Access on Steam, it allows the game's developers, Funcom, a lot more flexibility to give fans what they want and to work with them to create an open world survival game in the Conan universe that works well before it's ready to launch.

A big advantage of going the Early Access route is if a developer is willing take on customer feedback -- either negative or positive -- and work to fix the issues as they continue to build on the foundations of their game through regular updates and patches, fans will (mostly) react in a positive way. You only have to take look at the dedicated Conan pages on Reddit to see how quickly fan reaction is turning around from initial early (and negative) impressions.

Word of mouth in Early Access goes a long way -- and fast It's basically free marketing for the developer and its potential for providing success is evident with Conan Exiles reaching over 360,000 sales within its first two weeks on the platform. It would be a mistake, too, to not consider that Conan has quite a large fanbase that are often difficult to please -- so endorsement from old and new fans alike will help elevate the game to a successful launch.

Fans have also been rewarded with the game's development tools to create their own mods to add to the game, which another a great way of continuing positive rapport with the current fanbase and drawing in new fans from the modding scene.

Funcom are the first to admit that they have made mistakes in the past -- despite being quite well received by critics, Age Of Conan did launch with a lot of bugs and other issues. Problems like this hurt the game's sales in the long run, so releasing a massive game of Conan Exiles' magnitude into Early Access allows the developers to target any bugs and gameplay problems early on before the final launch.

Open World Survival 

The land of Hyboria's already established and detailed world written and drawn up by author Robert E Howard almost 90 years ago, already feels like it was designed to experienced in an open world game. The lands and its inhabitants, from beasts to men/women are unforgiving and deadly. To help set it apart from other open world survival games, its unique setting is full of gigantic and vicious creatures and a deep mythology that has been the inspiration for just about every sword and sorcery tale that succeeded it. Hyboria is the perfect backdrop for a survival adventure game like Conan Exiles and something I have gone into far more detail with.

What makes a survival game work so well is the player's freedom to play solo, join a clan, build a fortress, and survive against the landscape and everything it throws at you. The sub-genre is giving many gamers what they have wanted for years, an adventure with no hand holding, where experimentation and discovering the game for yourself is as much part of the fun as the building and raiding.

A good recent example of an open world survival game that Funcom have no doubt looked to as a good business model of how to successfully build and market a game of this type with full community support is Ark: Survival Evolved.  Where Ark succeeded was it tirelessly worked on fixing bugs, continuously added new content and really got the fans involved. Popular YouTubers and Twitch users dominated gaming channels with their experiences with the Ark -- which was a great PR tactic from Studio Wildcard. As I mentioned above word of mouth and enthusiasm from the fans has the potential to really make a game succeed and drive a title to an almost cult-like status through early development.

The Tools To Create A Good Game

Obviously it has taken a lot more than just good PR and fan interaction to start creating a game that has made fans take notice. Fans and reviewers that have had the patience to stick with the game beyond its early flaws, have been rewarded with a game that has the foundations of being something special. These foundations didn't come from thin air, it was the culmination of the skills and knowledge they have brought forward from past development projects.

Although Age Of Conan lost quite a bit of momentum in the early stages with some game breaking bugs -- even though they were eventually patched -- the game itself was inviting, easy to pick up and has a lovingly crafted and a deep world based on the Conan mythos. This is an invaluable level of experience that they can no doubt adapt again as they continue to expand on Conan Exiles. Funcom know the world that Conan inhabits probably better than any other developer.

Conan Exiles has been particularly successful with its building mechanics, and the flexible tools in place really allow players to get creative. You can build your fortresses upwards and around cliffside mountains. The blocks and materials mesh together in a way that looks natural and blends nicely so it looks like real part of the environment. Of course Funcom are no strangers to implementing building mechanics in their games, as they developed Lego Minifigures Online and being able to bring that skillset and level of experience over into an open world survival game like this has pieced together perfectly.

There are areas that need improvement in the game like its combat and I'm sure the developers have heard the complaints and understand better than anyone that swordplay is an important part of the Conan universe and will fix this later -- which is the beauty of Early Access titles.

Conan: Exiles is improving with almost daily updates from Funcom. The team there are clearly working hard at making this game everything it has the potential to be, and build on what already has the solid foundations in place to make this game a continued success both financially and critically by its full launch in 2018.

Published Feb. 20th 2017

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