I’ll be the first to admit that I like ARMS more than most. It dominated my summer as I fought my way up to the highest ranks, and even earned a spot as a finalist in a tournament earlier this year. That said, I’ve seen more than my fair share of criticism about the game from around the web, attacking its perceived lack of content, shallow gameplay, and slow rollout of updates. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on those matters and I respect that.
What does bother me though is this narrative that ARMS is a sales flop. Despite having sold 1.35 million units and counting, some want to use that information as proof that the game has failed to meet expectations. While it may not stack up to the heavy hitters on the Switch, especially in light of Super Mario Odyssey selling a whopping 2 million copies in 3 days, I think that people using that 1.35 million units sold tally are looking at it from the wrong perspective.
The reason why the argument of ARMS being a sales flop doesn’t work is that many of those arguments ignore the fact that ARMS is a fighting game. As much as I love the genre, it’s niche at best, accounting for only 5.8% of all US game sales in 2016. It’s not hard to imagine why this is the reality, as fighting games are really hard to learn and people don’t like to shoulder all of the blame when they lose.
By virtue of it being a fighting game, its potential sales ceiling is cut dramatically. Before you even take into account the name recognition that games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, or Splatoon 2 have, all three of those games exist in genres that sell way better. Once you add the name recognition factor, there was essentially no way that ARMS was ever going to measure up against Nintendo’s heaviest hitters. Expecting such is wildly unreasonable. When people try and use ARMS 1.35 million sold against other Nintendo franchises on the Switch, the genre aspect of the argument, alongside of the name recognition, really makes it an apples and oranges debate.
The more apt comparison is one within the fighting game genre. How does the game stack up against its peers? I did some legwork to try and answer this question. In particular, the VG Chartz numbers are questionable, but for the purposes of this discussion, it should work fine. Let’s look.
Jett’s Unofficial Fighting Game Life-to-Date Sales Chart
|Super Smash Bros. for Wii U||5.05 million||VG Chartz|
|Mortal Kombat X||5.0 million||Gamespot|
|For Honor||2.01 million||VG Chartz|
|Tekken 7||2.0 million||Eventhubs|
|Street Fighter V||1.7 million||Eventhubs|
|Injustice 2||1.48 million (I suspect this is higher)||VG Chartz|
|Pokken Tournament||1.32 million||VG Chartz|
|Guilty Gear Xrd (All Versions)||0.66 million||VG Chartz|
|Ultra Street Fighter II||0.45 million||Nintendo Life|
|BlazBlue: Central Fiction||0.24 million||VG Chartz|
|King of Fighters XIV||0.23 million||VG Chartz|
At the top is Super Smash Bros for Wii U. Here’s where people would argue that ARMS is a flop because Nintendo already has a fighting game that sells way better. Was it fair for ARMS to come anywhere near close to selling as well as a fighter featuring a star-studded roster and gameplay that’s been adored by many since the 90s? No.
Mortal Kombat X and Tekken 7 are also games you would expect to sell more than ARMS off the strength of brand recognition, solid gameplay, and appearing on multiple platforms.
For Honor is an interesting addition to the top of this list. While it’s about as new as ARMS, For Honor has excelled because it a very different type of fighter that makes it more friendly for fans of team-based shooters like Call of Duty. The team element, plus the fact that it’s multiplatform, would give it a logical edge against ARMS.
Street Fighter V is the weird one. Having sold well below Capcom’s expectations, ARMS is not that far off. I think it says more about the failure of Street Fighter than the success of ARMS, but it’s not bad company for Nintendo’s stretchy fighter to be in.
Below ARMS is a solid list of new and legacy fighting games that would consider their sales numbers to be a success. Pokken at one point was outselling Street Fighter V. Indie darling Skullgirls has recently cracked a million after years on the market. There’s no signs of slowdown for Arc System Works with its Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games. Even King of Fighters is still kicking at about 230,000 sold.
Is ARMS being overshadowed by other non-fighting-games on the Nintendo Switch? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not really, no. Relative to the current fighting games on the market, ARMS is a success. For a brand new IP, on a platform not known for fighting games, it sold over a million copies, putting it in the range of games like Street Fighter V and – for now – Injustice 2, while being ahead of other established fighters. Of course, we would like to see the game have longer legs at retail, and maybe it will. But the game at its current level is already a winner and any talk about the game being a sales bust is nonsense.