Cuphead. Cuphead.
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Cuphead Has Sold Over 1 Million Copies In Its First Two Weeks – And What It Means For Animation Creators [UPDATED]

The classically-styled hand-drawn game Cuphead has turned out to be not only a unique creative accomplishment, but also a major financial success.

In its first two weeks since its release, the Studio MDHR game is estimated to have sold over 575,000 copies through the Steam store, according to the sales tracking site Steam Spy. It is ranked this week as the fourth-bestselling game in the store.

These already impressive figures do not take into account downloads for the Xbox One console. While figures are unknown for that platform, Xbox chief Phil Spencer confirmed yesterday that the game is “selling very well” on Xbox as well.

Cuphead is being sold for $19.99, and assuming that Cuphead has generated 750,000 digital downloads across all platforms, that amounts to around $15 million in sales over its first two weeks. [UPDATE: The creators of Cuphead confirmed this afternoon that Cuphead has sold over 1 million copies, which means that the game has generated $20 million in its first two weeks.]

Cuphead still has a lot of runway to earn money, both from downloads as well as tangible media. The property is represented by King Features, and they have already licensed it to Funko, which will release vinyl Cuphead figures later this fall. Additionally, a four-LP vinyl box set of music from the game is being distributed by IAm8Bit.

The game makers have also confirmed plans to eventually release a physical collector’s edition of the game.

The wild success of Cuphead is even more remarkable considering that it is a retro-flavored homage to 1930s-style rubber hose animation. Throughout the years, there have been countless throwback animated shorts created in this style by independent animators, but few have generated significant revenue of any sort, and none have captured the imagination of the public in the same manner as Cuphead.

It reminds me of an interview that we published earlier this year with celebrated independent filmmaker David OReilly. In it, OReilly lamented how he was “going broke making film after film” and was surprised when his first game, Mountain, “became the first time I made any real money with my own work.”

The experiences of Studio MDHR and OReilly, as well as other recent animation-influenced projects like Night in the Woods and Knights and Bikes, point to a shift in the world of independent animation. Filmmakers who traditionally might have expressed bold graphic visions through linear entertainment are translating their ideas into interactive formats, and for the first time, generating meaningful revenue from their creations.

Clearly, not every short film idea needs to be a game, but filmmakers and animation creators at least now have the option of choosing whether to create a traditional film or a game. As the technology barriers and costs of independent game creation continue to fall, expect more animation creators to make the shift from filmmaking into game creation.

  • Its tough to extrapolate the performance of one game and reflect that on an oversaturated industry. Those of you in animation need to dig more before jumping into the game industry realizing two things. Its really really hard to succeed and it’s very toxic. There’s a really good doc on Netflix about the indy game industry called “Indy Game”.

    Point one, for every game that’s a success there are thousands of excellent games that fail. Money and press won’t solve this alone, look at No Man’s Sky.

    Point two, toxicity. The animation community can be harsh at times, the gaming community is at least 100x worse. Make a tweak to a game, get death threats from your users. Just look up Jeff Kaplan’s response last week to the toxicity in Overwatch. Many of his devs hide and refuse to participate with the community for fear of reprisal. Even Cuphead got shit for being too hard on the HARD mode… seriously its the Hard mode what do you expect.

    Not to say it’s not something that you should give a go but don’t assume success.

    • No Man’s Sky didn’t fail, it was a huge financial success. However, the developers did mislead fans about the game which lead to a negative outcry after it was released. The lesson you should take from that is not to lie about what your game is, build hype on its actual merits, be willing to let people know a feature is not planned.

      Of course there are great games that do fail but I think this is true of any medium. There are great movies that bomb horribly, great comics that fail to sell, great music that no one gives a chance. Success should never be assumed.

      You’re right about how toxic the gamer community is, sadly. I suspect most animators these days are also gamers, so they would already be familiar with the problems there.

      Really, I believe the take away from Cuphead’s success is that it’s a well made game with fantastic visuals unlike anything else on the market. Showing that there is a market for high quality 2D animation in videogames. Something that is too often overlooked ever since 3D graphics came onto the scene.

    • AmidAmidi

      Your point on toxicity is valid. The indie animation communi is a generally supportive and friendly group.

      But the idea that for every success there’s hundreds of failures holds true in any creative craft, including short filmmaking. The difference is that if you create a successful or unsuccessful short film, you’re still poor either way. But at least if you create a successful game, you stand the chance of reaping financial rewards. That’s the point that OReilly was making in his interview, and it’s also evidenced again here with Cuphead, and with the successful crowdfund campaigns of the other two games we mentioned in the piece.

    • JoeSislack

      The whole mess about Cuphead’s difficulty was generated by gaming journalists rather than the gaming community.

      As evidence by the million sales, journalists claims about it being “too exclusionary” was full of hot air.

  • I’m really excited and happy for Studio MDHR! They worked very hard, and allowed their passion to show through the game, and it’s returning back to them! I do hope it encourages more companies to be interested in hand drawn animation again, and to make it standard in the things they produce in the future!

  • I’m incredibly happy to see the success Cuphead saw but I would be careful to sing the praises of the indie game gold rush too high.

    For every Cuphead there are at least ten projects like Michel Gagne’s Extremely Twisted Shadow Planet or Skullgirls. Games that have received excellent press from the animation community that had harrowing development stories, massive layoffs and wound up losing money.

    It’s tough to see a success like this and not immediately come rushing to it, I’m glad it did well but sometimes it’s good to take a bit of a step back too.

    • Netko

      Never heard of Twisted Shadow Planet and it doesn’t seem particularly interesting (Limbo-style shadow graphics are so overused I immediately roll my eyes and move on whenever I see a game like that), but Skullgirls was a massive success, regardless of the company and the developers running into issues due to unrelated factors.

      • David

        Netko – Roll your eyes all you want , except Michel’s game “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” came BEFORE Limbo . (and was based on his earlier “Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppet” short shorts for Nick made in 2004- 2005 … the game was in development and production from 2007 – 2011 … released in 2011 after Limbo was released in 2010 , but in development before Limbo . http://www.gagneint.com/Final%20site/insanelytwisted.com/main.htm ) The two share the strong use of black & white silhouette shapes as a design element , but are otherwise different. Michel’s game was conceived independently of Limbo .

      • Autumn Games filed for bankruptcy, the original team left the now defunct Reverge Labs to form their own studio to continue work on Skullgirls and they had to resort to an Indiegogo campaign where they paid all their artists the bare minimum to keep the game growing.

        Skullgirls may have a strong enough niche in the fighting game community and perhaps it was a success now but definitely was on rocky grounds when it was first released.

        • Felix Argyle

          Problem with Skullgirls was that it released on PC over a year after consoles. On consoles it sold over 50 000 in 10 days, and currently it has over 1 million owners on Steam.

  • siskavard

    I’m so happy that the game is doing so well. The hard work the team put into it is paying off!

    “Throughout the years, there have been countless throwback animated shorts created in this style by independent animators, but few have generated significant revenue of any sort, and none have captured the imagination of the public in the same manner as Cuphead.”

    ..not to be blunt or dismissive here, but the reason why Cuphead is making money is because it’s a game and not an animated short. The general public will put money down on a video game, but they won’t put money down on an independent animated short. That’s just how it is. So it’s just odd to compare a video game’s revenue to an animated short – they’re in completely different markets.

  • Jordann William Edwards

    Many congrats to the team for their hard work! I’ve yet to play it myself…

  • elliot Lobell

    Now if they would just release it on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, they’ll make triple that!

    • Unfortunately, it won’t happen – it’s an XBOX exclusive: https://www.polygon.com/2017/7/4/15919210/cuphead-ps4-version

      • Kyle_Maloney

        Right now it is, but they own the rights to do what they want with it. And there have been plenty of times when exclusive ends up just being a timed thing.

      • JC

        Timed exclusive or permanently? If it’s for keeps, that’s quite a shame
        but at least it’s accessible on Steam for everyone.

  • Marc Hendry

    According to their website, they’ve reached one million sales http://studiomdhr.com/cuphead-goes-platinum/
    It’s sweet to see labor-of-love projects like this do well, even though I’m not a big game buff myself

  • Joel Furtado

    Your article seems off by a lot, according to their own press release, they’ve gone platinum, selling over 1 million units. http://studiomdhr.com/cuphead-goes-platinum/
    Great news though, and very well deserved.

  • Jack Newman

    I hope the game will be ported onto PS4.

  • Some Guy

    <3 It also means we don't have to rely on abused/overused CGI to make games anymore! For once, we finally get something refreshing and unique instead of the hundreds upon hundreds Call of Duty clones that exist… man, I'm thankful to see something that doesn't involve a gun-ho commando army dude in a video game.

  • Wayne You Nerd

    There’s so much potential for this style of animation be games of any genre. Seriously want to see more RPGs use traditional animation not just as a style but as actual gameplay. The North American traditional animators could seriously challenge Japan in delivering emotional and narrative depth in their games that most Japanese games have done for the past decades.

    • Matt Norcross

      Problem? One million copies isn’t enough to convince the marketplace that 2D is viable for anything outside of television or video games.

      • Wayne You Nerd

        But could it inspire more veteran traditional animators to move to gaming?

        • Matt Norcross

          Maybe…

  • JC

    It’s well deserved success at that! Cuphead looks beautiful, plays beautifully, and really does pay honors to the classic rubber hose animation of yore. A lot of love went into that game and it shows. I hope to see more amazing 2D work in the future from indies and AAA’s alike.

  • Bespin

    I bought it and a BT adapter plus Xbox Wireless controller …now if I can just get past level two

  • Strong Enough

    just wait until the movie!

  • Who knew there were so many exclusionary elitists in video games

  • KW

    Video games have been the future for a long time, and I think this game is just another tick in that direction. I for one am all for it though since i’m a big video game player as well as animation lover.

    Games definitely have the opportunity to make greater financial games because they have much greater longevity. The only issue is the entry barrier I think is harder. Not only do you need to be able to animate/make art of some kind you also need to know coding to an extend, and as someone thats tried on multiple occasions to teach myself coding I just dont get it. It makes no sense to me and I dont know anyone that does understand it. So more power to the ones that can do both, but its a shame that barrier is there because I think a lot more games like this could be made if only people knew how.