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Roll 6 or Die: Review – A Study In Emerald
 

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Sequels. Why Did it Have to Be Sequels?

Franchises are a now natural part of the game industry, of this there can certainly be no doubt. No game is released without someone having made the decision that this could be a marketable property with merchandise, possible movie rights and, of course, plenty of sequels, prequels, or re-imaginings. During this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (of which we’ve already had a few discussions),  this fact has never been more obvious, what with every big presentation being made up almost entirely of titles ending in a number (or a somewhat clever turn of phrase representing a negative integer, as the case may be).

Of course, there comes a point at which we must ask: Where are the new games? Though constant franchising has become not only the norm but the very heart of the game industry in the last decade, why is it that we only appear to be playing the same game over and over with only minor improvements? At what point are we no longer beating the dead horse, but frolicking amid the gory giblets of its long-obliterated corpse? This year’s E3 had me raising this question more than once, and I can’t help but feel the danger such a precedent holds for the future of gaming.

This, of course, isn’t to say that every sequel is destined to be a terrible, destructive force on the industry; some manage to both improve of the original while pushing the barrier on design as a whole. On occasion, a game was either so unfathomably entertaining that we truly needed another or the story they’re trying to tell required more than one game, so sequels and/or prequels were planned. There are simply times where one’s vision is so vast, so unimaginably gargantuan in scope and proportion that a sequel is fully justified.

Problem is, this doesn’t apply to most of today’s franchises.

All too often do we find ourselves presented with badly-written, badly-produced sequels to games whose plot ended beautifully as is, solely to cash in on the success of the original title. Too frequently do we find ourselves spending hard-earned cash on the same game with nigh-unnoticeable cosmetic changes. Needless to say, considering the sheer overwhelming amount of sequels released on average, over the next decade we’ll all probably be playing the exact same game every time.

I’m loathe to lay blame at the feet of developers, they are only able to give us what we ask for and we speak with our wallets, but what we’ve been telling producers and developers for the last decade is “No, we don’t want anything new, original, or innovative! Give us more of the same!” Well, I’m sorry to say it, but they listened and they listened well. Gamers, all of us, have let new and creative properties (e.g. Psychonauts, Bayonetta, Mirror’s Edge) fall by the wayside, choosing instead to throw ever-increasing wads of cash towards samey, repetitive sequels (e.g. Most of the Call of Duty franchise, the continuous Guitar Hero sequels, etc).

The saddest part here, unfortunately, is that by not supporting amazing original IP in an already sequel-saturated world, we may have actually saved the integrity of those games. Doubtless, had any of those wonderful diamond-in-the-rough titles managed to attain financial success, we’d be playing Psychonauts 3 and Bayonetta: Jiggle Time Overdrive. The unfortunate reality is that we’ve started a vicious cycle in allowing developers and publishers alike to believe that, in supporting a new and exciting intellectual property, what we’re saying is we want more of this exact property, rather than more new properties.

The last bastion of true innovative game design would seem to be, ironically enough, among the casual game market. How likely would it be to come across an Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies title announced as an AA release? If you just said “Well, about as likely as Jay ever being capable of making a point without dragging it on for an extended period of time” then congratulations, you understand all too well how improbable such a situation truly is! Though long mocked by the traditional gamer (often inaccurately and ludicrously referred to as “hardcore” gamers), myself included, the casual/portable game market has shown itself to be a breeding ground for creative, often whimsically fun design. Their constraints, both financially and technologically, infuse a sort of charming greatness to the games released that is a much needed change to the industry as a whole.

When all is said and done, there’s little we can now do to save ourselves from a never-ending cycle of sequels. We long ago made our much-used bed, and we have no one but ourselves to blame for the buffet of sloppy seconds our short-sightedness has led us to. We simply convince ourselves that loose, disappointing feeling that envelopes our souls is how joy really feels as we play Call of Duty 23 and sob for what we’ve lost.

Anguish builds character, after all.

4 Comments

  1. Kyle Mann says:

    Portal 2 is an example of how to do a sequel right: it expands upon all the concepts of the first brilliantly and takes the genre itself up to a higher level. Sadly, most developers fail hard at this.

    • J.Gibbs says:

      Very true, Portal 2 was an example of a quality sequel.

      They do exist, it’s just a sad fact that they’re few and far between. In all honesty, the only sequel I found myself actually excited for from E3 was Skyrim, which looked pretty damn sweet.

  2. Gregg says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sequels per se. It’s that publishers or developers are not taking time to (boring business speak incoming) ‘diversify’ their ‘portfolio’. In a time of massively-increased production values there is a lot less risk-taking and instead a reliance on ‘cash cows’, tried-and-tested games.

    It’s nothing new but the film industry has the well-known ‘one for the art, one for the money’ trend with actors and directors and I think gaming needs more of this approach. I only know of Double Fine attempting something vaguely similar with their shift into multiple, diverse, lower-budget downloadable games.

    I get the feeling it’s mostly down to many developers being too beholden to publishers (for job security and such) and, therefore, their shareholders.

  3. Dean says:

    Actually Mirrors Edge sold about 2million copies which is actually pretty good, especially for a new IP. But for EA it wasn’t good enough. Minecraft has thrown most conventions out the windows (low graphics, PC only, new IP, weird sales model) and has gone on to sell 2.5million copies.
    And when they make new IP they fail to market it. COD, games most people are well aware of, have something like $250million spent on marketing them. I’d say it’s marketing where it makes or breaks a game. Sequels will generally sell more, there’s a pre-made fan base, but the higher they rise the harder the fall, see Guitar Hero. If you don’t come out with new IP’s then when your current sequel games die off in popularity, you have nothing to fall back on. I think the big publishers need to invest in setting up their own Double Fine of sorts churning out smaller games which they can later blow up to full scale franchises if they prove popular.
    If the Games industry wasn’t as money driven, and if they didn’t make their games so expensive to produce, then they’d be able to experiment more. If instead of spending tens of millions on one new game and seeing it flop and go “well let’s not do that again” and instead spent a few million on several cheaper games and see what triggers a good reaction and use that to build a larger game from it would work better. Costs are reduced and therefore losses, and they get great market research.