Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Revenge of the Revenge of - Sequels and You

One of the complaints that is often the most prevalent in this current state of gaming affairs is the fact that the market is inundated with sequels to popular - and even unpopular - titles. People are often quick to criticize that sequels are hardly innovative anymore, and that worse they represent a want on the part of the industry to play it safe, thus quashing the possibility of new titles that explore the different aspects that haven’t been looked at as of yet.

The thing is that while some of the complaints might be on the mark, for the most part sequels are a good thing. Yes, that’s right, I said a good thing. They give the industry a chance to improve what has already been tested, as well as give the opportunity to explore those niche and potentially risky titles that people seem to crave.

When people complain that all they seem to see these days is sequels, it’s almost like they forget to realize that every franchise, even the powerhouses we know today like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Mario, Pokemon, and countless others had to start somewhere. Some of these games haven’t changed much at all, shooters seem infamous for this, with the aforementioned COD series being tweaked with slightly different changes but still looking, feeling and playing the same overall. Perhaps the criticism is merited for games like this, but when I look at the evolution of a franchise like Grand Theft Auto my mind boggles as to how people can accuse the franchise of becoming stagnant. The radical shift from a top-down game that was played mostly for laughs to one of the most influential and indeed imitated open world designs that had been seen for years. I for one will be interested to see where GTA can go and will go with more time, but I wouldn’t call what they’ve done cashing in for the sake of cashing in, quite the opposite. And speaking of Rockstar…

Rockstar recently released L.A. Noire, a game which tried to focus more on story and attempting to capture the feeling of really interrogating someone. Although people were excited for the game you have to admit that it’s not an approach that you would consider safe. The game still sold extremely well, but even if it hadn’t the risk would have been minimized. Why is this? Because part of the money that was earned from selling over 100 million copies of Grand Theft Auto 4 allowed the studio to take some risks and spend time developing the technology that would be used with L.A. Noire.

For every established franchise that turns a profit, there is potential for the company to use some of that overhead to fund projects that might have an inherently high risk factor or unknown quantity. I know that a lot of people turn to indie developers these days when they expect to find something new, but even established studios need new blood in order to keep drawing profit.

A good example of this is Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. A lot of people look at it now and considering that there’s a fourth instalment of the game on the way they might say “Oh man, not another one of these,” or “Well of course we’re getting another AC game because it’s a franchise that is a big earner for Ubisoft”. What a lot of people forget is that when it was first released in 2007 the game was going into mostly untested waters. Would people enjoy the concept of being an ancient assassin enough to make the production worth it? The answer was ultimately yes, and the game managed to make a positive impression despite of some rough edges. Assassin’s Creed 2 though, took everything good from the first game and then added greater improvements. While AC1 scored a very respectable 80% on Metacritic, AC2 has scored an average roughly ten percent higher, sitting at 90%. The sequel allowed the game to really come into it’s own and game the developers more flexibility due to the fact that it had proved its worth.

Every established franchise, and every franchise that will ever be established, is going to follow the same set of criteria. Those first steps might be shaky, but just think, the next revolutionary gaming experience might end up only existing thanks to the guaranteed revenue of game that some consider “cash-grab sequels”. I’m not saying that you have to like all sequels, or even any at all. What I am saying is that you should at least understand why they exist beyond the obvious need for revenue, and how in their own way they can help pave the path for newer and dare I say innovative game designs.

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