As we all know, long running franchises dominate the game industry. They are the cash cows for AAA publishers while juggling a sporadic relationship with gamers from one sequel to the next. Being emotionally (and financially) invested in them means that we always have a lot to say about them. Actually, moan. We love to moan about them.
When we experience a good game we tend to want a sequel. Then another and it turns into a series. The people get what they want, developers get rich, everyone lives happily ever af-ahh wait. It’s never that simple. Actually it’s a complex request – give me the same thing but slightly different.
The consumer is both demanding and resisting change at the same time but there’s nothing special about that in itself. Although when reflecting on the gaming community’s perception of different game series, it becomes more interesting and outright hypocrital at times. Using examples of the hottest and coldest franchises nowadays, I’ll look at what franchises are doing right and wrong.
The same thing over and over again.
The Soul series hasn’t changed much since Demon Souls. I know, I’ve been there since day one. The fighting style is the same, the game design follows the same concept of progression through shortcuts and an interconnected world design. As a player your approach to the game is the same – watch your enemies move, wait for an opening and overcome. The movesets of the bosses have become familiar and there’s been a lot ofasset reuse throughout the series. The type of the accusation that has been thrown at other franchises.
But the industry isn’t bored of it and praises it critically for doing the same thing over and over again. Why? Because that’s what we want, iterations of the same game. I’m not complaining but from an unbiased view why is this frowned upon in other cases?
Perhaps because 3 is the magic number?
It started with Far Cry 4 then became an on-going joke with Primal. Browsing forums and review comments, you see a lot of comments saying things such as “4 is Far Cry 3 reskinned/ Primal is Far Cry 4.5” which is sort of true. As stated above, this is probably not an isolated case. Putting aside the Ubisoft’s reputation, the series may have been harshly judged in comparison to From Software when it comes to asset re-use. The difference is one is 5 games deep, and the other 3. In my humble opinion, 3 is the magic number. Anything beyond that and you will most likely face similar accusations of repetitiveness. Good thing Miyazaki will close the chapter on no. 3 before the magic fades.
Too much change is bad thing right?
With the open world series facing the same accusations normally directed at its sibling – Assassin Creed – it seems appropriate to touch upon it. Ubisoft has been here before, it’s just this time round people are complaining about watchtowers and animal skinning. So like any good corporate organisation, it decided to innovate its product. With this sequel, changing the setting, time period and story wasn’t enough. So it added a new aspect to the gameplay and Assassin Creed: Black Flag was made.
The game sold and reviewed well but somewhere along the line you couldn’t help hear the groanings of the game being called a Pirate Simulator instead of an “Assassin Creed game”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It seems some gamers are either very picky about what change they want, don’t know what they want or simply hate Ubisoft. I say that as this same argument has been used against the recent third-person shooter, The Division. Apparently, the lack of stealth, online-only aspect and new premise doesn’t make it a “Tom Clancy game” (I wish I could find the link). The message is clear, people want change but not too much. For me, I loved Black Flag and thought Ubi hit gold ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) with the pirate aspect. The Division also strung a chord with consumers as it has sold a lot already. Whether you are for or against the publisher’s annualised releases, it would be fair to give credit where it’s due when it does actually creatively improve its products.
Uncharted revolution over collection
So I have recently finished the Uncharted Collection in time for the 4th and final installment. Playing it may have actually inspired this blog because frankly, the series is pretty repetitive. I get that it is one long story split over several games but the gameplay is practically unaltered. The only changes I can pick out are more to do with technological improvements rather than creative ones. It feels like Naughty Dog got a free pass amidst the hype of the Uncharted 4.
I guess if the storytelling is good enough gameplay stagnation is irrelevant. It could also come down to the studio’s good public reputation that makes it hard to criticise. Based on this, it seems you can get away with little to no change if you do everything else right. You can assume the same logic will be applied to The Last of Us 2 but do we just want a continuation of a great story and no gameplay changes? Looking at the contrast between the article and the comments section, we are pretty divided on that too.
There’s a risk in change
Change is risky and risk isn’t good business. You will get eaten alive by critics if the change doesn’t come off right regardless of your effort, impacting your sales and profits severely. Because remember, making games isn’t cheap.
I went to a Comic Con in London in 2015 and attended the Batman: Arkham Knight presentation by Rocksteady Studios development team. I was lucky enough to even ask them a question during the Q&A which was “What was the biggest challenge creating the game?”. The response was a long-winded (but interesting) lecture on how they created the Batmobile. During the explanation, you could tell they tried really hard to make it great and when the game was released, it got torn apart. They must have felt very deflated once the reviews came out.
The Batmobile was their big change to keep the franchise fresh. It was the change that defined this installment from the last. They could have given us the same thing but no, they tried something new. I’m not saying it wasn’t a bad move but critically it didn’t pay off (but financially it did – life is good).
Gamers are a tough crowd and they should be if you intend on making profit off them. Publishers will continue to attract criticism the longer franchises go on but hopefully, you can appreciate the complexity of balancing expectations. But hey, if I profited from beating a dead horse, I wouldn’t stop either.