It’s that time of year again, the Christmas period that gamers both dread and celebrate. In October and November we saw the release of Halo, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Hitman, Super Mario and yet another Lego game but while this is exciting, it can also lead to sequel fatigue.
For publishers, serialised games present a stable income opportunity and as we near the end of this console cycle, it makes sense for developers to churn out sequels while, in the background, they create new properties to be released on the next generation of consoles.
Electronic Arts exemplify this approach. They produce the FIFA, Madden, NHL, NBA games all under their EA Sports label and while these franchised games provide reliable financial support, they can develop more experimental titles. Recently this has allowed Criterion time to reinvent Need for Speed and also cushioned the critical and financial failure of Medal of Honor.
One of this generation’s brightest new properties, Assassin’s Creed, has reached a similar stated of stagnation. Consider Assassin’s Creed 3, oddly the eighth instalment of the series, which garnered positive if mixed reviews. The game’s publisher, Ubisoft, doesn’t need to worry about critical response too much – the game already has a loyal fan base and Ubisoft have other secure revenue streams like range of kids games.
We can also expect another instalment of the series in 2013, within a similar revolutionary setting, as it saves on development costs and capitalises on the interest produced by the newest game. Meanwhile Ubisoft are hard at work on Watchdogs, a next generation game that they no doubt hope will develop into a series much as Assassin’s Creed did.
The issue with serialisation is that it encourages developers to work within their comfort zone and often limits innovation. Consumers expect gameplay fundamentals to be present within a sequel – you wouldn’t expect the next Grand Theft Auto game to be a point and click adventure, for example.
Too much deviation from the accepted form can cause backlash but at the same time a level of progress in both gameplay mechanics and graphic fidelity is expected. Looking at the backlash against the changes within the Dragon Age series, the first game found a lot of critical praise while the second game was panned by critics and fans alike. Dragon Age 2 failed to improve technically and shifted the story away from characters and locations that fans were invested in but, if presented as a spinoff, it would have likely found greater acceptance.
The same problem affects new creative efforts with unproved ideas, worlds and mechanics games can easily flounder but at least they aren’t confined. Faults within a new game are magnified and positive critical and sales responses are vital for survival and ironically into further serialisation.
This Christmas we reach a crossroads. With new games and a new console launch, people want gifts and companies want money. The market is flooded with a cavalcade of releases and as gamers, we’re spoilt for choice and we choose whether series live or die. Vote with your wallet, you have got more power than you’d think.