Video Game Sequels and Aborted Originality
Big budget video game sequels are almost par for the course nowadays. Every major publisher that invests a large amount of currency into a game franchise expects more than one game to come from their capital. Video game sequels will often be churned out at regular intervals to appease these business oriented strategists. This current over-saturation of game sequels is having an intrinsic cultural impact on the video game market and what we engage when both finding information on and shopping for games.
There are certainly positives to reinforce the idea behind franchising and sequential game series being made, however there is a welcome mat full of reasons why this is hampering the advancement of the medium as a whole, both culturally and through a lack of truly creative thinking.
In this article I will look into some of the problems with this deluge of aborted originality and the succession of mildly improved yet not too dissimilar experiences we encounter annually from the same publishers or developers.
In Defence of Video Game Sequels
Firstly I would like to make a pertinent point, that many developers will saliently endorse, about the necessity of video game sequels and why it’s not necessarily just cashing in on a game series for the sake of it. When creating a new universe, world, setting, game and general project, many developers spend inordinate amounts of money on proprietary software and build entirely new or reworked technology for their own needs. This effort shouldn’t be thrown away after one successful or even mediocre game.
For instance, what if Valve decided to stop making anything related to Half Life or the Source Engine after they had finished Half Life 2. Not only would the time, effort and cost of producing the Source Engine (not to mention other facets explored and created for Half Life 2) be bankrupted, but we would have never received the Source influenced incarnations of Portal, Team Fortress 2 or the Half Life Episodes that have were spawned from the continual support for the engine and Valve’s use of their own in-house proprietary models.
To get a return investment on your original project it seems somewhat logical to create a sequential series of games using the same expensive technologies you’ve already built. Also being able to outsource your engine, as Valve did with Troika Games and their own Vampire: The Masquerade effort, can earn extra funds and revenue for perpetual improvement.
Most Anticipated Game Sequels
Add to this the incremental experimentation and improvement of often annual series, like many sports games or even Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Gears of War etcetera, whereby they improve certain features or revamp areas that were critically panned due to their inherent evolution as a developer (the side missions and gunplay of the first Mass Effect for instance).
Not only have developers like Bioware or Ubisoft become accustomed to the software and hardware’s that build their blockbusters, but they can actively circumvent and solve problems the original games had, whether this is due to fan response or simple design familiarity. Hence a tighter and more well-rounded experience is often normalcy with regards to the most anticipated game sequels of the last few years.
It’s not often first attempts at the game will produce a stunning iteration or take on the subject matter. However, it is often the imperfect, quirky and downright silly aspects of games like Bioshock, Fallout or other appreciable luminaries that capture the consensus imaginations of the gaming consciousness. Due to the forebears originality and interesting premise, often video game sequels never match the zeitgeist captured by the first entry in the series.
Angst Over the Games Sequel
Due to this almost instant rebuttal of sequels or perhaps perfunctory critique (see Bioshock 2 or Yakuza 3) some developers, such as Ubisoft, have decided to radically alter the original experience while still keeping the franchise name and renown. The most recent example of this comes from the Wii Motion Plus influenced Red Steel 2.
Keeping the name to benefit sales and income is a sneaky move, especially when the game itself has been ratified and rebuilt completely, creating something close to Borderlands with an oriental aesthetic. The original Red Steel didn’t mirror the chosen gameplay or setting espoused in the second iteration, hence the obvious deduction that Ubisoft is capitalising on a brand name, as opposed to the conventions of the previous title and the preferred modicum of its inherent fanbase.
Activision and Game Sequels
Where franchising in general cultivates dissenters is in its stream of consistently underwhelming cash-ins, spin-offs or other merchandising. A prime example of this dizzying effort to overwhelm gaming enthusiasts with sequels and merchandise comes from both Nintendo’s Mario business model and the almost devilish acumen of Activision. I won’t dwell on the Mario franchise and the almost ridiculous malevolence aimed towards the casual masses, but I would like to talk briefly about not only the rhythm genre, but the current spate of sequels and overall business attitude of Activision.
Being interested in making money is a social necessity, insofar as choosing which games to publish and making the right choices thereafter, however actively saturating genres and markets with poorly made and rushed releases is only damaging video games in general. Take the Call of Duty series, with one game made each year by two different developers, they continue to throw out a supposed great game with one that isn’t as well received within a two year period.
In this development cycle Treyarch finds themselves on the short end of the stick in regards to review scores among many other things. Personally I would question the necessity for another CoD entry every calendar year as opposed to assigning Treyarch or even Infinity Ward a fresh project to tackle. Unfortunately, due to the seeming distaste for original intellectual properties, Activision actively uses both developers on the same widely regarded franchise.
Trendsetting Game Sequel
This abandonment of originality and increased focus on evolution and tweaks to existing IP’s is often stagnating many genres and different types of games. It would be keen to point out that even if the genre’s get ravaged in the now, down the line they are likely to make a protracted revival, much like the resurgence of Street Fighter and fighting games in general as of 2010. Trends come and go, perhaps the FPS war game is on its last legs, I just hope the next trend has something to do with original thinking and challenging game players in a totally new and innovative way…