Franchise Fatigue

Good games lead to sequels. It’s inevitable.

A developer and publisher have put a huge amount of time and money into a new gaming IP and if it’s a success they will want to recoup that initial investment as much as possible, for as long as possible. This isn’t only so in games, but in movies too, with films such as Lord of the Rings establishing the standard ‘trilogy’ pattern.

Gears of War, a game IP with a beginning, middle and end. Now they are about to release a prologue….. But do we need it?

Why a trilogy? Perhaps, from a narrative point of view it allows us to have beginnings, middles and ends – think the original three Star Wars movies. However, sometimes, one suspects it’s around the number of releases the film industry thinks it can get away with before the audience start to tire of the franchise. Of course, some film franchises can go way beyond 3 films, such as Bond. However, there is no story arc in Bond (well until recently, and even then they are free to leave that arc if they choose), instead just shared characters and assets which transfer from one feature to the next.

Mario :the videogame industry’s version of James Bond?

Games, struggle with the same balancing issues, but perhaps it is accentuated even further as they take up so much of our time, when compared to a film. Videogames have their equivalent of Bond. He is called Mario, and he turns up in platformer after platformer. Each an evolution of the one that came before, and often with a near identical story line (if anyone cares about the ‘story’ in Mario!). As the core experience is so joyful, we are happy to repeat this once every 2-3 years. The changes are small and organic in the traditional 2D games. However,  with the 3D games Nintendo really have tried to reshape the ways in which we can explore with the character.

However with other games, we find that the developers are less able to adapt so easily. The Assassins Creed games have become a yearly fixture. Each one promises more than it delivers, as Ubisoft are committed from a business perspective to releasing one a year. Now I really enjoy these titles, however these is no denying that number 3 should have been so much more. It seemed rushed from around three quarters through, as if the team were desperate to make that release timetable. Did we require Revelations, and should they have skipped Assassins 2, and made ‘Brothers’ the true sequel, as that seemed to have the features one felt were missing from the previous game?

Deep Space 3 now seems to be in a regular release pattern, which has threatened it’s integrity and let us not even get started with the Resident Evil series. We have seen IPs come and go with the console generations. Guitar Hero and RockBand once seemed invincible. At one point they not only looked like the future of gaming, but of the music business! However, between them their owners (Activision and EA) not only created franchise fatigue, but managed to create genre fatigue and killed an entire form of entertainment. Will it come back from the dead? Perhaps, but not until a long rest.

Other companies take their time with their games. They are seeking to release something which is a complete product, and whilst being a success in it’s own right, is a product which can only grow the IP, not damage it. Each release is not only an opportunity to grow a product line, but a moment when serious, long lasting damage to an IP can take place. Companies such as Rockstar only release a GTA game when they feel it is ready. Indeed they have very few bad games, and when they do have a great game they don’t follow on straight away with a sequel. Will there be a Red Dead Redemption 2? Sure there will, but when Rockstar are ready and not before.

Bioshock is also an interesting proposition which represents both sides of the coin. Bioshock 1 was amazing, an intelligent and cultured FPS is the only way to describe it. It was soon followed by Bioshock 2, made by different developers. Bioshock 2 was not a bad game, in fact it is a very good game. However, it was not a special game, and for that reason alone there was a moment when everyone wondered if Bioshock would be allowed to become damaged through over exposure. Since then though, people have taken control of the IP and slowed things down. This year we will have the true Bioshock 2, i.e. Bioshock Infinite. Set in the same type of universe, but apparently nothing to do with Bioshock 1.  It is a game which, one hopes, will be a superb stand alone title but will reinforce the Bioshock brand. So that when (and there will be) there is a third title with that name, we shall all be excited for it. Even if it ends up being a rhythm game with plastic instruments.

What franchises do you think publishers have over exposed and damaged?