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03/01/2011

Original titles versus sequels – the ever burning question


Opinion

Always a bone of contention for fans of the medium of video games, the urge to play original properties in the market is ever present as they thirst for that title carrying something a 'little bit different' about it from the rest in the genre. Considering the offerings of original titles over sequels, what are the key concerns both developers and gamers carry when it comes to this ever contentious issue in the industry?

If we think about original titles in the games market, every title started with the first in the franchise at some point. Games such as Mario, Zelda, Street Fighter, Sonic and Resident Evil all had to start from one, then move forwards to their consequent sequels. Now in their later numbers and iterations, they still bring the charm and quality that are expected of these famed series.

Examples of newer IP in the games market can be seen in the likes of Enslaved, Resonance of Fate, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted and the upcoming Rage, Shadows of the Damned and The Last Guardian. Each title offers elements of interest together with borrowing from established titles that proceed them such as the Metal Gear Solid-esque elements present in Batman:AA.

Contrast this with franchises that receive yearly updates such as FIFA and Pro Evo, the ever famous GTA and Red Dead series and more recent titles that are due to break their original IP virginity and progress to the realm of sequel with the likes of Dead Space 2, LittleBigPlanet 2 and Batman: Arkham City.

With the frequency of changes in the real world of professional football it is understandable why EA and Konami's franchises receive yearly instalments. The GTA and Red Dead iterations only come around once in a blue moon. The likes of ship engineer Isaac, Bruce Wayne's alter-ego and Sackboy getting their second outings aren't too much a cause of dismay when we remember the enjoyment and success the first instalments of these franchises brought to the table.

There are more severe cases of sequel-itis hitting high times though. A beloved franchise to my heart, The King of Fighters, at one point pumped iterations out on a yearly basis with only the last three instalments being spaced out with longer development cycles and release windows. The Fire Emblem, Yakuza, Call of Duty and Pokemon franchises seem to grace players with sequels every year, giving them more of the same type of action and excitement they crave whilst bringing small tweaks and refinements to the established system. 

Whether this is a purposeful move by the developers to retain the same fan base whilst attracting new followers along the way is difficult to call. No business with common sense wants to alienate its established userbase with the next instalment in their popular cash-cow (the various iterations of Sonic over the years and the most recent title, Sonic Colours, would be good examples). Financial suicide and bankruptcy is not an avenue the likes of Activision, Ubisoft, EA, Nintendo or SEGA will experience soon, nor will they be in a position where they have to if their best franchises continue to be popular, generate revenue and profit.

When it comes to original IP and sequels there are no answers for they who want to create original titles. The desire and the will can be present but gaining the support, finances and results are just as important as creating the final product. For the owners of developers and players, sequels are a no-brainer due to the use of existing resources, the lower time for the development cycle, giving the fans more of what they crave and making consistent revenue in the process (undoubtedly #1 in the Business 101 book).

Quality titles such as Enslaved experiencing middling sales figures can be disheartening but one only needs to look at the lacklustre numbers for Tony Hawk: Shred and Rock Band 3 to see that sequels do not always enjoy commercial success despite the quality and joy the title provides. Maybe when the economic climate improves and consumer's wallets have more spare change again, sales of titles, be they new or sequels, will experience growth in what continues to be a challenging market.

What do you think of the situation regarding original IP versus sequels? And is it wrong that developers concentrate on producing sequels when the workload is less to create what is still a new experience? Finally, is it realistic to expect developers to release only original IP with each title they create? Any thoughts, feel free to post them in the Comments section below.

2 comments:

Kinsta said...

The majority of the time it is simply a matter of money. Big games companies are more likely to stump up the cash for a game they know will make a guaranteed return on their investment - ie: a sequel to a game that has already been successful in sales.
Marketing the game is also going to be a lot easier as the IP already has an awareness and a brand identity out there. Its the same in the film industry - it has been proven time and time again that sequels are a safe bet for those with money to invest.

For casual gamers too who don't read games magazines and websites - the choice is obvious when they wander into a game shop and and make a choice between say, Super Street Fighter IV and BlazBlue. They know what they are getting because of their brand awareness.

The stakes are also higher now with multi-million dollar games being developed. Back in the day, with only a handful of people working on an 8-bit title, an unsuccessful game wasn't that much of a big deal.
Now, a project with hundreds of employees and thousands of man hours involved in its development has a lot more money riding on it.

Then again, IPs have to start from somewhere and when they do gain commercial success, sequels are inevitably in the works- Uncharted being a prime example.

End of the day, without being too cynical, it doesnt matter if a game is enjoyable to play or not - with increasing number of gamers and money spent out there franchises will always be made until the point where the gaming public start to lose interest (a la Tony Hawk and Rock Band) - its all down to business strategy.

Patrick Honeyman said...

That is very true. Games companies tread a fine line when they create sequels to titles that generate revenue. Produce too many and you can turn off your audience. Produce too few and they want more. A difficult but fine balance indeed.