While hunting around for a copy of Mario Party 9 to review (not getting onto the availability of that game since we’ve flogged the GAME horse until its legs have fallen off already), I got thinking about the gaming attitude towards sequels – namely the one you’ll find by going to any given comment section, which seems to think that all game sequels should be put in a big barrel of poo then set on fire. Why do we feel that way? Are we right to? What can we do about it? Carry on, dearest reader, and prepare to be incensed because we’re off to the middle ground again.
Games have had baffling numbers of sequels for years, going back to the old Sierra adventure game series like King’s Quest, that ran for seven main games with numerous spin-offs along the way. Even then, the number of games in the franchise was seen as being inversely proportional to its quality – as one increased, the other decreased as the developers started churning out games to fill quota rather than putting in much genuine effort.
The trend of series with more branches than a tree in need of some serious maintenance has continued to the modern day, with franchises like Final Fantasy (currently on its fourteenth main instalment) and Call of Duty (eight games in eight years) facing solid opposition from the community yet still continuing to dominate when sales figures come around.
What is it about sequels which inspires such passion on both sides? Well let’s first take a look at why sequels sell.
There are two reasons I can isolate for this, and the first is that sequels tends to be reserved for games that were popular to begin with. Critical scores mean little if they aren’t backed up by cold hard cash. It makes sense – after all, if you’ve spent the better part of two years and millions of dollars making something adored by the critics but ignored by your audience, you may be a great artist but financially you’re up shit creek without a paddle. So the popular games get sequels and people buy the sequel because they liked the first one. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this model as long as you don’t decide you can stop trying halfway through and start making inferior products, and as long as the source material was very good to start with.
For an example of where this can be done right, see The Legend of Zelda series (at least up until Skyward Sword came out, but I’m saving that particular bugbear for another time). Game after game bought on the success of the previous one, the legitimate justification being that they always use that money to make the next one excellent as well.
The thing is, that’s not the only reason people buy sequels, and this one’s a bit more of an edgy position. You see, while there are large numbers of gamers willing to try new and inventive styles of play (look at the success of games like Dear Esther or Minecraft), the silent majority of game players (I use the term to refer to all those owning gaming machines as opposed to those I might actually call ‘gamers’) has limited interest in games that pretty much extends to what they played before but more of it. So they head out in their thousands and buy the latest cookie-cutter expansion pack sequel without thinking that maybe the small artsy game next to it might be worth a look. I know they bring much-needed cash flow to the industry, but I wish I could have my cake and eat it sometimes.
Moving swiftly on before I get floods of emails explaining why Just Dance 3 really was the game of the year 2011, let’s look at why people hate sequels so much. Well, simply put, they feel, like I do in my less forgiving moments, that the success of things like Call of Duty is leading publishers to finance a whole slew of “safe sequels” – games they can rely on to bring in a tidy profit – rather than taking risks with their revenue and funding a wider variety of more interesting or different titles.
This isn’t necessarily true of course, and the money from those safe sequels often goes into financing more unique titles , but I do see their concerns when a game like Modern Warfare 3 was guaranteed millions of sales regardless of whether or not it was just a map pack or not (here’s a hint: yes). But, in the only time I’ll defend the excuse ‘market forces’, it makes them money so that we can have nice lovely Diablo III later this year. Yes, this entire article has been because I’m excited for that game. What? It’s completely professional.
Instead of embracing sequels or throwing the book at them, we should take a third option. It’s all well and good if people what to buy Haul of Booty: Pirate Warfare or whatever, since not everyone is going to want a gourmet meal every night – sometimes you just want fast food. And that’s fine, people can eat fast food if they want. That shouldn’t mean the rest of us can’t stick to our artistically crafted meals either.
Publishers should introduce (through public and developer pressure if they have to) a rule by which a certain percentage of profit from any sequel to a game they publish (let’s say 25%) has to be put towards the budget of a completely new game. It would help out first-time developers, longer standing ones looking to create their magnum opus, players who want to keep things fresh and have a wider variety of things to play, and in the end the publishers themselves, since they’ll have a wider variety of properties to utilise in order to score reputation points and cash.
If you’d like to disagree and tell me I’m a naïve fool whose mother should be penetrated by a horse, feel free to leave a comment in the box below. Also feel free to leave your name and address, so that Phil can add you to the list.
Thanks for listening!
(PS. I wish Haul of Booty: Pirate Warfare was a real game. Someone should write to Activision.)