Lately you’ve probably noticed that your favorite gaming franchises are appearing in stores more often. Instead of waiting impatiently for when the next iteration of your favorite series will be released, it’s starting to become common to count on them appearing on a yearly basis. The gaming industry is continually growing larger and this has changed the way that publishers produce games, but while the bottom line of these companies may be benefiting, the question arises, is the same happening to the quality of the games you love?
This process of distributing games is nothing new in the industry, as it has been happening in the sports genre for years. Games such as Madden have been released on an annual basis, and every year, Madden continues to be one of the top selling titles across all platforms. These spending habits have shown developers that gamers are willing to, and can afford, to buy the franchises they love every year. So why not shift this philosophy towards other genres as well? Franchises in other genres such as the Tony Hawk Series, Call of Duty, Ghost Recon, and Guitar Hero have all seen multiple releases in the last couple of years.
Even the Rainbow Six series, which was recently reinvigorated with the latest title Rainbow Six: Vegas, has a sequel due out in March 2008, about a year after the release of the previous game. Obviously, it is not always possible for a single developer to crank out multiple high profile games a year, so other studios are often hired to take the reins. Unfortunately, this process doesn’t always benefit the quality of the franchise. While Infinity Ward was busy working on Call of Duty 4, Treyarch was given the task of creating Call of Duty 3, which has been arguably deemed less stellar than Infinity Ward’s own games. It could be said that Call of Duty 4 is the true sequel to Call of Duty 2, and may have been, but Activision chose to fill the gap with a third title that ended up selling just as well as the others.
Call of Duty 3 showed that having over a year between releases would have only meant Activision missing out on more profit.
The same scenario occurred with the Guitar Hero franchise, in which the original developer of the series, Harmonix, was replaced by Neversoft to make Guitar Hero III. While Neversoft’s game is far from bad, Harmonix’s missing touch is definitely felt when playing the game, which received review scores in the 8.0 range, while the previous two titles both received high 9’s. Publishers have become aware of the loyal fan base that surrounds these games, and rather than wait multiple years for another sequel, the franchise can be divided among different development studios, generating revenue on a more regular basis. The success of this practice has proved that a brand name alone means just as much in the games industry as it does in any other market, and we can all agree that a yearly Halo game would have no trouble selling. [Editors Note: If by some chance Microsoft does see this, we aren’t suggesting you do it]
Although games in a series may fall under criticism from the press, it appears that a majority of gamers remain loyal to their beloved franchises and continue to purchase them regardless. The Tony Hawk series, which started out as an innovative and fresh breed of sports game that received 9’s for the first two titles has since then sunk lower and lower with the latest title, Proving Grounds, scoring a 73% on GameRankings.com. Nine games in and despite lack of critical acclaim the series continues to sell well year after year.
Robert Kotick, CEO of the recently formed Activision Blizzard has made it clear that the way some publishers produce games is becoming a common practice in the industry. In reference to the future of Activison’s franchises Kotick was quoted saying: “You can expect virtually every one of those properties will be exploited on an annual or close to annual basis.” Kotick’s word choice is quite appropriate, explaining how these franchises will be “exploited.”
At nine games it looks like we can definitely consider the Tony Hawk series an annual tradition like Madden.
While it may be possible for sports games to make the yearly release schedule, can the same really be said of action games? Most sports games have the same expected gameplay philosophy, which persists because of the sport that they are simulating, but the design process of creating games like Call of Duty is much different. But never the less some types of games that may not be technically suited to remain fresh on a yearly basis are being forced into that role.
The industry has now developed ways of producing more games in a shorter amount of time by using multiple developers, and the market has grown enough for them to sell. Even GRAW 2 was developed by two different companies, Ubisoft Paris creating the campaign, and Red Storm Entertainment handling the multiplayer component. While it may be possible to produce these titles more frequently, and have them sell, it is apparent that it can have an effect on the overall quality of the series. A yearly development cycle may not be enough time for a design idea to mature properly or artistically, and even though we love to see our favorite franchises return again and again, gamers should ask themselves which is better, quantity or quality.