The video game industry has become one of the leading industries in the world, raking in 46.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2014 alone, outstripping the film industry that only made 31.8 billion. Unlike the movie business, however, video games lack the secondary markets of home media sales or the selling of rights. Therefore game developers have to sell big numbers of their games first go round, and with more and more money being poured into the development of new games, the industry needs bankable properties. In a move mimicking its older cousin, the film industry, games studios have unfortunately become reliant on profit-raking ’blockbuster’ franchises.
The idea of a sequel to a game isn’t radical – if a game is well received and does good business, and the scope is there to tread new ground, why not? It’s not unreasonable to provide gamers with another, fresh outing of their favourite games; but it is unreasonable to expect the same quality by churning out sequels or spin-offs on a yearly basis. We all buy them – the Assassin’s Creeds, Call of Duty’s, Halos and various sports titles. They don’t differ much, but through the excitement drummed up over them we dig deep and splurge again and again.
You cannot blame this lack of originality on the simple premise of ‘running out of ideas’. By it’s very nature, the process of creating a video game is collaborative, with input coming from several sources and not just the single director that films have. But, like the film industry, the studios that employ these creatives can select what they want to produce – and alongside some original games, they mainly choose to create those that will make money. It is about profit, pure and simple. In just five years, Guitar Hero was published 11 times, creating three spin-offs, and made portable half a dozen more – did we really need all those titles? No, we didn’t.
This culture of sequels is problematic, bringing stagnation and formulaic gaming. Whilst the games themselves are often fine, it is hard to argue that the newest incarnation of Call of Duty or Fifa is a big improvement on the last. Some often argue that they change nothing other than just adding a few guns or changing the players kits, and whilst this clearly isn’t the case, often the mechanics of the games are not largely changed. It’s just as much our fault that this culture exists as it is the studios, as we keep on buying them! According to the VP for Public Relations at Electronic Arts, ‘fans don’t actually complain about sequels – editors do’ and this rings true. However, her justification for producing them confirms the industry’s pure desire for profit, saying ‘besides, they do the same for Hollywood movies’, shrugging off and defending her studio’s utter lack of originality.
It’s just as much our fault that this culture exists as it is the studios, as we keep on buying them!
The original games of the past few years have been far more interesting and engaging than what is churned out on the regular by studios. For instance, The Last of Us an original property from Naughty Dog, was a completely immersive experience that went on to be ‘The Game of the Year’ and do massive business as well by being re-released on the next-generation of consoles.
So why, if success can come in this form, do they continue to produce the sequels? It’s again, the same reason we go to movie sequels, because we love the familiarity, and because we are willing to bankroll them. This culture won’t change, and even if one person decides to change their gaming habit’s, you won’t change your neighbours. However, the games themselves could change. The originality needs to be upped, they need to boast unique experiences, with more improvements and less gimmicks. That would be a sequel culture I could get into bed with, and lets be fair, we can all wait a bit longer in between releases to get a greater product.