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War… War Never Changes – Do Franchises Only Offer Small Improvements?

War… War Never Changes – Do Franchises Only Offer Small Improvements?

Apr 17, 2016

What was the last franchise you played that truly reinvented itself in a certain release? What springs to my mind is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Battlefield 2: Bad Company, GTA IV, or perhaps Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But these games are long gone. Are franchises becoming incrementally improved, rather than markedly? And as fans of these series, is that acceptable?

The new consoles do not seem to be introducing anything radically new. When the current generation hit, instant online gaming and dramatically improved graphics were an obvious reason to upgrade. However this time, titles released on both generations show little incentive to drop nearly £500 just for the pleasure. The fact is, for the time being at least, games are not that much better on next-gen systems. This time round, it’s more of the same. I mean, the current-generation was very popular. Games have been opened up to many more members of the public. And perhaps more of the same is good. But there hasn’t been any recent revolution in video gaming. Augmented reality or gesture controls may be tipped to be a big contributor to future gaming experiences, yet neither are currently hugely viable, and are not tempting enough. So how can franchises build upon previous entries?

The most famous culprit, is of course, Call of Duty. Although fans have avidly purchased every title for the past half a decade, it seems finally more of the public are becoming tiresome of this formula. However, it is still hitting the top of the charts. So why would Activision stop now? It’s too lucrative.

One issue, is engines. Call of Duty has run on the same engine since CoD4, in 2007. That’s 6 years. Quite something. Surely it’s time they reinvented the series the same way they did with the first Modern Warfare title? They attempted to pitch Ghosts as this form of reinvention, yet the public are seeing through this. Ghosts marks one of the first CoD titles to get blacklisted and ridiculed by the public. This is down to reused cutscenes from previous titles, no real improvement graphically (despite next-gen editions), and incredibly similar gameplay.

Battlefield intended to refresh the shooter formula, by offering huge land battles. But now it seems,  it has fallen for the same trap. But can they be blamed? Battlefield 4 released with a problem that if someone placed a silencer on the QBU88 , the game was muted for players on the server. Mistakes like this seem unacceptable, yet it continues as a trait of new games. Sim City 4 also released to huge errors, and in this day and age, is it truly acceptable? EA have said they don’t want Battlefield to become an annual franchise, which many gamers are pleased to hear; yet it does suffer from not being able to top it’s last outing.

 

Is there enough difference?

Is there enough difference?

 

One of the biggest selling franchises is of course, Mario himself. How many times has he evolved to meet the industry standards? Each Mario game manages to reinvent the character, and the way in which you play. And that is why Nintendo has managed to keep the character in the public eye, and sell millions of copies. Whether it’s Sunshine, Galaxy, or Super Mario 3D Land; each game is very unique. Which is something other developers cannot replicate.

Developers just cannot justify the price and time of using a new engine. Rockstar developed their engine for GTA: IV, but it took them so long. And the game was not liked by many, as they had to cut costs on things like scale in roder to create the final product. However, they did manage to plase fans with GTA: V, but this shows the huge development cycle it took in order for developing this new engine to become truly impressive.

Take a developer like Naughty Dog. Their new IP The Last of Us felt very refreshing, yet remarkably similar, based upon the same engine and characteristics from Uncharted. Yet it didn’t feel like the same game whatsoever. The controls were vastly different, the story wasn’t even vaguely related, and it resulted in two distinctly alternative experiences. But this is something many other developers cannot grasp; with the upcoming Watch Dogs already being touted as a “modern day Assassin’s Creed”. Although debtable, it does look very similar to the famed franchise, but with a technological-based array of features. Naughty Dog plan to use the same engine on the PS4, and hopefully they will pull this off. But if when it hits, it feels like a last-gen title, and other developers have groundbreaking engines, will the impact be the same? Naughty Dog’s track record seems to hint otherwise, so it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. But it’s still an issue for many developers out there.

 

Uncharted v The Last of Us - Same engine, same feel, same hardware, different game

Uncharted v The Last of Us – Same engine, same feel, same hardware, different game

 

At this stage, what more can you possibly do with a video game? A title such as GTA V is as true to life as we have seen yet; with a living breathing world. I cannot even imagine how a sandbox game could get any better. How can GTA VI build upon what the current title has achieved? It seems almost ridiculous that the world itself could get any better. The complexity of the game isn’t developing at the same rate of consumer expectations. Franchises simply cannot afford to reinvent themselves, as keeping up and exceeding expectations of their predecessor is expense enough.

Publishers just don’t have the money to replicate consumer desires. Even an outfit as large as EA, with a market cap of $8 billion, cannot afford to spend a huge portion of that, like the movie industry can. The widespread attention isn’t there yet.  Games are expected to release in the same amount of time, yet get substantially better. Is this even possible?

The Square Enix President Yoichi Wada, stated that the 4 million sales of the newly reinvented Tomb Raider was “far weaker than we ever imagined”. it is this madness of needed to sell the game to more than the millions it has already sold that keeps games from becoming radically overhauled.  Games are expected to make so much money; but they can’t with so many titles vying for consumer attention when they cost £40-50 RRP.

 

Lara has come a long way - but not enough consumer attention

Lara has come a long way – but not enough consumer attention

 

Alongside more complex games comes more complex bugs. As a game becomes increasingly complicated, how on earth can developers keep track of all the bugs that come with it? Bethesda are infamous for their notable bugs, but each game delivers a new expansive world such as Skyrim, so these bugs are expected. But as consumers, should we accept a half-finished product on release? Surely, we should be receiving a finely polished game for our hard-earned cash. But this would take even more time, and money. Instead, in only a few months of release, any small issues can be patched by the developer.

Diminishing returns is something we need to consider also. It is increasingly difficult to make the graphics of the next-generation look all that more impressive, as what the eye can view, and how much more detailed the pixels can get, is diminished each time you multiply it.

Technological advancements are coming, that’s for sure. Graphics will get better, yes, of course. I’m looking forward to pretty, next-gen games. But the scale and looks of these games can only match how much is spent, and the technoogy that goes with it. in the movie world, James Cameron’s Avatar was delayed by years until the technology had caught up. And it seems similar for video game visions; as the jump which is needed for significant jumps in franchises is not technically available yet. The industry needs to increase in line with our expectations, and so far the market is not there. The AAA title is not entirely casual yet. It still has a dedicated fanbase that is not open to the general public. As the audience increases, so will the revenue, and so developers can afford to spend more on their titles, and increase the scale of their games. So far, their lack of overall acceptance that the movie industry has, hinders their advancement.

 

AC4: Big enough leap?

AC4: Big enough leap?

 

Can they strip away with unnecessary details? Sure, make the game as good as possible, but do we really need every last detail? The Animus in Assassin’s Creed has been picked up as a very elaborately detailed feature; but do we need to know about every aspect of the game? Surely the money needed to implement this feature could be put to better use. This culture of excess could be detrimental to our gaming experiences.

The market is simply not big enough to sustain so many AAA titles. The industry used to be able to managed many medium-sized games that managed a profit, but the demand for more has meant games have to spend cataclysmic amounts of money and time ensuring they please the consumer. And with so many released before Christmas every year, there is simply no more room for gamers to add to their library.

With new, powerful tablets, with possible controller support, console gaming could be rivaled by tablets. The rise of the smart phone has definitely taken it’s toll on the AAA titles; so this is fueling the competition further.

At the end of the day, we are at the end of a generation of games. Although our current consoles stand to wow us with dazzling graphics and great gameplay, they have reached the summit of their overall potential. Perhaps a few years down the line, the new consoles will show us the way forward. And that is when we will start seeing new IPs, and new engines, when developers truly come to grips with the new systems. It’s still a great time to be a gamer.

 

Adam Barsby is a writer for Gaming IQ, alongside running Social Media. If you are partial to stalking, you can follow him on Twitter @barsby3, or read his articles here. 

 

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