The Trouble with Franchises

Video Games are not movies. You see, internet, when a movie hits on a franchise, it is still somewhat finite. Even when a movie trilogy gets remade or a fourth instalment gets shoved on, it is usually by a different company and it’s really only taking place in the same universe. The same is not true with video games. Development teams and creators can be around for a vast amount of work. Add into the fact that there is one all encompassing rule in gaming: there is not such thing as too much. When a movie series is a trilogy, it generally remains that. However, when a game series says it’s a trilogy, it is lying every single time. There was never any chance that Halo 3 was going to be the end of Halo, or Mass Effect 3 the end of Mass Effect. Developers tend to change focus if they have built up the idea that the third game caps a trilogy, but they aren’t fooling anyone. Gaming franchises never end unless people stop buying them and sometimes that won’t even stop them (I’m looking at you, Sonic). This practice has incredibly far reaching consequences in the gaming industry, and it’s only getting more pronounced the bigger the industry gets. So today, we are going to be looking at the inherent problems with this model.

Don’t trust anybody who calls themselves ‘super’.

Firstly let’s look at the twin desires of the gaming community. Gamers of all ages want two things. 1- They want something completely new as often as possible; and 2 – They want the same thing over and over again. Do you see a problem with this? The past couple of years (Last year in particular), many professional sites heavily criticized game developers for falling into a sequel spiral, where almost every major game was some form of remake or sequel to an established franchise. On the other hand, you have an endless amount of people shouting at the top of their lungs (So in all caps) for a sequel to a particular game they like. This doesn’t happen in other mediums. Nobody asked for a remake of Carrie even though the original movie is very well regarded. However, if a video game is well liked, people clamour for a sequel like it’s going out of style. Then these people turn around and complain that there are too many “insert game series here” being released.

I love you as much as the next nerd, Hit Girl, but why is this happening?

One of the big issues is that franchises sell much better than new IPs. Borderlands was a cult hit that surprised many people, but Borderlands 2 was a huge success and Borderlands 3 will probably sell way more. The majority of gamers simply aren’t willing to take a chance. It really doesn’t matter if a game is better than an established classic; if it doesn’t fit into a franchise it will sell worse ten times out of ten. Did you think Sleeping Dogs was a better take on the open world genre than Grand Theft Auto? Well it doesn’t matter, because it will never outsell an established franchise, unless it becomes and established franchise itself. There is a huge reason that major developers are less likely to take risks. Why make a new IP and put yourself out there when you can repackage Assassin’s Creed over and over again. The problem is that this isn’t problematic for many. If Ubisoft abandoned Assassin’s Creed, there would be droves of people trying to get a new release.

Yeah, this is going to sell like crazy whether it deserves it or not.

Here’s a good example. Square Enix has taken a lot of flak for releasing nothing but Final Fantasy games. In reality, Square as a developer (Ignore their publishing side for now) is focused almost entirely on three franchises: Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts in that order. Coincidentally, these are its top three franchises in terms of financial viability. Many gamers lay hatred on Square nowadays because they remember back in the SNES or PS1 days where Square was releasing huge new IPs such as Chrono Trigger, or working on its lessor franchises such as the Mana series. However, it is important to note two things. 1 – Final Fantasy was Square’s flagship title, but it didn’t hit the mainstream until VII; and 2 – Games were much cheaper back then to make and thus much less of a gamble. Listen, I want a Chrono Trigger sequel, but what motivation does Square have to deliver it. Sure, Chrono Cross ended in a huge cliff hanger for the original characters, but the last release (The DS port) didn’t perform well. If Square isn’t motivated to continue one of the most highly regarded games of all time, how are people to convince them to start from scratch?

Give it to me now, Square!

Now let’s look at the opposite problem with Capcom. Capcom is one of the only major developer out there that still routinely takes risks on new IPs, while trying to push all of their franchises. Yes they are the devil, but they’re somewhat unique too. Capcom has an ungodly amount of franchises. Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Devil May Cry, Monster Hunter, Mega Man, Lost Planet and Dead Rising are just some of the franchises they have on the go right now. That’s also ignoring lapsed franchises such as Onimusha or Breath of Fire. However, despite having so many franchises to juggle Capcom still starts new ones like Dragon’s Dogma. This should be ideal for gamers who want big companies to take risks, but they get a lot of indirect criticism for it. For example, Mega Man. It’s not news that Capcom has let the blue bomber slide over the past few years, and they have only recently committed themselves to making new games in the series. Fans go crazy that Capcom doesn’t bring them enough of what they’re familiar with. If Capcom goes to long without a release, they get called on it. The drive is so strong among fans to force developers to keep making the same games that even changes, put in place to stop a series from stagnating get huge criticism among fans who simply wanted a rerelease (Resident Evil 4).

Fans complained that this was too much of the same; they pretty much brought it on themselves.

Then there’s artistic integrity. What if the popular game doesn’t suit a franchise, or the developer wants the franchise to end? Well in those situations, you ignore all of that and keep making games. This makes certain games a lot harder to get made as there isn’t as much franchise potential in certain genres and styles. Bioshock was never supposed to have a sequel, but they shoe horned it in there. Now a fresh game from the creators has to have the name Bioshock on it even if it could reasonably stand on its own, or it wouldn’t be as profitable. And there is the problem that one-offs are less remembered than franchises. Every gamer worth his or her salt knows about Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Half Life, and Halo, and every one of these gamers has an opinion about these games, even if it is simple disinterest. What about amazing games that never go anywhere? These games tend to seem innately inferior to the games that kept going. For as great as Eternal Darkness was, in the current industry climate, you grow with game series; a single blip on the release schedule very rarely makes any waves. This is very unfortunate. Games like Xenoblade Chronicles will be forgotten in a generation, while series like Call of Duty have directly impacted world pop culture. This is the academic slogan “publish or perish” taken to freakish heights.

Sure it’s an excellent game, but there just aren’t enough Noobs to shoot and teabag.

The biggest problem is where this is heading. Slowly but surely developers will keep inventing new IPs and fans will keep calling for more of the old stuff. Eventually, there will be so many franchises out there with so many fans, that things could get very messy. Some companies know how to deal with this. Naughty Dog has cut off several of their franchises as they continue to push forward. However, they have to deal with people who want more Jak and Daxter all the time so there’s that too. Abandonment of franchises hits people hard. I know Suikoden fans have been getting hit hard for awhile now; Breath of Fire was confirmed dead by Capcom; who knows if Square will actually ever release another Chrono game. All of these things really get to the people who loved the franchises, but, in many ways, they are necessary to how business works in the current industry.

Hahahaha, yeah, you’re never going to see him again.

The big problem is that every developer holds onto franchises, and that these franchises are the big money makers in the industry. If the state of the industry was that Mario never got a sequel, and gaming sequels were based entirely on a continuing story instead of jamming more down out throats, then maybe things would be different. However, as it stands, there is no way to win. We as consumers expect continuations of franchises. People talk about Borderlands 3 as soon as the second one was released. That isn’t going to change; there’s no way to deprogram the entire industry to limit franchise creation and maintenance. As it stands, we want everything to be new and everything to be old, and that conflicting interest is a problem. How is Square supposed to stop bringing out Final Fantasy’s when they’re so popular; and how is Square supposed to keep bringing us those fantastic Final Fantasy games when they keep busying themselves with handheld Kingdom Hearts games? Should we encourage the limitations that franchises bring, or rebel against it for something new and fresh? I have no answers, but I still want that Chrono sequel.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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