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The State of Annual Franchises – Is it Harming Innovation ?

by on June 2, 2013
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Annually-released franchises, love them or hate them, always make good money for their creators. With every new year, gamers can expect  franchises such as Madden, Call of Duty, FIFA, and even Assassin’s Creed to release a new game for the masses. There’s nothing wrong it with from  a business standpoint; the games sell well every year and they usually garner a good review score from different gaming publications. However, there is arguably an underlying problem with annually-released franchises: There are no real changes between each installment. There are some who argue that the lack of innovation between each installment of annually-released franchises produces a state of stagnation in the entire gaming industry.

For example, since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty games drastically jumped up in popularity. In fact, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has the biggest launch day in  sales then any other entertainment launch of all time selling 7.5 million copies and grossing over $500 million. 

Call of Duty 4 did a lot of things particularly in multiplayer that no other first-person shooter did. The inclusion of perks, killstreaks, loadouts, and numerous other additions changed the way first-person shooters’ multiplayer is handled.  After Modern Warfare, other Call of Duty installments seemed to grow stagnant. There are some minor improvements in each game, but nothing drastic or revolutionary like the first Modern Warfare.

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So why are there no changes between installments? Why don’t developers try to innovate? There are two reasons: time and the fear that innovation will result in fewer gamers willing to buy games. The games in the Call of Duty series are currently made by two development teams. Infinity Ward makes a Modern Warfare game every two years while Treyarch makes a Black Ops game every two years, lined up so that a new Call of Duty game is released yearly. Within two years, there isn’t a lot of time for innovation. Two years spent on a game’s development is short compared to other games, which usually have a development cycle of three or four years, giving developers time to think of new ideas, rather than spending all of their allotted time actually making the game.

There is another problem: Developers seem to think that if they try to change too many aspects of a successful game series, they will alienate their fans. Imagine what would happen if  Treyarch revealed that the next Call of Duty will be a third-person shooter, or if Ubisoft designed the next Assassin’s Creed to be an RPG. The fans of the series would potentially dislike the changes and stop buying games in the series. If developers change these games to the point that they’re unrecognizable to the people playing these games, then those people won’t buy the games. The people buying these annually-released franchises aren’t looking for a revolutionary way to play their game.  They want a Call of Duty game with the Call of Duty multiplayer that they know so that they can  get into matches with friends or play the campaign without any hassle.

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If you want innovative games, a good place to look is indie game developers. Games like Bastion, Braid, Fez, Journey, and Unfinished Swan show what can happen when a developer isn’t afraid to experiment with different types of game play, stories, or art styles. They are not really worried about the annual franchises destroying games because they still have hundreds and thousands of people playing their games for a new experience.

Annually-released franchises wouldn’t have existed for as long as they have if people didn’t buy the games in them. Some argue that series which release games annually are a problem because they don’t promote innovation and video gaming is all about innovation. These developers basically find what works and they stick with it, deviating from the formula only slightly. Complaining about the existence of annual franchises is pointless. They will exist until people stop paying for them, so if you object to their existence, stop buying them. People who exclusively play games that are part of an annually-released franchise may be missing out on some great games, but you can’t force people to play something they don’t want to play. These games won’t destroy the industry; there are plenty of innovative games out there.

 

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