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A Yearly Reminder about Annual Sequels
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 19, 2005   |   Episode 55 (Show Archive)  

   

Tony Hawk is the king of annual sequels, something that has started to frustrate even long-time fans of the franchise!
As more and more companies announce what games they will be showing off at E3 this year, trends are starting to pop up and cause some of us to take notice. Like a lot of years, 2005 is shaping up to be a year full of sequels and updates. This is no surprise, since our industry has always had a sweet spot for games with numbers next to their names. But what seems especially worrisome to me is the amount of annual sequels showing up at E3 this year.

For years when people thought annual installments, they would think of the Madden series or any other popular sports franchise. Tony Hawk and other extreme sports entries would lead to a gateway effect, and now you'll see annual sequels for all genres on all systems. This year promises to be the biggest E3's ever for a lot of good reasons, but with the good comes countless sequels to 2004's biggest games.

Sony is one of the biggest culprits of this newest trend, as they have not one, but two platformers making their fourth appearance in a row. That's right; both Ratchet & Clank and Jak, Sony's most popular all-ages adventures, are marking their fourth E3 with their fourth adventure ... an impressive feat for sure, but not one I would be real proud of.


Sony has decided to toughen up Ratchet's image, can't wait to see what he looks like next year!
I'm all for continuing the story and furthering the adventures of our favorite heroes ... but give them more than a year of breathing room between sequels and spin-offs. Four games in four years is not only a bit of overkill, but it's a good way of running a franchise into the ground. Todays gamer expect more from their sequels -- be it longer games, bigger weapons, or extra online content. We aren't going to be satisfied by a rushed game that is exactly the same length (if not shorter) than its prequels. We aren't going to be willing to pay full price for a game that offers exactly the same thing we bought only twelve months earlier.

Yet if you look at this year's E3 line up you might think that gamers encourage annual sequels. Sony will jump up and down pointing their fingers to high sales defending the whole concept of the annual sequel, but these games (for as good as they are) are easy to get tired of when you know there's going to be a new one every year. I love the characters in both of Sony's franchises, but getting a new Ratchet & Clank game is just not as exciting as it should be, certainly not as exciting as getting a new Mario game or Halo.

Nintendo never had this problem; they always seemed to understand that sequels should be spaced out so the average consumer doesn't

If only Nintendo could find a celebrity spokesperson who actually plays games!
get bored of the franchise. Fan favorites like Mario Kart and Zelda generally have several years between them, allowing Nintendo to focus on one big title at a time. Say what you will about their business practices and lack of understanding the needs of Western gamers, one thing you can't fault is the longevity of Nintendo's characters, many of which we still love even after twenty years.

The problem is, when you limit the time to a year of development you aren't giving them enough time to really innovate and take the game in interesting new directions. When you only give developers a year to work you get games that only add new levels and environments instead of improving the core components of the game. You get games that feel more like expansion packs and less like sequels, which was certainly something critics used against 2004's Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

Unfortunately Sony isn't alone this year in the race to deliver annual sequels, Electronic Arts will have Burnout: Revenge on the floor of E3 enticing gamers who remember last year's game. They will also

Ubi should take an extra year and try to figure out what went wrong in the Warrior Within!
have yet another Need for Speed title and James Bond game, adding to even more annual franchise flogging.

Ubi Soft obviously didn't take notes from Nintendo, as they will be showing off their third Prince of Persia game in as many years. I suppose we can take comfort knowing that Ubi has been able to consistently deliver Splinter Cell games even when they were only a year apart, one can only hope that the Prince has been drinking some of the same water Sam Fischer has.

Realistically as companies find themselves with bigger budgets and more programmers the turn around for these games will likely be shorter, but they are still taking talented people and valuable time away from creating fresh, new games that will amaze and impress. There's no shame in having that extra year or two to add brand new elements to the game and give us gamers something to get really excited about. Gamers aren't going to forget about you if you don't have a new sequel every twelve months, they'll simply play something else while they wait for your killer app.
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