Welcome to Objection! This is where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. This week we’re discussing sequels and why they get cancelled - should publishers invest in quality games for the sake of it, or should making a profit always be the first priority?
Today we've got Objection regular Leigh Harris helping us out. You can check out his blog here.
LEIGH: So we've had a couple of titles being canned recently, much to the dismay of many gamers, but a couple of medium-weight titles seem to have slipped by the wayside while we've all been either mourning or debating the loss of DJ and Guitar Hero. Mirror's Edge 2 has been 'halted' by DICE in favour of Battlefield 3 and True Crime has been scrapped altogether. The question on my mind is, do either of these franchises deserve sequels to begin with?
MARK: Well, if Game Dev Story has taught me anything (and it’s taught me plenty) it’s that sequels are safe bets – even if the originals didn’t necessarily sell that well in the first place.
To begin with you have an established audience. And even if the game didn’t necessarily sell that well, general word of mouth, game trades and rentals usually guarantee a set group of people will anticipate and possibly spend money on your sequel. I think Dead Space 2 is a great example. The sequel is rapidly outselling the original because even if gamers didn’t necessarily pick up the first game, they definitely heard about it, borrowed it from a friend, read glowing press about the original, etc. So, financially at least, sequels are usually a safe bet.
LEIGH: Indeed, and EA has been eagerly spreading the word about Mirror's Edge in spite of its sales not being too grand. They've made iPad and iPhone versions to keep it alive, given it the time trial DLC, and I'd be willing to be its cult following (there are many out there who really, really loved it) has kept word of mouth spreading. Will that be enough to change it from a <$1M seller to a multimillion seller? Who knows...
I suppose, financially speaking, the engine and assets were all there already so you're halving your development costs while expanding your audience.
I'd raise two questions for you here. Firstly, how does the safe bet sequel theory apply to Bioshock 2? What went wrong there? Also, True Crime wasn't set to be a sequel as such, but a reboot. How viable is the reboot as an investment?
MARK: I think Bioshock was an interesting one mainly because of its audience. I think that’s the one case of a niche game that managed to sell well, yet never truly crossed over to a mainstream audience – basically every single person who bought that game was a savvy gamer that understood and was aware that the sequel was being developed by a different team, with no Ken Levine at the helm, etc, etc.
You get some spillover with that kind of thing on mainstream franchises – World at War didn’t sell as well as Modern Warfare, for example. There are a set group of gamers who look behind the curtain a little, and change their purchasing choices accordingly.
As for reboots - it’s a whole different set of rules isn’t it? A reboot is always marketed as a ‘return to form’, it’s a last resort but also a way to sell to the niche audience that abandoned a once successful franchise...
LEIGH: If that's the case then we've got a lot of desperate companies out there who are pushing their last resorts. Perhaps as far as franchises 'deserving' sequels goes, publishers should be looking at more than just sales. There are often times when a game's supporters are so vocal and the review scores are so high that you'll see stronger uptake on a sequel than you'd expect. Slow-burns are uncommon in the games industry (being as it is an industry held up by strong sales in the first few months on shelf for any AAA title), but they do happen.
It seems to be that publishers are moving towards the remake rather than the reboot to determine a franchise's viability for a new sequel. Cases in point would be Beyond Good and Evil HD and Shadow of the Colossus HD. Neither is a remake of anything, but both are clearly preparing a new generation of console owners (who didn't have an XBox or Playstation 2) for a franchise's return, since both titles have successors in the works (or at least a rumour of one in BG&E's case).
MARK: You almost have that ‘hipster’ effect – if everyone who talks endlessly about how much they loved Beyond Good and Evil actually bought the game, it would have shifted millions. But then, ironically, hipsters would probably have hated it.
Remakes are a great idea because they allow all that positive word of mouth to gestate and create a legend. I think the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD remakes are a brilliant idea, perfectly suited to both games. They work as a chance to play catch up (and a chance to fix SOTC’s frame rate) and it’s also smart marketing for the upcoming The Last Guardian. But in a sense major publishers, on the whole I think, need to be more aware of the value that ‘prestige’ games bring to their portfolio.
Sony are masters at this – they’ll allow Fumita Ueda all the time and resources he wants to create The Last Guardian because his team works as living proof that Sony invests and supports talented, niche developers. This is one of the major reasons why they can attract new top tier developers like Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany. Funding and supporting games that don’t necessarily make that much money can work wonders for a publisher in the long term – if they support the correct games.
LEIGH: Of course, the cynic in me would say that using Ueda and co to demonstrate the publisher's love for the creative vision and dedication to truly unique and artistic game forms is a lure, but is not necessarily backed up by shared support amongst all such developers. That's the cynic in me, but you do have a point - especially when you consider that Sony offered to match dollar for dollar the investment made by any indie developer creating a game for PSN when it was first being pushed.
It would be incredibly grand to think that the intrinsic value in such majestic games from Team Ico (and in my humble opinion Q-Games with their PixelJunk series) is important enough to a company's reputation that it'd invest the kind of dollars necessary to create The Last Guardian, but in reality I'm sure major publishers pay more for exclusive DLC on major titles like Call of Duty than they do for exclusivity of indie gems. Consider some of the comments from Jonathan Blow (of Braid fame) about the lacklustre sales on Xbox 360 before he ported his game to PSN.
MARK: Yep, at the end of the day money talks – but the reputation of publishers is important for long term business. Look at it this way - which top tier developer would want to work for Activision now?
I once read a really cool story, in an interview with Mark Everett from Eels (one of my favourite bands). He claimed that, back in the day, Randy Newman was constantly being supported by his record label purely because the studio attracted new talent on account of him being on the roster. He was seen as a ‘prestige’ artist and the amount his records sold was of secondary concern.
I’m sure that Jenova Chen’s thatgamecompany and Qgames are treated similarly by Sony. And that’s why I’m a little surprised that EA didn’t go ahead with the Mirror’s Edge sequel.
Mirror’s Edge was an innovative game – its mere existence is testament to the turnaround that EA has made in the last five years with regards to how it invests in new IP. I honestly thought that game would become a franchise no matter what.
But, ultimately, I guess there really is a limit to patronage.
What's your view? Does it bother you that Mirror's Edge 2 won't happen? Are there any games you'd like to see sequels to? Let us know in the comments below.