Objection! Sequels And Prestige Gaming

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.


Comments

    I'll tell you what bugs me about sequels, which is something Fistybeardo talks about in his reader review earlier today: The sequels that should just be a new IP. Dragon Age, from all accounts (even the developers) is the equivalent of a reboot in every way except time. Its a sequel by timing, but a reboot in that the core gameplay experience has been change dramatically.

    Tomb Raider is another example of a reboot that really could just be a new IP. I mean, Lara Croft is approaching James Bond status these days, in that its just a name, not a person, so there's going to come a point where continuity becomes irrelevant. However, I look at a lot of sequels and reboots as capitalizing on brand recognition, at the expense of actually going for a new idea.

    In that way, regardless of content, it is really really about money. Game titles are brand names, and the larger publishers don't want to have to come up with/risk new ones all the time. Look at Blizzard: their newest IP/brand is 14 years old.

      That bothered me particularly with Red Dead Redemption. Why attach that game to a far inferior, utterly pointless brand that no-one cares about?

        Good call. I don't know anything at ALL about the previous games in that 'franchise.'

          I have to say the original, "Red Dead Revolver," was a pretty good, if not fantastic, 3rd person shooter. RD Redemption basically only took the concept of Dead Eye, the duel, and the spaghetti western theme and the rest of the game is a totally different premise.

          It's more of a spiritual successor than true 'sequel,' and I would suggest a massive proportion of its success can be attributed to piggybacking off the GTA franchise, due to the many similarities between the two franchises..

            Wasn't called rveolver 2 though, I've heard comments right here on Kotaku , people thinking it was the first in a series.

            So redemption is funny ground.

        Now that I think about it, it would have made much more sense to call it "Grand Theft Auto: Wild West", because that's what it was. Might even have led it to sell more copies, if that's possible.

        And before anybody gets smart about the "Auto" part of the name, they do go driving in a car in one mission!

        Not to mention it's just a ****ing stupid name. Red Dead Redemption. I know what those words mean individually, but they don't really make any sense when slapped together like that.

        Good game, though.

          Awesome game. It should have just been called 'Redemption'. Simple. Potent. Awesome.

            Hmm... I guess that depends on how you play it. Based on my game, it should have been called "The Assassination of John Marsten's Horses by the Coward Braaains".

            There was enough simplicity, potency and awesomeness in the game already. No need for that to spill over into the title.

            Maybe they called it that because it was redeeming the Red Dead franchise?

        Very true about Red Dead Revolver. But most people I know who are casual or semi-hardcore gamers only know of Redemption. The title can stand for itself as it doesn't imply sequel in the name. The title itself is snappy and the original was a Rockstar product too so I suppose they had those things going for it.

    They had a sequel planned for Mirror's Edge? And now they've halted it?

    Way to make me happy then sad in the space of a single sentence :(

      Yeah,

      I'm on the EA mailing list and I never even heard there was a sequel. Didn't finished the first , got a bit repetitive for me.(goes back to levelling pokemanz)

        Mirror's Edge suffered from what I like to call "Assassin's Creed Syndrome". It was a good idea, executed poorly. The first few levels were kind of neat, but they ran out of steam and by the end it just wasn't very good.

        Like Assassin's Creed, I think a sequel could redeem the series by fixing the faults and keeping true to that little kernel of awesome that stopped it from being a complete waste of time.

    I want Mirror's Edge 2. What was done in the first one has still not been matched.

    Mark, I think you're being a bit unfair on DICE/EA about Mirror's Edge 2. The report merely stated they didn't like the concept of what was presented, and told them to keep trying. I'm sure DICE has all hands on deck for BF3 at the moment, and it does look pretty cool in terms of the tech, and I reckon once it's out, some of DICE will resume working on prototypes for the next ME.

    As for the topic at hand: Goddamn hipsters.
    True story: I saw a hipster with a green lantern shirt and a porno/french/thin moustache who was meeting up with another hipster. Hipster #2 is like, hey cool shirt, what is it, the Flash or something?
    Hipster #1 responds with, no, it's Green Arrow or something. Who cares?

    Then they walk away discussing other hipster stuff.

    I was mad. And sad.

      But..but.. Green Lantern's symbol is a Green Lantern! How hard is it to work out who it's for?

      /headasplode

      The problem here though is that if it isn't economical for DICE to work on Mirror's Edge 2 now because Battlefield 3 will provide better return on investment, when will it be economical to work on Mirror's Edge 2?

      They certainly don't have a shortage of games they could be working on.

        when will it be economical to work on Mirror’s Edge 2?

        After BF3, I presume :P

        Seriously though, I pretty sure that this is EA hugest push to take the FPS crown, or at least take a big share of it away. DICE has something like 300+ employees, so once BF3 is done, I imagine they'd go back and split up into different teams again, some working on the next BF, some on Mirror's Edge, etc etc.

          The question is whether they'd go back to Mirror's Edge, or move on to Battlefield 4, Bad Company 3, or help another EA studio with multiplayer design.

          I'd love to see another Mirror's Edge game, but if they're pulling people off the project to work on others for economical reasons, then the new projects would have to have even lower sales projections to justify putting them back on.

      Thats what being a hipsters all about, pretending to not care when you actually do!

      I bet he has a massive collection of Silver Age Green Lantern comics at his mom's that he's too scared to admit to owning.

      And the other guy asked as a double test.
      Test 1:
      Can I talk about Green lantern?
      Test 2:
      Is he a fanboy or a hipster.

        I know the Green Lantern guy. I didn't know Hipster #2. Hipster #1 looks down on me for my nerdishness. Which is why we're not really friends, and more acquaintances, despite we both having good mutual friends.

      Hipster 1 is going to be pissed when the film comes out and Green Lantern goes mainstream.

    We need another gaming crash. Which I believe will be inevitable should publishers continue to push sequels and unfinished games. Whatever happened to the day when extras came along free with the game. Now we're paying for content already on the disc in regards to 'DLC'. I've personally pretty much stopped supporting console gaming until the situation rectifies. The only time my Xbox gets any play is when my PC is in use by someone else, or I'm reviewing a title (I haven't reviewed a console title yet, so this hasn't happened).

    I really loved Mirror's Edge. Would love a sequel one day. Hopefully with a better story.

    Mirror's Edge was like Portal, but gone wrong, in that it was a new and interesting take on familiar generic conventions but it wasn't executed 100% and it over-stayed its welcome. As much as I recall being hopelessly frustrated at a few parts of that game, I look back on it extremely favourably even though I only finished it a year ago. Its art style and innovation (when you consider it's coming from one of the biggest publishers in the world) are phenomenal, it just needs a few tweaks to really achieve greatness.

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