Drowning in a Sequel Sea?

Stormy SeaCan I just say that I’m tired of seeing only sequels? I just want to go out on a limb and say that to the entire video game industry right now: Please. Stop. With. Just. The. Sequels.

Now, allow me to back up a few steps before I continue that thought. Today was truly a stellar day for all of E3, past and present. I honestly can’t remember the last time that an E3 day was this monumental, this exciting, and this surprising. I was right there with everyone who was cheering about Donkey Kong Country Returns, Goldeneye, Twisted Metal, Metal Gear Solid 3, Star Fox and Mario Kart on the 3DS, and the like.

These things excited me, moved me, made me want to run away from work and drive straight to California without a care in the world but getting my hands on everything I could. The games, oh the games, they were so sweet and plentiful today in a way that they weren’t yesterday. Yes, I’m pointing at you Microsoft, what with your Kinectimals, tech demos, and software that was so under-impressive compared to what your slick hardware is actually capable of. Today, we got the secret sauce of E3 and we got it heaped on in ways we haven’t in some time.

Yet, for me, something was missing. There was a strange hollow ringing that, despite all the excitement, despite all the things I can’t wait to experience, I couldn’t get away from. Where were the new IPs? Where were the original games? Why was I staring down at a barrel full of games that, while good, I had played in some way, shape or form — whether it was on an old console or just in prequel form.

While gamers clearly love themselves some sequels, have we become this numb to the unoriginality machine that is dominating our past time? I remember years ago, the reason I first got on board with the XBox 360 was because we were seeing new IPs at E3. Things like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect and the like. But this year, it was all shooters. Likewise, Sony shocked me by showing just how many new IPs it’s embraced in the console generation in the last couple of years with LBP, Uncharted and more, but then they didn’t show off anything new to continue that tradition. Where were the things like Last Guardian, and the other new titles that thrilled me the way they have been in Sony’s race to claim back the console throne?

And don’t even get me started on Nintendo, who keeps recycling the same handful of characters again and again ad nauseum. Have we been so starved for hardcore table scraps from them that we ignore fresh new things like Epic Mickey in favor of a recycled Donkey Kong Country Returns, or a re-made Goldeneye that, from all I can tell, is really just the same in name alone?

Am I saying I’m not excited about playing all of these games with everybody? Not at all. I’m actually on the edge of my seat waiting for some of the things announced today. Like I said before, this is one of the biggest and coolest days of E3 that I can remember. In fact, I’m already scrambling to make room for the Nintendo 3DS and trying to plan out everything that I want for it.

But I can’t help but feel that there’s a missed opportunity. A hole that’s left on the shelf, just the right size for a couple of things I’ve never seen before. And now I won’t ever know what they were supposed to be.


So what do you guys think? Are we seeing too many sequels or refreshes, and not enough original games?

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

14 thoughts on “Drowning in a Sequel Sea?”

  1. First, I think Sony is holding off The Last Guardian and possibly Demon’s Souls 2 for TGS, where they usually focus on very hardcore and critically acclaimed titles from Japan. Second, I disagree with your premise that the sequels we are seeing are a bad thing. Unlike movies, games almost universally get better with their sequel, especially if that sequel is in the same generation of the first games launch. Twisted Metal 2, Uncharted 2, SM Galaxy 2, MGS3 compared to MGS2, Resistance 2 are just some examples of sequels that I think are better than the previous iteration released on the same console. Of course there are exceptions: Twisted Metal 3 and 4 (though 4 was better than 3), Halo 2 (aside: not a big Halo fan at all but Reach looks great, reminding me of Halo 1), and Tomb Raider 3 and 4. My point though is that with game sequels, since the tech is already there the developers can focus on perfecting gameplay, level design, script, bettering AI, working with art assets and multiple other things that don’t take away from their attention like creating a game engine or figuring out another engine (like Unreal Engine 3).

    I do think Nintendo needs to move on with some of their characters, but that’s where they make their moolah, and gamers in general LOVE each new iteration that Nintendo puts out of their staple franchises. I think Metroid Other M looks awful (Metroid Prime and Super Metroid are in my top 10 list for best games of all time), and I did not like Twilight Princess at all, but the Kirby Epic Yarn looks really good. So I may complain, but it is still cool to see a new Zelda/Metroid/Kirby/Donkey Kong etc. game however lame I think it looks (I’m looking at you new Zelda and Metroid).

    In new IP land, that Move game called Sorcery actually looked kind of good, which I was not expecting from a Move game. Seriously, that was impressive when he drank the potion by drinking from the controller.

    Last note, holy shit was that Ubisoft press conference bad. WTF were they thinking?

  2. New IPs vs sequels is all about risk, plain and simple.

    Video game publishers are just as “risk averse” as Hollywood studios. Publishing a new IP is a big financial risk because it needs to be accompanied with the marketing campaign that will tell everyone what it is and even then it still runs the risk of not selling all that well. When you compare that to the much lower risk development of a sequel to an already popular game that will sell purely on the strength of the title (provided the quality is comparable), it’s no wonder publishers like to get behind sequels.

    If you’re a publisher, do you want to throw your resources and pin financial hopes on a new, unproven title like “Alan Wake” or do you want to focus on a sequel that is guaranteed to be a best seller like “Gears of War 3?” I’m not sure how well “Alan Wake” is selling, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t sell as well as “Gears of War 3.”

    The bigger problem is the ripple effect that this creates in which new IPs get crippled from the beginning as publishers devote more resources to the developers working on bankable sequels. Even when new IPs are released, they’re usually not as polished as they should be and have some glaring flaws or strange design issues that probably would have been hammered out if they had a bigger budget and a longer development cycle. Then there’s the new retail cycle in which most of a game’s sales take place in the first few weeks of release; if these new IPs don’t sell quickly, they often don’t get the chance to sell over time. The industry has just become so prohibitively expensive that a lot of new games are getting strangled before they even have a chance to prove themselves.

    I would also like to have a lot of new IPs instead of an endless gravy train of sequels, but until the economics of the game industry change (unlikely), that’s not going to happen. I think downloadable content has been an absolute godsend for developers looking to establish new IPs, but at some level, I think we all want new games at the “big budget” retail level.

    Then again, at the end of the day, this is also largely our fault. We’re the ones that keep buying sequels and often ignoring (or only renting) new, unproven IPs.

  3. I totally agree that right now, the industry is inundated with sequels. But developers don’t know what to do now that they’ve already used their awesome ideas when they made the first installments of the games series we love or loved. I was hoping to see some stuff about Brink, but alas, nary a Brink to see at E3. For the game ideas I have, I’m actually steering away from sequels because what’s the point? Make the first game great, and add content via DLC. I love DLC, and I wish more developers would use it instead of making entirely new and sucky sequels. Now, full sequels with their own code are necessary and good once in a while, but right now the industry is plateauing, just trying to milk every last ounce of love from the series they already have running. It’s disappointing, but hopefully we’ll see some new IP’s soon. By the time the current generation of gamers starts to get jobs at developer studios, we’ll see an influx of new IP’s, and some of them could be great. Yeah, I’m sort of a futurist, but I really think that the gaming culture will sort of demand new IP’s and a new Golden Age of Gaming.

  4. @Cossack69: I wouldn’t say that the sequels are “sucky.” Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, God of War 3, Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed 2 are all great games and I’m sure that upcoming sequels like Gears of War 3, Halo Reach, inFamous 2, and Killzone 3 will be really good as well. If these games were all comparable or markedly inferior to their predecessors in terms of quality, then I would agree that developers are “plateauing” and “milking” their success, but in most cases they’re clearly superior games in terms of design and polish. Isn’t that a good thing?

    I also think we might be overreacting a bit. There have been some good new IPs that have come out on this generation of consoles. In the last year alone we’ve had Alan Wake, Heavy Rain, Bayonetta, Demon’s Souls, Dead Space, Dragon Age: Origins and Borderlands (not to mention less successful new IPs that haven’t panned out like Dark Void, Darksiders, The Saboteur, Alpha Protocol, Resonance of Fate, and Dante’s Inferno).

    This year’s E3 is quite heavy on the sequels, but don’t forget that we’re getting to the point in the console life cycle where we start seeing lots of sequels. As Eddy mentioned in his original post, IPs like Uncharted, Little Big Planet, Mass Effect, Gears of War, inFamous, and Bioshock originated on the current generation of consoles. Just in terms of development timetables, it’s the right time for the sequels to these games to be coming out.

    And to address Cossack69’s last comment, I believe that we ARE in the “Golden Age of Gaming,” although that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask for some things to be better. That’s probably a topic for another day, though.

  5. If posting an opinion that “I wanted to see more original games but didn’t” is in overreaction, then I don’t really know what to tell you.

    I don’t mind sequels – I do mind ONLY sequels, though, which looks like what we’re getting in 2011. I get it, game development is more expensive than it used to be. But as we move farther into the console’s life cycle, that is supposed to be changing. As we get deeper in the console’s life, development costs are supposed to lessen, so that developers can take more risks and more chances on new things. What we’re seeing is a trend in the opposite direction. Longer console life should equal lower costs and much more variety.

    I just miss those last gen (and mainly PS2) glory days, when new things were coming out left and right. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for some of that magic back.

  6. There are an assload of sequels, yes, but I personally can’t complain when it’s a sequel of a game I liked. Take Dead Space 2 for example. Been looking forward to a sequel since I beat the first one. If they can make the new Twisted Metal like the old ones AND like Black on the PS2, then I don’t think anyone is gonna care about it being a sequel on the count of how much fun will be had. That’s really the challenge of a sequel: Make it just as fun, but with a new twist and something else to keep it more interesting than the first. Fine line to walk.

  7. Sorry, Eddy, my “overreaction” comment was directed more at Cossack’s comment about “sucky sequels.”

    Like I said in my original post, I would also rather see lots of new IPs and more experimental stuff from developers so I think we’re pretty much in agreement.

    1. Ah, I see, my apologies.

      Yeah you might be right that consolidation had a big effect on this. Nick was looking up information on Rockstar recently, and was surprised to find out how many different little companies they’d swallowed. I mean, heck, if EA really wanted to, they could make their own console or system, then we’d have even less original stuff than before.

  8. That’s a good point about the plethora of unique stuff on the PS2. The PS1 had a lot of creative, innovative stuff too.

    Is this some side-effect of the massive consolidation that’s taken place in the last five to ten years? Just think about all those independent developers that got swallowed up by megapublishers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft who are less willing to take a chance on something that might not make obscene amounts of money.

  9. Didn’t Warner recently buy a whole bunch of developers?

    It’s hard to believe that the monstrous and soulless behemoth we now know as EA Games started out as Electronic Artists, a company that actually allowed game designers to “sign” their names to their projects.

    I’m still holding out hope that downloadable games will continue to be a haven for independent developers and experimental content, but I’m also not sure if they’re any closer to shedding the “yeah, but it’s only a downloadable game” stigma.

  10. Now that I think about it, a lot of new IPs from big publishers feel like they’re conscious efforts to develop a franchise that can produce sequels. I’m thinking mainly of games like Dark Void, Darkstalkers, and Dante’s Inferno. It’s not that they’re bad games, but they just feel like they were put together by a soulless marketing team that was already thinking about how it was going to sell the second and third games in the series. Even Dead Space is a bit like that for me, to be honest. It’s a good game, but it sorta feels like somebody at EA said “take Resident Evil and Alien, mix, and serve for amazing sales!”

    I personally didn’t like Bayonetta, but at least the game seemed like it was a labor of love (lust?) for the developer. I think that’s the kind of new IPs I’d like to see; games that somebody actually gave a damn about in a creative sense.

  11. This is a really great article. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I also look forward to sequels, a few in particular like Mafia 2 and Deus Ex 3… But remember playing Max Payne for the first time? A brand new IP with a mechanic (bullet time/diving) that we had never seen in a game, and my God if it wasn’t the most enjoyable game in it’s time. I miss that.

    I’m with Zayven on the Indie games / downloadable games. That’s something I like to support, especially when they have such creative IP’s like Machinarium and sweet little things like iFluid or Crayon Physics Deluxe.

  12. I don’t believe that the amount of sequels is bad. I won’t buy most of them, and I do hope that in the future more independent titles come out, but even though there’s a say, Infamous 2, Infamous itself was not a sequel. I have few doubts that new projects will be released alongside the slew of sequels. All three gaming companies are putting out the games that they currently are most likely because it is E3, and new projects are always a bigger gamble than known projects.

    I agree with the thoughts behind Zayven’s last comment.

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