Extra Consideration

Extra Consideration
The Good, the Bad, and the Sequel

Extra Consideration | 29 Aug 2011 18:00
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Sequels are important. They almost always gain more pre-orders and become bigger hits than their prequels. As much as we might hate it, this is a business, and money must be made. It can be depressing that new IP doesn't get given a chance, yes, but it can also be exploited. A recent example is Prey 2. If you've seen it, you'll note that it could very well have been called something completely different and nobody would have noticed. A new protagonist, a new setting, new gameplay, new everything, but it's called Prey 2 because people buy games that have a "2" in the title. There are token references to the first, and Tommy is returning as a support character, but the difference between the two games is like night and day. I love it, though. I love that they saw a way to tell an all-new story with an all-new game, and did it in a way that would guarantee at least a few more sales. Now we get an amazing, open-world bounty hunter experience, but one tied to a big enough name for people to give a shit. It's rather savvy, and perhaps something more studios should examine.

Of course, I totally agree that "franchising" is a problem. Activision's notoriously stated goal is the publishing of brands that can be "exploited" for a decade, and it's true that many brand new properties struggle to get a spotlight when faced with sequels, threequels, and morequels. The issue here, I feel, is price. The $60 fixed MSRP is just stupid in an industry that's trending toward cheaper and cheaper entertainment. While Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto can sell for sixty bucks easily, it is absurd to expect the same of something like Enslaved or Darksiders -- perfectly fine games, but names not trusted enough to earn a $60 investment from mainstream consumers. If the industry really wants to promote some creativity and promote new brands, we need to abandon this idea of the $60 price point. To fight sequelitis, we need tiered pricing in the retail space. Deadly Premonition would have fallen flat on its face had it debuted at anything more than $20, but its budget status helped to make it a cult hit. Namco Bandai wisely reduced Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom to $40, and while it didn't sell great, imagine how worse it would've been at $60. It doesn't matter what you think the game is worth -- value is determined by the willingness of the customer to pay, and some of these games just don't have the value, regardless of how excellent it might actually be. I think those Kenner Aliens toys from the nineties are more awesome and worthwhile than boring old furniture from the 1500s, but I know which has more value in an auction.

Newer, unproven IP should sell for $20 and $40. $60 should be reserved for the guaranteed hits. Perhaps if we embraced tiered pricing, gamers would be more willing to take a financial gamble, and sequels wouldn't be so heavily relied upon. When you're spending sixty bucks and you're an average American, you can't really afford to take risks. So many people wait to buy new games "once they're in the bargain bin," which usually means they're used. It's so bloody obvious to me that if the game launched at a bargain price, those gamers would be more happy to take the plunge. Yeah, some of them will just wait until they hit the new, even cheaper bargain bins, but I'm willing to bet those people will be reduced in number. It's all about finding a price that consumers are willing to play ball with and it seems clear to me that $60 is not that price -- that's not the kind of money people want to spend without knowing for a fact that they'll have a good time.

imageYahtzee Croshaw
I should probably have clarified, when I said 'sequels' I meant ones involving the same characters, not entirely new imaginings like Silent Hill 2, which obviously I concede to be absolutely superlative. And I did very deliberately add '-unless there's been a significant technology upgrade that improves gameplay enough to compensate for a story with significantly less impact'. Silent Hill 3 has better gameplay and atmosphere than Silent Hill 1 thanks to being on the PS2, but the story suffers greatly from attempting to continue with all the ridiculous cult business, when Silent Hill is always at its best when it concerns itself with the psychology of individuals. Silent Hill 4 has some huge problems in gameplay but it's one of my favourites, story-wise. Originally it wasn't even going to be a Silent Hill game and its hastily-added connections to the town are tenuous at best. It's another example of the Bioshock Infinite concept, conveniently using the franchise for business reasons. Which I agree is a positive attitude, but it's still being shackled to a property, however loosely. It still inhibits innovation to some degree where none would be preferable.

Bob's point concerning franchises that continually upgrade themselves like Mario and Castlevania is valid, but only applies to gameplay. And yes, Jim, I know, games are games, gameplay is important, Mario Galaxy is good. It's good, but it's not great. As always the greatest games to me are the ones that can not only stimulate with gameplay but also engage with story, and the more the two elements can be merged, the better. A game with just a really great story is equivalent to a film. A game with just really great gameplay is equivalent to a roller coaster. But the game that manages both, intertwined, becomes something else entirely, it brings to light gaming's uniqueness and cultural potential and stands as a paragon for all to follow. And I'm not asking every game to be that. I'm just asking for a developing environment in which such things can happen. But that's a position I've beaten on over and over again.

Jim's idea for new IP to have a reduced price is an appealing one, but I imagine several problems with it coming to light over time. It's fairly solidly fixed in the minds of consumers that cheaper = inferior. If someone takes a risk on a new property that turns into the next Bioshock, would they want to later re-release it at the higher price? If so, that's kind of the opposite of how it's supposed to work. And if not, it creates the slightly iffy scenario wherein Super Awesome Groundbreaking Historically Significant I've Just Come In My Pants Adventures occupies a lowlier spot than Burly Marines Part 96. If it's true that established sequels automatically sell more, then the proposal that new IP risk even more of its potential profit is a slightly dodgy one.

Be sure to come back next week for the rest of the discussion.

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