Kommentar: Das ewige Pre-Sequel
Playing the same kind of game time and again can easily get boring, but still, in my opinion, the games industry is lacking an interest in innovation regarding new titles (at the same time as being seen as a driving force behind innovative technology like VR). Gamescom is about to begin, so I'll be illustrating the phenomenon by looking back at the E3 expo. It is obvious that (large) publishers have to maintain a balanced mix between well known and selling older titles on the one and new ideas on the other hand. However as a player and editor the 15th title in a series just does not fascinate me any longer, even more so if the changes are mostly cosmetic in nature. But there is hope as the proportion of new titles increases.
Ground hog day
Some series are more and more alike those sport series that have enjoyed yearly releases for decades now. And even though titles like Fifa only contain a relatively small amount of changes for their full price, the yearly changes in the respective 'real' sports can be pointed out as further motivation to both release and buy yearly titles. It is valid to ask oneself though if addons would not be sufficient to achieve the same ends.
That does not apply to series like Assassin's creed either way. Ubisoft, skilled in frequently marketing new spin-offs, is releasing the tenth Assassin's Creed main title in ten years with Origins. Fans still had to wait two years for the second installement to be released back in 2009. But after that it was yearly releases. In 2014 Ubisoft even released two installments with Rogue und Unity. Ubisoft refrained from another release in 2016, it was said the aim was not yearly, but regular releases. They wanted time to re-evaluate and improve the series. It is questionable though how much room the developers were left with after nine previous intallements. And even though regular does not necessarily mean yearly, it does not rule out an only marginally slower frequency, quite the contrary.
Revivals und and remakes, always worth their money?
Revivals and remakes of old classics form a similar trend. Electronic arts gave a good example with Battlefront. The reboot's success is debatable. That the new Battlefront stayed way behind the original games' scope lead to harsh critique from both community and press - no matter how often the developers pointed out that they were only loosely basing the games on the old titles, rather developing something entirely new.
Microsoft in turn is remaking its classic Age of Empires with the so called Definite edition in celebration of the game's 20th anniversary. Gameplay is supposed to stay pretty much the same, but resolutions up to 4k are now supported. There will also be a newly recorded soundtrack and XBox-Live for multiplayer. Microsoft had already done something similar with the Age of Empires II HD Edition. After release it was available as a digital version on Steam for 20 Euros. One thing is for sure: Age of Empires is a great classic and a version more compatible with current hardware is a nice idea. But in the end the price will always remain the deciding factor. The Definite Edition will keep the pixelated look of the original, the graphics have simply been rerendered. That does of course add to the game's flair but also has to be taken into account accordingly when it comes to the product's pricing.
A new hope?
The good News at this point: The proportion of "new" titles (or more specifically of so called "IPs" or Intellectual Properties) among the games presented during the E3 expo has increased in the last few years. Based on this list of presented new titles the proportion of new IPs increased to 34% in 2017 (from 32% in 2016 and much lesser 17% in 2015). If we disregard simple rereleases on different platforms the number obviously increases further. Since the games shown during Gamescom are usually already presented earlier in the same year during E3, we can safely assume a similar situation regarding Gamescom. It seems as if publishers are betting increasingly on innovation. A good example may be the surprisingly successful game Unravel. Electronic arts first revealed the titile during E3 2015. Now EA is trying to follow up with the so-called EA Originals, of which Fe will be the first. On the other hand this development could already be on its height, as the increase from 2016 to 2017 was only marginal.
But what is my point here?
Sequels, prequels, remakes and revivals have their place in the industry. But still they should be viewed with caution. Regarding the former I am hoping for more courage among the larger publishers. In my opinion EA and Dice demonstrated just that with Battlefield 1. Activision in comparison is releasing a new WW2 Call of Duty. My collegue panzerfahrer already wrote a critical take on this development (article only available in German). His conclusion: WW2 titles yes, but please not exclusively. I can only concur: I would hate for everyone in the industry to follow like lemmings. But he has also got another point: Even the best scenario does not make up for a lack of innovation in gameplay - Assassin's Creed being the perfect example. New Far Cry titles too are often seen as little more than repaints. If games are nothing but new editions, it is crucial that publishers make fair prices and do not advertise them as something they are not.
At the end of the day it is up to the players, the customers, to think twice wether a game is really worth both their money and time - or not. A well written sequel of a good story can be a lot of fun. For a long time that was my prime motivation to play one Assassin's Creed game after the other. But it remains questionable wether these stories are always worth the price of 60-70 euros and the hours spend in front of the screen. At the same time players should reward more daring and innovative projects, regardless of who is publishing them. This way every player can use their influence, even if it is small. A convention like Gamescom thus is a vote with one's feet. The amount of trafic and the length of the waiting lanes at such events are nothing but another way to measure a title's popularity. We'll have to wait and see if enough players align their behaviour accordingly and which games they will be making popular at Gamescom.
At this point though I want to leave you with a humorous take on the issue. Gearbox gave me the perfect inspiration with their word play "Pre-Sequel". Let us hope together that I will be spared never ending pre-sequels wherever possible.