The Sequel Blues

We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market. I understand the manufacturers don’t want them too often because it’s expensive, but it’s important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity.

-Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft

I’m rarely stunned by the stupidity of words that come from the heads of major game studios, so I have to give Mr. Guillemot credit.  That was a remarkably dumb statement.  One that I wholeheartedly reject.  It was a defensive statement, for something that doesn’t need defending.

Gamers can be an irrational breed of people.  When they’re at their worst, gamers can be reactionary, twitchy, slobbering crybabies.  Or we can shorten that and call it “fanboys.”  I get it with kids.  Santa Claus brings Johnny an Xbox 360 for Christmas, while Bobby gets a PlayStation 3.  They’ll end up doing what kids do, arguing that their machine is the best.  But the bad ones, they’re the assholes who drag this argument out into adulthood.  They’re also the ones who bitch about console manufacturers who push non-gaming content, DLC, and especially sequels.

Minecraft 360 has sold over three million copies. Not bad for a dead platform.

I don’t get the argument against sequels.  Of all the truly stupid shit that gamers get angry over, the resentment of sequels is the one that baffles me the most.  I think many people forget that gaming is a business that exists to be profitable.  That might sound condescending, but it’s true.  When you bitch at developer for being too sequel heavy, you’re essentially telling them to not take the path of least resistance towards profitability, placing their company’s future at a greater risk.

Here’s my question: why does this make you, the angry gamer, so damn mad?  How in the blue fuck does Call of Battlewar Modern Reach 17 possibly affect you?  Other than the fact that you’ll be $60 less wealthy once it’s out because you know you’ll buy it.  Yes you will.

If sequels aren’t your thing, don’t get them!  Their existence doesn’t stop the influx of other purchasing options.  Gaming has entered a second Golden Age of creativity.  The advent of independent gaming, plus the roll out of digital distribution on consoles has opened the door to new and original properties that would never be given a green-light seven years ago.  In 2012, the major digital platforms on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have seen two record-shattering games be released: Journey and Minecraft 360.  Whether these games appeal to you directly or not is irrelevant.  It’s what they represent that is important.  They’re new properties (in Minecraft’s case, new to consoles) that destroys the notion of sequels drowning the industry.  The gaming landscape is full of titles like that.  Rarely does a month go by where there isn’t at least one, maybe two games on those platforms that I just have to try because they look so different.

Are we really ready to let go of the PlayStation 3 when such innovative, never before attempted ideas such as this one are on the verge of fulfillment?

That’s why I think Yves Guillemot’s comment pissed me off so much.  Because it was a pass-the-buck move for something that didn’t require defending or an explanation.  Anybody whinny enough to complain about sequels will never be satisfied with anything because they’re miserable human beings just looking for stuff to moan about.  You can’t please them, and it’s not even worth trying.  Whether they admit it or not, they buy all the mass-marketed stuff anyway.  They just have to try to be “cool” and reject sequels.  That makes them sound non-conformist.  I walked into a Gamestop once (bad decision, I admit.  I think I might have been under the influence of seizure medication) and saw what looked to be a half-man, half-manatee complaining about Crackdown 2 being a soulless cash-in that didn’t really try to be different.  And he said all this with a straight face while wearing a Gears of War 2 tee-shirt.  This is the type of moron you can’t win with.

Why try to justify yourself to these people?  Especially with outright bullshit, as is the case with Mr. Guillemot.  Saying “no no no no, it’s not OUR fault that we’re making sequels.  It’s their fault!  Sony’s and Microsoft’s!  Blame them!  We need new hardware or we simply can’t be original!”  Right.  Because launch-window games are known for their high-risk creative endeavors.  Of course they’re not.  New consoles bring with them 12 to 18 months worth of last-generation gameplay rehashes dressed-up with shiny graphics.  The Wii might have been an exception to that, just because it had that wacky new controller thing, but I don’t think anyone would try to argue the machine sparked a revolution of creativity.  It takes about two years for developers, even first party ones, to get over the learning curve of developing for a new platform.  While that is going on, they stick with what they know.

So Mr. Guillemot is wrong.  New consoles don’t breed creativity.  They might make a game producer’s imagination run wild with possibilities, but that doesn’t necessarily transition to the final product.  That’s why the truly neat stuff doesn’t hit until a console has been around a while.  A new concept, like Katamari Damacy, couldn’t have launched with the PlayStation 2.  Developers stick with what they know works, which is why Touch My Katamari launched with the Vita.

Spec Ops: The Line is technically a sequel, but it’s not really, because the series was never this bad ass.

And that’s why I don’t want this generation of consoles to end just yet.  Look at what the last 18 months have given us.  L.A. Noire.  Journey.  Bastion.  From Dust.  Fez.  Walking Dead.  Catherine.  Dragon’s Dogma.  I just finished Spec Ops: The Line, a game that is a sequel in name only, and I was blown away by its gutsy narrative.  You wouldn’t see anything like that christen a new platform.  You just wouldn’t.  Yea, this console generation has had an unusually long lifespan, but with promising new IPs like Watch Dogs or The Last of Us still on the horizon, why are we already writing a eulogy?  So I reject Mr. Guillemot’s assertion that developers need new consoles to be creative.  An especially hypocritical stance from the guy in charge of the publishing house that is bringing us the next big new IP, Watch Dogs.  According to him, they shouldn’t have even bothered, and instead of focused on the Wii U, which is the new platform his employees need or they just can’t think.  And what is this new platform in essence?  A screen that you have to flail around like you’re trying to swat a fly with it.  What is he doing with that?  ZombiU.  That’s his idea of innovation: holding a screen in front of another screen.  It would be like Firestone deciding the next generation of tires should be square-shaped.  Besides, my faith in that game is nil.  Ubisoft does launch titles about as well as buffaloes do deep-sea diving.  I remember Red Steel.

Sequels are not the problem with gaming.  I’m not even sure there is a problem with gaming right now.  We live in an era that features multiple thriving platforms, and hundreds (if not thousands) of games of all shapes, sizes, and costs that are released annually.  With so many options available to consumers, I simply don’t understand how so many gamers can be singing the Sequel Blues.  If all you can see is sequels, you need to get your eyes examined, because I do believe you’re more near-sighted than Mr. Magoo.

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11 Responses to The Sequel Blues

  1. Tom Happ says:

    I think I get tired of sequels eventually, but not for a long time. I might be losing interest in Zelda, but it took many iterations, and they could probably still bring me back if they go back to being nonlinear.

  2. GaTechGrad says:

    Graphically, I think the current gen consoles are fine. The 8-bit to 16-bit jump in the early 90’s was huge, because we went from 56 colors to 32,000+ colors. The N64/PS1 gen was a step back IMO, but it did introduce real time 3D rendered graphics (without a special chip built into the game). The PS2/DC/XB1/GC gen dramatically increased polygon counts and introduced online gaming. Our current X360/PS3 gen added HD video display (for people transitioning from tubes to flat screens) along with online achievements and leaderboards. For the next generation to be successful, I think there needs to be some similar form innovation. Also, asking families to shell out $500 or more for a new system in this economy would be a huge risk.

    One way I think next gen consoles can innovate is by adding the ability to stream game play sessions directly to a site like Twitch.Tv. That would eliminate the need to use a third party piece of video conversion hardware, screen capture software, and video streaming software.

    As for the sequels, I think most of the hate comes from the fact that we’ve seen it before. People bought Madden every year which was essentially the same game with roster updates. This resulted in EA becoming a giant in the gaming industry, who proceeded to gobble up all of the smaller innovative game development companies in its way. I will admit that I’m guilty myself of buying into sequels, since own every Dynasty/Samurai/Gundam Warriors game on the X360. However, I don’t see Tecmo/Koei becoming a mega-giant anytime soon either.

  3. It is a balancing act for developers to listen to criticism. On one hand you have game reviewers who tend to have a more diverse view on games. On the other hand you have the large consumer mob that can be more specialized into the selected genre, will also throw their opinions in the mix. Does the game critic deserve to review MW4 when he has only touched 3-4 shooters? Do we care about that angry game neck beard who complained dark souls sucks because he can’t get passed the first boss? It is up to the developers to take it all in and organize it into a list to find out what everybody really believes needs to change. This of course can lead to many crying tweets such as the above one and maybe they should simply take the criticism and simply nod their head.

  4. Steve Tack says:

    Totally agree. Some of my best gaming experiences have been sequels:

    Skyrim
    Oblivion
    Fallout 3
    Half-Life 2
    Resident Evil 4
    GTA: San Andreas
    Assassin’s Creed 2
    Uncharted 2
    Deus Ex: Human Revolution
    Red Dead Redemption (technically a sequel to Red Dead Revolver – it shows how much a game series can be reinvented)

    In fairness to Mr. Guillemot, it’s conceivable that a new IP could be tied to the capability of new hardware, like Uncharted on PS3. I don’t think that one would have been the same experience on PS2. The PS3 did seem to give Naughty Dog an excuse to abandon the Jak and Daxter sequels on the new platform and go for a new IP. After all that, it would be funny if they ended up doing Jak and Daxter 4 as their PS4 debut though. :)

  5. There are loads of sequels, and I get tired of the ones that don’t advance anything but just rehash the same game over and over. Claiming that we have nothing but sequels is silly though.

    Besides, perhaps the most insulting thing about Guillemot’s remark is the implication that Ubisoft and others are somehow being forced into churning out samey sequels. “If there was a new console we wouldn’t have to keep reskinning the same games for annual release!” Bullshit. They’re doing it for (relatively) easy profit, and that’s perfectly sound business practice. They shouldn’t pretend someone is forcing their hand.

    The first year or so of each console generation is studios doing two things: getting a handle on the new technology (so not trying anything too daring) and making things look as pretty as possible to pull in punters who are expecting games to LOOK a lot better than before. This doesn’t aid creativity, and the claim that this situation actually results in more diverse games is so ludicrous as to verge on being a bare faced lie.

  6. Chris says:

    I liked the article and reading through the comments was interesting. Then again, I don’t see the point here. In the end, it was just a CEO saying something he most likely didn’t mean the way you take it. I think he was actually saying “Next Generation consoles will raise the amount of creativity we can put into games.”, and I totally agree with that.

    His statement was just poorly formulated, which is a common problem for everybody. Sure enough such things can have quite a consequence. Luckily it’s just about gaming this time.

  7. The Grumble says:

    I don’t hate sequels. What I do hate are Lazy sequels.
    A true sequel should take what’s been laid down and build on it do something newish and try to add new mechanics or a new element to the story.
    A Lazy sequel could just be called a rehash of the original with a few new textures.

    The mentioned example being Crackdown and Crackdown 2.
    Crackdown was kind of a new IP shocker that sold due to the inclusion of the Halo 3 Beta but the game itself was solid and Quirky with the whole transforming cars aspect and Co-op play.
    Having played Crackdown 2 it does feel like a rehash of the original but removing systems such as the transforming cars and changing the game to a more generic model. In Crackdown you could take down all the crime bosses then the big boss or you could take down the main bosses any time but without taking down the others they would be considerably tougher. In Crackdown 2 the missions were the generic, go here, wait X amount of time and fight enemies then repeat. With less in the line of creativity that you could do as with Crackdown 1 you could cover a car in explosives drive into the enemy base, beat the guards to death with the car then thrown it and blow up the boss. With 2 it is more of a case of you’re forced to approach things the way the game wants.

    Do bad sequels effect me ? Not directly but they do indirectly as while I don’t buy them mostly, they do influence the market.

    Crackdown was made by realtime worlds which is made of essentially the original GTA team.
    Crackdown 2 wasn’t and Realtime worlds wasn’t asked to do it instead they worked solely on APB which fell flat and caused them to shut down.

    The best influence on the market you can see are the amount of high selling modern military shooter games forcing others out.
    Crytek have said people don’t want timesplitters because its not a modern military shooter.
    THQ got KAOS studios to change from their game style of Frontlines Fuel of war ( a shooter set in the not too distant future) which was a huge sprawling battlefield game. To making homefront which was very much COD with vehicles to try and cash in on the success of COD.
    So while sequels don’t impact me directly they can be said to have prevented games from being released which I would have wanted. Sure they are also sequels but its more a case of companies bandwagoning the popular things.

    Look at Minecraft and the amount of XBLIG that were heavily Minecraft “inspired”. True companies exist to make money but the present climate is making companies less willing to even try anything new or different and going more and more with the present popular theme. The problem with this is without people trying something different eventually gaming will stall and be stuck in a slump of lots and lots of say games about Pirates riding rubber ducks and fighting enemies in a bath tub. While it sounds good once you have 5 or 6 of the game in the market people would tire of the concept.

    As is while indie games do have more options to distribute the game themselves now open, it does mean there’s a bigger divide being formed as the big companies are less and less inclined to take risks on indie games developers or help them grow. So its becoming more and more of a two tier market with big multi million pound games and little indie games with no real middle ground. Especially evident with the big companies shutting down developers who don’t produce them their next million pound hit game such as Radical entertainment being shut down and Kaos studios because while their games sold well it wasn’t the million pound hit the studios wanted it was only a half million pound hit.

  8. Alex says:

    I think your usual online persona of absolutism is a little unwarranted here. Having done graphics and design work, new and expansive technology is exciting in the ways it opens up options in all facets of game design. This sort of thing can and does inspire creativity and excitement over exploring these new avenues. I’m not sure that this is what he was referring to, but it could be. I personally think the current generation is fine, but I’ve thought that for every generation. Having been on the development side though, I can safely say that there is soooooo far to go in terms of technical development. There are so many things that you just can’t do yet, that will make a world of difference. As to how these will directly affect gameplay? That’s harder to ascertain. Do you think storytelling has changed as the media has developed? I do and I don’t. I don’t like the constant march of “progress” but at the same time I am guiltily excited by the possibilities it delivers.

    • It is good to hear from someone who does develop offer a take on this. Having said that, from a consumer point of view, the first couple batches of next-gen games always come out a bit undercooked.

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