Are Annual Game Releases Good For Gamers?
Colby Tortorici looks at the effect that yearly releases of the same franchises have on consumers. Should there be a limit to annual game releases?
Annualised franchises have become a norm in the video game industry. Be it Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or every EA Sports title, the trend of keeping these series pumping out a new title every year has been around for some time. While the benefits of this practice for the developers is clear, how does it affect the consumers? Is this a negative or a positive trend for the industry as a whole?
The benefits of serialised releases to creators and publishers is a no-brainer. AAA development costs a tremendous amount of money, no matter how you slice it. With this in mind, it makes sense that developers would jump at the chance to build a game that allows them to continually reuse the same assets, graphics and mechanics year after year, only updating and spicing them up here and there when required. Once those elements are excluded from development, creating next year’s model becomes a massively cheaper venture that’s far easier to make.
This method can be easily seen in many of the EA Sports titles that change ever so slightly to accommodate how the sports world has changed in that year. The same goes for shooter titles such as Call of Duty. The tried and true gameplay mechanics are left intact with every iteration, leaving much less work for the developers to complete. While the benefits of yearly releases for developers and publishers are pretty clear-cut, they also face some drawbacks too.
When the newest titles to these long-running franchises receive such small development cycles, creativity is not something you’re going to find in abundance. The short, year-long cycles don’t give developers a chance to really flex their true talent and instead focus much of the time refining what’s already there. You’re not going to create something as innovative as Breath of the Wild in mere months.
So, do consumers benefit from this style of game development, or are they hurt by it? In my opinion, the answer is both. One example of a benefit consumers received was the creation of Call of Duty: WWII.
Fans of the long-running series had been begging for a return to the ‘boots on the ground’ style title that made the franchise popular for many years, and in 2016, those calls were answered.
Just kidding! They got Infinite Warfare, another futuristic title.
Activision continued to stand behind the title, even when its trailer became the second most disliked YouTube video in history. It then was reported that Infinite Warfare missed the sales expectation of Activision. So, why is this a good thing? How is this a benefit to consumers of yearly releases? Because less than a year later, Call of Duty: WWII was released to the public, answering the cries for a return to the past fans had been clamouring for.
If Call of Duty didn’t have a yearly release cycle, fans of the series would still be waiting for a game like this for far longer than a short year. In this case, serialised releases worked out for the fans. At the same time, at other points in Call of Duty’s history, the series has been criticized for releasing titles that are very similar to one another year after year. Even WWII garnered this criticism to some degree. When consumers are sold the same core game year after year with a new coat of paint, how can you say annual releases benefit the average gamer? Truth is, you can’t.
The case of WWII is an anomaly. For the most part, annual releases benefit only the developers. Take Assassin’s Creed for example. Last year, the series chose to forgo its yearly release cycle to take more time with its newest title, which we now know to be Origins. This move proved successful, as it earned some of the best reviews for the series in years, with many praising the format being polished and changed up this time around. Sales for the title largely improved over the previous title: Syndicate.
“While the benefits of yearly releases for developers and publishers are pretty clear-cut, they also face some drawbacks”
Serialized releases are interesting. They use tricks that allow developers to keep games coming out at a quicker pace. Sometimes, like in the case of many EA Sports titles, the base game is only changed up slightly year after year. Other games that feature yearly releases make a point to keep the core mechanics of the previous title, while still making changes to the story, environments, and other factors. Is this method worth it? Is getting more games in our favourite series worth the loss of innovation? In my opinion, no. I’d rather see fewer games where growth from the developers is visible in every iteration. But this is just my opinion, and as sales of yearly released franchises continue to deliver, the method is only going to become more popular.
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