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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Editorial: The Problem With Yearly Releases.


Editorial: The Problem With Yearly Releases.



Call of Duty: Black Ops III just came out, along with Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, Arkham Knight (itself not quite a yearly release - more like a year and halfly release), a small flock of sports games, and at least one Lego game. For a lot of games, yearly releases - which almost always involve beginning development on one game before you're even done developing the one before it - are a fact of life, despite the fact that more or less nobody enjoys them.

In the worst of cases, such as when Ubisoft released two main console Assassin's Creed titles plus a couple of handheld offerings in a single year, or those few times Call of Duty released multiple titles in a year, it can end up being less 'yearly' and more 'quarterly.' That should be great, right? If you enjoy a game, more of it is always better, right?

Well, no.

Let's dip into a random grab-bag of some of my favourite games: Bravely Default, Vanquish, and Okami. I adore all of these games deeply, but I couldn't play them - or games like them - every year, and if I did it would slowly murder all of the love I had for them. It wouldn't be necessarily indicative of their quality, either: They could each one be beautifully crafted, wonderful titles, and I would still find them taxing on my willpower.

Stylin'.

Part of that is that what I adore about these games is their uniqueness.

Vanquish has a frenetic energy and a lightning fast, chaotic bullet hell dynamic that is exhilarating, but the exhilaration would quickly fade away by the tenth Vanquish in as many years - without the extra development time to let technology change and build, and to put more effort into making every title concretely different, and without the time for me play around with other things for a while, Vanquish would lose its uniqueness.

Bravely Default cleverly plays with the Final Fantasy III dynamic and the technology available to it, and gives you a massive range of job classes, as well as having a compelling, fourth wall breaking volume. But if that technology doesn't have time to markedly change, Bravely Default will just be circling the same pieces of tech. If it releases a dozen games in a dozen years, it's going to eventually run out of new job ideas and new ways to use the fourth wall dynamic.

Okami is beautiful, artistic, and touching - but it'd be a lot less so if I never got a break from it.

Less stylin'.

Here is the thing: Familiarity breeds contempt, and it also breeds boredom. You can be making the best games in the world - and let's face it, if you're releasing yearly, then they are not all going to any good - but if they're all the same game with a few extra gimmicks and a slightly different skin on them, then they're all going to blur together into a gloopy grey blur.

(Sports games get a bit of a free pass on this, since what they're mostly doing is updating their roster.)

And that is very closely tied to frequency. Take Legend of Zelda games: The console releases are quite formulaic, with basically the same gameplay, very similar worlds, and often quite similar plots, with the main difference being one big, key gameplay change put in - shapeshifting for Twilight Princess, flight for Skyward Sword, and so on - and yet each one feels fresh and new every time.

Compare and contrast with Assassin's Creed, which usually has the same gameplay and similar plots, but mix it up with new characters and drastically different settings, as well as implementing several new gameplay changes, but they still feel bland. Same-y. Like an endless parade of the same greyed, withered game, screaming desperately for you to love it.

More stylin'.


Compare and contrast again with Call of Duty, which is not only a yearly release that innovates very little (although I should note that it does innovate a little - for all of its reputation for being mindless, the Call of Duty writers do put effort into their stories; and it's clearly taking accusations of being racist and creepily propaganda-ish - criticisms that I myself have made before - to heart and made efforts to improve on them; along with constantly refining and working on its basic gameplay), but must also contend with a sea of Call of Duty clones, such as Medal of Honor, making it even more generic.

Long story short: Don't release your games yearly. If you have a video game franchise, then give it room to breathe - too many games in too short a time is a recipe for your audience to grow exhausted with you, especially since if you're able to churn out games that quickly, then you're probably not putting much effort into making them unique and different.

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