Going into the fall gaming season we have new titles flying at us left and right, half of which are sequels or off-shoots of already established franchises – Guitar Hero 5, Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3 ODST, Forza 3, Uncharted 2. Sometimes sequels come at us with blazing speed, sometimes it takes years for us to even hear about their development and perhaps years after that before we see them on store shelves. Is there such a thing as releasing a sequel too quickly? Conversely, how long would you wait for a sequel to one of you favorite franchises?
There was a lot of controversy a few months back when Valve announced the development of Left 4 Dead 2, when the first game had been out for just over six months. The nerd rage was strong with this one, you might say. Fanboys screamed that Valve had promised them DLC for the first game and, before they got much, the second game was announced. Still, L4D2 will not see a retail release until November, which puts it in our hands almost exactly a year after L4D. I don’t know about young’ins these days, but back in my day I loved getting a new Final Fantasy every year. The seventh through tenth installments in the Final Fantasy franchise were released once each year for four years (1997-2000). Sure, they didn’t come out exactly a year to the day as the previous one, but they hit once per calendar year for four years in a row. It boggles my mind how people can complain about a sequel to a game they adore a year after the first one released.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have a developer like Blizzard. When Blizzard does something, they do it right, which I admire them for (especially having played World of Warcraft for over four years). Unfortunately, that is a double-edged sword – it can be both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that, even though it is taking them darn near 10 years to release sequels to the Diablo and Starcraft franchises, the games are almost guaranteed to be top-notch and full of awesomeness. In addition, with the proliferation of downloadable content in this day and age, the new games, when they do arrive, could possibly last even longer, assuming Blizzard does some future-proofing. The bad news is that, well, it takes them 10 years to release a sequel. (For the sake of being thorough: Starcraft was first released in 1998 and Diablo II was first released in 2000 – so, it’ll be ~12 years between Starcraft games and ~10 years between Diablo games.)
Note that Valve isn’t a stranger to long development times, either. Their Half-Life franchise saw six years between its first and second installment, and additional time between HL2 and the various episodes that followed. Other developers who used to kick sequels out fairly quickly are taking more and more time in development these days. One of the major factors in this, most likely, is that as games and the systems we play them on get more and more advanced, development time and cost skyrockets, thus almost ensuring longer and longer time between sequels.
All that aside, I have to mention Activision, their Guitar Hero franchise and all its spawn. To be honest, this is what put the idea for this editorial in my head. There’s what, at least eight Guitar Hero games or off-shoots, across all major platforms, coming out in 2009? GH5, GH: Van Halen, GH: Metallica, GH: Smash Hits, GH on Tour: Modern Hits, Band Hero, DJ Hero…and this isn’t even mentioning the mobile phone and arcade versions of the franchise. Far be in from me to begrudge Activision the millions (billions?) of dollars they rake in from this franchise by having all these titles available throughout the year, but isn’t it a bit much? I’ve never purchased a single GH game (although I’m considering purchasing GH5 and Band Hero…haven’t made up my mind yet), but I feel like I’d get burned out. Hell, the only reason I’m considering a GH purchase is because Rock Band feels “old” to me now. Imagine how I’d feel after several possible GH purchases in a year.
So, how soon is too soon for a sequel? I really can’t answer that for anyone but myself. What I do know is, as long as there is money to be made, as long as people keep lapping up every morsel of a franchise the game publishers throw at them, there will be games to play in that franchise. From a personal perspective, there are a lot of games that get sequels which, in my mind, don’t deserve them. On the other hand, there are many games which I feel deserve sequels and don’t get them because they aren’t “mainstream” or get lost in the tide of high-profile, in-your-face titles every holiday season. I’d venture to say the general consensus might be that once a year is a good time for sequels, assuming developers and publishers feel the need – but the abundance of DLC for most titles these days might stretch that out a bit. Although, I would certainly think 12 years is a bit too long, eh, Blizzard?
In my ideal world of gaming, there would be two or three years between sequels, and other new IPs filling the gaps. I realize new IPs aren’t always the greatest, but if developers and publishers would really focus on those as much as they focus on sequels to their heavy-sellers, we’d have the best of both worlds and probably wouldn’t notice the passage of time between our favorite titles. I’m interested in what others have to say about this subject, so I’ll ask the question again and direct it at the readers – how long between sequels, in your opinion?