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It’s Okay for Game Franchises to End
Another year, another Assassin’s Creed announced. Thus far, Ubisoft has made good on its promise to make new games in the series an annual occurrence, and with the profits they generate it’s unlikely we’ll see that change within the next few years. Regardless of your feelings toward the franchise, however, it’s growing increasingly obvious that this ploy may not be such a good thing.
Obviously, there are plenty of fans out there lobbying for a regular stream of Assassin’s Creed games to sink hours into and, hopefully, to learn something about history (just not through the fictionalized plots). This same demand is what leads to rushed development, resulting in infamous blunders like Assassin’s Creed: Unity. While this particular statement could segue into whether that’s on the consumer or not and the impact pre-ordering has on this, that’s not what we’ll discuss today.
Rather, I’d like to state an opinion: it’s okay for a video game series to end. I’d love to believe it’s possible for a publisher to say, “You know what? This is enough. Try something new.” The dismal reality is that publishers are motivated by profits, and as long as a game sells, the publisher will demand ongoing sequels from the developer (or, as the case is sometimes, they’ll own the rights to the game and find someone else to develop a sequel or spinoff). The downside is that, while it may make economic sense, there’s little denying that most franchises grow stale when new releases are crapped out year after year.
Assassin’s Creed is easy to point out, but let’s go with another franchise—one that hasn’t even seen many releases by comparison. God of War, while an entertaining enough series, hit a creative slump pretty quickly. While there were mild enhancements in the sequel’s gameplay (and to tell the entire story, a third game was necessitated), the PlayStation Portable spinoffs were little more than watered-down cash grabs, and God of War: Ascension was a clear indication that Sony Santa Monica had run out of good ideas but were looking for a payday (I won’t mention God of War: Betrayal).
I breathed a sigh of relief when yet another installment wasn’t immediately announced. I groaned in dismay when it was finally revealed a new God of War would come to the PlayStation 4. After so many derivatives, there’s no reason to expect another God of War will deliver anything that hasn’t already been experienced. Besides, Kratos’s story has played out, and really, what is God of War without its titular anti-hero?
Aside from the more obvious argument of uninspired “upgrading” and the lack of innovation from title to title, there’s another abhorrent trend in pumping out too many releases in one franchise. Namely, developers start creating games in the same series for a ridiculous number of platforms. You need look no further than Kingdom Hearts for this one. Instead of mollifying fans’ pleas for a true Kingdom Hearts III, Square Enix decided to milk the proverbial cow by releasing as many spinoffs as they could before fans threw up their hands and said, “Enough!” (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t happened yet.) And while the series started as a PlayStation 2 exclusive, we saw sequels and prequels released for the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, mobile phone (in Japan, until a remake was done on the DS), and Nintendo 3DS. Oh, and then Square Enix re-released most of those games on the PlayStation 3 as part of their HD “Remixes” collection.
In typical fashion, Square Enix will not yield on this franchise, either. While Kingdom Hearts III will naturally conclude the characters’ stories, new games will continue to be made, just focusing on newer characters (or at least new villains). While some franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda, are efficient at bringing a new experience to the table with every outing, Kingdom Hearts, like Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid, and countless others, just offers more of the same thing, all the while growing more convoluted as its slowly crawls further up its own ass.
There is no way to stop this except, of course, to refuse to purchase new releases to send a message to publishers that we want something fresh. Clearly this isn’t the sentiment of the community at large, but it would be great if publishers would look to developers like Ken Levine for inspiration and realize that allowing them to spread their creative wings and produce something new is not so bad…you know, instead of clinging onto their previous creations and pursuing them sans the mastermind.