In regards to film, many have titled 2011 as “the year of the sequel”. In fact, 2011 breaks records for the most sequels to be released in a single calendar year. In total, there were 27 movies built upon established franchises that hit theatres. Obviously, with this number being an all-time high, one must question the originality and creativity of the industry. With that said, this same question can not be limited to the film industry. Let’s take a look at Spike TV’s Video Game Awards, known as the most publicized video game award show to date. Most dedicated gamers protest this show because it is eager to please the mainstream audience as an award show, casting hosts and musical performances that don’t belong there. Returning to the point, the nominees for the Game Of The Year award were Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Portal 2, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. All five of the contenders were sequels. While Portal and Batman are merely hitting their sophomore release, Zelda has about 16 international titles (the CDi games don’t count).
What does this say about the video game industry? Has Nintendo lost their creativity and originality? Of course, this isn’t the case. Skyward Sword happens to be the 16th in the series, but is also a fresh experience that is bursting with new ideas and abstract imagery. The two (creativity and originality) should never be mentioned hand-in-hand. While Skyward Sword is one of the most creative games I have ever played, it is not entirely original. While it doesn’t strictly follow the “Zelda formula”, it still builds upon an incredibly established series, one that has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. At the beginning of the game, we know who Zelda is and we know who Link is. We know that Zelda gets captured, and we know that we will need to explore dungeons and fight formulated boss battles to save her. Because these are well known for being the series’ staples, it is hard to picture a Legend Of Zelda game without them. As long as Link is exploring new areas with a new method of transportation, Zelda fans seem to be pleased. While each Zelda title visually identifies itself, most gameplay mechanics are dated (with the exception of Skyward Sword’s use of motion control). While it is true that Skyward Sword has distinguished itself from the crowd, there are still many ways to bring innovation to an ageing series. This brings us to the real question; are we really calling for originality?
The success of the Call Of Duty franchise leads this writer’s opinion to say otherwise. The latest title in the series, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, was the biggest launch across all electronic media, and even surpassed the best-selling blockbuster “Avatar”. While it is true that many have taken their opinions to Metacritic, protesting against the lack of innovation and creativity in this annually-launched franchise, the game was still released to impressive reviews and sold almost 7 million copies on its first day. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the series. Modern Warfare 3 marks Call Of Duty’s 8th entry (not including spin-offs and expansions), all of which have universally impressed critics. With so many entries and such a big budget, consumers have come to expect an impressive amount of polish from the series. Regardless, as a dedicated gamer, it is hard to accept a series that refuses to evolve. It is the lack of both innovation and creativity that distinguishes Call Of Duty as an example. This year, Zelda fans prepared themselves for the most unique Zelda game in the franchise’s 25-year history, while still expecting the conventions of a “regular Zelda game”. It is this divide of creativity and originality that allows a franchise to grow with its audience. This is something that Call Of Duty has not accomplished to date. This may be a problem with the game’s publisher, rather than their developer. Activision, one of the biggest publishing companies in the industry, has a reputation of hurting their own franchises with frequent releases. Unfortunately, history is bound to repeat itself unless Activision takes action.
Don’t take this as an attack on Call Of Duty, let alone Activision. There are many successful franchises that have made a name for themselves due to sheer repetition. Think back to the Lego franchise. Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Batman, and Lego Harry Potter are perfect examples of the lack of originality and creativity in this industry. The question must be asked; why doesn’t this series have the same reputation as Call Of Duty? This question, of course, has an obvious answer. The Lego franchise is competing in an entirely different market. While Call Of Duty is rated M, and appeals to the “hardcore” group of gamers, the Lego series is marketed towards a younger audience. In this “casual” market, there are a different set of goals to achieve. While a modern first-person-shooter may pride itself on photorealistic graphics, a casual platformer will focus on an approachable art style. The Lego franchise is well known for being an accessible series, and because of the lack of innovation, most younger gamers can pick up any new Lego game with ease. The same can be said about other major franchises that market themselves towards a family-friendly environment. Compare this to the Mario Kart series. On December 4th, Mario Kart 7 was released internationally. With only 2 months of life, this game is one of the best-selling 3DS titles to date. While that may sound impressive, this is not at all unexpected. Most gamers did not pick up this entry because of its new mechanics or its enhanced multiplayer functionality. Mario Kart 7 is an international success story because of its familiar name and traditional gameplay. One must appreciate the changes made in this latest instalment, but understand that its market limits such innovation.
To summarize, the market that a game appeals to directly influences the future of the franchise. This is why one can not compare games like Call Of Duty to Mario Kart. Furthermore, while Call Of Duty may have a bleak future, Mario Kart does not seem to be slowing down. Perhaps there are other factors to pay attention to. At the moment, military shooters are an industry trend. This started back in 2007 with the release and widespread of the first Modern Warfare title. Since then, there have been four more Call Of Duty games, four more Battlefield titles, and seemingly a new shooter every week. To put this into perspective, the top five most played games on Xbox Live in 2011 were all shooters. Only one of which was not military-based. If we, as consumers, are truly demanding for more innovative ideas, why do the numbers prove otherwise? While great and innovative games like Mirror’s Edge launch to poor sale numbers, Call Of Duty is launched annually to record-breaking figures. This is obviously not a coincidence nor is it a question of quality, since Mirror’s Edge was well-received with critics.
The question still rests at whether or not gamers want new ideas. While it is not necessarily a battle between quality and quantity, there is clearly a reoccurring problem. If the general consumer is willing to pay $60 every year for a similar and familiar experience, publishers will continue to release these games. Within a market that is willing to adapt, the average gamer should ask why we don’t witness change as frequent as we should. Recently, it was announced that Miyamoto, the creative mind behind Zelda and Mario, is working on an original IP. While it may not be released in 2012, this news is comparable to NaughtyDog’s new project, The Last Of Us. NaughtyDog has made a number of unforgettable franchises, yet continuously surprises the industry with new IPs. With all this promise of originality, will we, as the consumer, accept and adapt to these new ideas, or reject them for this year’s Call Of Duty?