Hey Harvey!

Posted on Jul 18th 2010 at 05:30:33 PM by (slackur)
Posted under Gaming, Sequels, Innovation

BioShock 2.  Halo 3 ODST.  Super Mario Galaxy 2. New Super Mario Bros.  Any Street Fighter after II.  Every Madden after 2000 or so.

These games, other than representing new entries in their respective franchises, don't have much in common.  But one thing I have heard about all of these games, either by critics or fellow gamers, is something along these lines:  "this game is unnecessary."

The general mentality behind said comments usually indicate that the game does not offer enough updates, change, or innovation as to justify its existence, especially in light of previous games in its respective series.  Some, such as the numerous updates to the Street Fighter series or Madden, are largely seen as simple tweeks or balancing, with occasional new characters or roster updates.  Others, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and BioShock 2, are critically praised as superior gameplay experiences to their predecessors, yet are deemed as not really "needed" because of how well the first game performed or was received, and that the sequels were only market-driven extensions.

For this humble industry observer, the very idea that any entertainment product is 'unnecessary' because of previous similar product is not only humorous, but self-centered and destructive. 

Imagine this same take on other entertainment:

Star Wars/Babylon 5/Stargate/Battlestar Galactica/Star Trek/Any other Sci/Fi with aliens represented as humans of other color or forehead wrinkles

Neon Genesis Evangelion vs. ANY OTHER SCI/FI Anime

Baseball/Football/Soccer/Basketball/Any other sport involving teams and vaguely spherical ball-like objects

Nascar/Rally/Cart Racing/Off Road/F1/Derby/Any other sport involving a vehicle and driver

This Band/That Band/That other Band/That Boy Band/All Rap,R&B,Techno,Classical,etc

Not only are all of these modes of entertainment highly derivative of other forms of entertainment, but to a non-fan they are often indistinguishable from each other within the same genre.  Try talking about the differences of TOS, TNG, Voyager, DS9, and the movies to a non-trekkie and they'll just shrug; not only can they not distinguish between them but often they wouldn't care enough to try.  I know plenty of people who can't distinguish Star Wars from Star Trek.  Sacrilege to me, apathy to them. 

Mention a 'strike' to a baseball fan and then a bowling fan.  Watch what happens when you pretend to confuse the two.  Somehow YOU'RE the dumb one for mixing up a term between two silly sports involving letting go of a ball.  Aren't they pretty much all the same? (*ducks various thrown sporting gear*)

I'm not even getting into music, and how so many bands sound the same and yet sometimes something new and different can be so off as to be mistaken for noise.

The healthy purpose of entertainment is to at least give relaxation, and at most to edify.  Why would I get upset over another Madden this year?  Even if there are no serious innovations or updates beyond the new team rosters, if the sports fan buys it and has just as much or more fun with it as other entries, who am I to say that's not enough?  Is someone else having fun?  Am I a 'must be something new' Nazi to the point that I can't enjoy the bulk of current or even past games?  Games that, while market-driven and mostly made with profits in mind, are still designed for the point of enjoyment?

This is not an attack on innovative progression.  It is an acknowledgment that 'new' is not always better, and 'same' often has the right to exist alongside it.  Striving for something completely groundbreaking and different, even improved, is admirable, and NECESSARY for the healthy development of our hobby.  Trying to choke the gaming public with too much of the same will only lead to stagnation.  The ol' industry crash of the early 80's will always be a reminder of that.  (And epic mismanagement, of course.)

But video games are a much larger entertainment beast now.  There is not only room for 'new' and 'same' to exist simultaneously, but often 'same' is needed to help fund 'new'.  Those years of Madden sequels, much as they are criticized, paid for Dead Space, Mirror's Edge, and other original EA IPs.  I have no interest in rehashed Pokemon, but that juggernaut helped keep Nintendo's name in the industry until my beloved DS released.  Not to mention that shiny and awesome looking 3DS was built off the backs (money) of Mario Karts, Mario Golfs, Kirbies, and yes, Mario Parties.   

Not only are sequels comfortable for us, they remind us of what we like and why we like it.  I could probably enjoy Halo sequels for years, despite a core formula that is traditionally not altered much, not to mention it being another "generic" space marine FPS.  You know, I LIKE that.  I know what I'm getting, I know I like it, I want more of it.  If they change things up a lot, I might like it more, but I might like it a lot less.  Is is worth taking a chance?  Sure.  But why whine when a sequel is more of the same?  If we liked the first, why are we griping that we were given more of what we liked? 

We also need new.  We need different.  We need Katamari Damacy, Panic!, Vib Ribbon, mr. Bones, Seaman, Twisted, Odama, Kinect, Waggle, Move, NiGHTs, Yar's Revenge, Super Scopes, Bongos, Loco Roco, Patapon, Myst, and especially Shadow of the Colossus.  We need something at least a little different, even if it fails.  Even if it turns out to be not that fun.  Even when new becomes the new derivative.  Our industry adapts and shifts, or stalls and withers.

Different people enjoy different things, and the fact is that many of us will buy sequels and enjoy them, even if they aren't much different.  Sometimes, it is because they are not much different.  As much as I enjoy the Halo games, I think the Call of Duty series tend to be just above average games, but largely derivative of each other and offer little innovation between the respective entries.  (Of course I recognize the same arguments leveled at Halo.)  But they are both undeniable successes, and the sequels will undoubtedly follow in the same footsteps.  Is that bad? 

Apparently millions in the gaming mainstream don't think so.  Why argue games should be so different if so many are enjoying these games?   Are these millions of gamers wrong?  I think that's the wrong question.

I think the more important question is, are these people having fun?

Or wasn't that the point?

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Hear, hear. Quality sequals are always welcome in my book. Economically it only makes sense for publishers, and I get to enjoy more of what was great the first time in many cases. If only SEGA would figure out quality sequals are welcome besides Sonic games. Phantasy Star V for 3DS, please and thanks.

Very nice article, well written and a fun read.
If I love a game, I'll love a sequel that's exactly like it. A new story is all I need to be interested in a game that has no new gameplay mechanics. On the other hand, I do enjoy games that are innovative without being gimmicky.
So long as new changes stay away from a strictly downloadable format i am all for it.
I tend to move back and forth on whether i like more of the same or not. I guess it depends entirely on the title and (even more so) cost.

Well written. Wink
Excellent article!

And yeah, sometimes more of the same is a good thing. Other times, a reboot of an old franchise is definitely needed (i.e. the new Mortal Kombat getting back to its 2D roots).

We all have our preferred franchises. I do prefer the Halo series to CoD:MW. I like both Rock Band and Guitar Hero, but won't be compelled to pick up sequels until they reach the discount bin.

It doesn't make it right or wrong, just different tastes.

I will always ALWAYS get the games in the Mass Effect franchise, but I have no interest in Final Fantasy. Both games will sell well, but we all have our preferences and gaming budgets to also take into consideration. And that's where the "is this game necessary" argument kicks in.

Given that I've lived through and played many consoles over the bulk of the history of video games, I will remember when we used to get only 1 game a month and looking forward to that game as my only option...and then playing the hell out of it until the next game came out.

Personally, I think it's great that our beloved industry offers so much choice to gamers to decide for themselves. I just hope it doesn't get over-saturated to the point that it crashes like it did in the 80s. But even if it does...it will always come back!

Sequels are generally a good idea if the source (original) was good enough. If a sequel is even better, that's great. But no matter how popular something is, people get bored of sequels (see: all the music games) if A: the sequels are too much like the original or B: there is too little time between sequels.

I wouldn't mind having no sequels and only original games all the time, but I fear that's no longer financially possible in this industry that's so focussed on graphics and production values.

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