Franchises are tricky things to manage. On one hand, your fans are crying out for more content, eager to return to the world you’ve painstakingly built for them. On the other hand, whilst you might appease the baying crowds for a short time, the new addition might have been rushed and not quite hit the heady heights of its older brothers and sisters.
The overriding factor behind that used to be money. Year in, year out, new titles would be snapped up without a second thought, ensuring that developers continued to churn out the next installment on an annual basis. More recently though, there have been rumbles under the surface. Feedback now appears to be the driving force behind decision making and that’s down to you, me and every person that uses Twitter or Reddit. These days, everyone has the opportunity to be a critic and it only takes one concerned voice to plant doubt in the minds of other gamers. Once it starts spreading, it’s not long before the earthquake fully erupts and the cracks in that game’s landscape are laid bare.
That’s the climate developers are living in and it appears as though some have started to respect it. The two biggest examples of this being Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty.
Ubisoft has released an Assassin’s Creed game every year since 2012 and while they were snapped up with eager anticipation by most, you could almost feel the excitement fade a little more each year. Unity was probably the turning point for the series as it had tons of glitches (so much so, in fact, that Ubisoft offered one of the game’s DLCs to fans for free to make up for the game’s terrible launch). Whilst 2015’s Syndicate improved things, Ubisoft probably should have taken a break a year earlier than they actually did.
In 2016, Ubisoft acknowledged the downward spiral the series was on and made the decision to wave goodbye to some of the annual income they’d become accustomed to. Instead, they’re focusing on taking the time to build a game that the fans want and tapping into the hype that games like The Witcher, The Last of Us and even 2017’s hugely successful Horizon: Zero Dawn seem to garner with ease. Not only that, but Ubisoft seems to have also analysed the feedback that other games have received. For instance, October’s release of Assassin’s Creed: Origins apparently has more of a Witcher-style combat system and based on how well that game did, that can only be a good thing.
The real point is that Ubisoft are listening to their community and they’re making changes that’ll see their flagship game survive. Sure, the better the game is, the more hype it’ll get and in today’s world, that turns into cold, hard cash. In the end it is, of course, about money. But in this scenario, the fans won’t suffer with a poor game and everyone’s a winner.
Call of Duty on the other hand needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, I think. Battlefield 1 was released in 2016 to thunderous applause as it gave FPS fans something that they’d been asking of Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer for years. Fans became sick of futuristic war scenarios and craved for something more modern and, well, grounded. Until Battlefield 1 came out they were roundly ignored and even the remastered Modern Warfare couldn’t halt the rapid migration of fans to Battlefield.
Naturally, as it’s not been released yet, this is all conjecture. Call of Duty: WWII might well be a smash hit, but my current feeling is that Call of Duty has, and still is, taking us for granted. If they carry on doing that, it won’t be long before the series falls apart altogether.
As a landscape, gaming is a brutal desert where new games can be shot down with the most savage of reviews. With the rise of indie games showing no signs of slowing down, it’s more important than ever that studios and developers listen to what their communities are telling them.