Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Franchise Debate

Gaming is a strange creature when it comes to franchises. Gamers will say that series X needs to die, or that Series Y is past it's prime and needs to just fade away.

A few series come to mind when I think about franchises that people think need to die.

Call of Duty and Final Fantasy.

A thought occurs to me concerning call of Duty. It seems that they're (Activision) are taking an annual sports game approach to it. It's just a tuning on the multiplayer, with a token single player campaign. in the same vein, playing the career mode in Madden can be seen as training to help you grasp the game before you take on your friends. If we look at Call of Duty from this perspective, why doesn't it deserve to be made each year in the same vein of a Madden or an MLB The Show? I think since it isn't seen as a sports title, it doesn't deserve that sort of reasoning for an annual release. The last two Madden releases (Madden 11, and Madden 12) both sold millions of copies. While nowhere near the explosive sales of the last two Call of Duty games, it's still showing that annual releases make money, despite being just a small visual upgrade, updated roster, and tweaks to gameplay. If you look at the maps as the "roster" of the Call of Duty games, the update seams a little more reasonable.

Now I'll stop going in circles to mention something that irks me about the series. A Call of Duty game that's a year old will still sell new for 50-60 dollars. Compare this to a new sports title that sells for around $20 after it's been out a year. This is what irks me. I can still see Modern Warfare II selling for $20 new... It's a unique situation where you have a game that's almost the same as a sports game (Hell, they should just start calling it "Call of Duty 2013"), but it's treating each game as if it's a separate series.

Now, do I think that Call of Duty should die? No, no I don't. It has a right to exist, and Activision would be stupid to stop making them. The games are consistently among the top selling games each year, so throwing that revenue away would just be dumb. Would I like to see a little more difference between the titles, yeah, sure. But why would you change what works? That's like telling an NHL game to to change some core values around all the time. The NHL series has been praised as one of the best sports franchises around because EA Canada has the core mechanics down to near-perfection. What they do is add more, subtle, realities to the game. Stick breaking on some shots, screening the goalie, checking over the boards... Little details, but help refine the game to feel authentic. I feel that Call of Duty is reaching that same platform. I hear people saying that Black Ops multiplayer was really balanced, so they could experiment or tweak the gameplay to make things more realistic or fun.

The biggest issue for this though, is that they have different developers for their games. Between Treyarch and Infinity Ward, they have two different teams working on different versions. This means that gamers can't get a consistency with their games because the formulas make subtle shifts each year.

To get away from the Call of Duty talk now, we're going to take a look at the Final Fantasy series. This series has been around since 1988 or so. There are 16 games in the main numbered series (1-14 + x-2 and 13-2). Add with that the side series like Tactics, Mystic Quest, and some remakes, you get a lot of games released for this series. Now, some would say that many games might be too many, but there are differences that differentiate each game from each other.

Because I've already documented the differences, I'm just going to leave these here...

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The changes may be subtle, but they are large enough to be noticeable. Switch from I to II, you go from standard fight => levelup formula to Fight => skill-up based on what you use. From II to III you lose the skill-ups, but you gain a primary class system. From III to IV, you go back to standard Fight => Level-Up, but you gain a diverse cast of individuals with their own skills and special abilities.

Simple changes, but enough to notice differences.

Now, how does this play into "this franchise needs to die"?

Simple really, if a game can keep making simple to substantial modifications to the RPG formula they helped define, they aren't stagnating. They're changing things up. Final Fantasy XI, an MMO that predates World of Warcraft, XII, attempts to bring combat without the "whoosh effect" and being transported to a special battleground. It also allows you to customize how the AI behaves. XIII brings back a class system with a huge twist, being able to change during combat. You can bemoan that the stories aren't as good, or that they focus too much on graphics, but you can't really say they aren't doing anything with the series. The benefit of the series is that the games are all independent of one another, apart from the sequels.

Is this a series that I think should die? Nope. This is another series that has a wealth of ideas they could return to. If they wanted to make a game with a classic job system, they could. If they want to keep trying new things, yeah, they have that option. A big problem though, is people becoming jaded to the point where nothing can live up to the games they played first.

But Nostalgia... that's a topic for another time.

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