Regardless of how popular a product line becomes, there will eventuallg come a time in which the formula needs to be changed. When it comes to gaming, consumers will constantly minor changes and tweaks to ensure that their product remains popular.
There will be times however, where a firm will believe that their product is so popular that any real changes could deter their longtime consumer base. This is line of thinking is concerning, because every so often, a TV series, film franchise, or videogame franchise will run its course, but for whatever reason, they will persevere even through the waning popularity. This is an effective way to kill a franchise.
In gaming, it isn’t hard to point out franchises that feel like they’ve run their course; Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil are notable franchises that have seen tremendous success but have required significant changes to remain popular. None of the additions to these franchises truly innovate within their genre, but they do act as a shot in the arm to give fans something new to look forward too.
The Resident Evil series had strayed so far from its survival horror roots that it was practically a shell of itself. Action has become the name of the game and while this was a fun excursion for a time, the series began to deviate heavily from what made it successful. As a whole the series is a remarkable success, but the fans were becoming critical of the change to the action-oriented approach. Resident Evil 7 was Capcom’s answer to its fans questions. There was a swerve back into a survival horror and this was coupled with a new first-person perspective which helped propel the franchise back into their fans good graces.
Assassins Creed took the lessons from its previous entries and created an overall great game in Assassins Creed Odyssey. There was significant fatigue surrounding the series, but by building off the improvements from its predecessor Origins, which featured a new combat system and RPG elements, Odyssey is easily became on the best in the series. It featured a lush and open-world, with a number of interesting locations to explore. While it suffered from the typical open-world tropes, it felt fresh and innovative from a franchise perspective.
Final Fantasy XV had a long gestation period and was really the last hurrah for a franchise that had found itself struggling to remain relevant. Its time in development really paid off as the fifteenth entry featured fresh and exciting combat, interesting and diverse characters, and a surprisingly heartfelt narrative. While there were significant holes, unfortunately the game required significant patches to fix them, these can be overlooked because the developers did such an excellent job with the game. It helped pave the way for the Final Fantasy VII Remake, which acted as a fresh take in the original and was itself, a monumental success.
Call of Duty is a franchise that has been suffering from severe fatigue and overexposure because of the yearly releases. The crazy thing about this series and why it shouldn’t be as criticized as heavily as others is that there are three separate development teams that work to craft different experiences. While it has resulted in a mixed bag, with standouts being Black Ops 1 and 2, World War II, and Advanced Warfare, no series can have a yearly release without there being significant questions.
Conventional wisdom would be that you can’t have too much of a good thing. In regards to Call of Duty, the franchise overall is solid, the gameplay remains tight and responsive, but the lack of innovation is noticeable. Maybe if they adjusted the release schedule to every other year, it would give the three developers time to make significant changes. Instead, the assumption by Activision that three year development cycles will help curtail the persistent criticism of the series has not yet panned out.
There is a degree of difficulty in trying to innovate within the first-person shooter genre. With the release Call of Duty Modern Warfare it was clear that Activision was going to stay the course, with the only real adjustment being that players can choose what mode to download because the game as a whole is massive. Warzone, its battle-royale mode, is a massive success due to its free-to-play nature, but it does little to innovate and was included to gain market share within a growing genre.
Changing the formula should be more than adding a new coat of paint or the inclusion of different modes. It’s not just about going bigger, it’s about completely changing the expectations of the consumer. To do so, developers should take a look at Breath of the Wild and God of War, which worked to bring a different experience to their established fans.
Both titles took their familiar elements and then proceeded to flip them on their heads. The Legend of Zelda has always been a franchise in which the player could go anywhere and do anything but generally in the confines of the gaming environment. Breath of the Wild doesn’t hold the players hand and allows the player to fully explore from the start. I loved the freedom found in this game, the emphasis on trial and error is key as this helps create a memorable, player-crafted experience.
God of War is point-blank the best game of 2018 and it was an experience that was completely unexpected. Brilliant in its execution, even after multiple playthroughs I have yet to find anything about this title that I dislike. Developer Santa Monica Studio knocked it out of the park and this wouldn’t have been possible if God of War didn’t make significant changes to the series formula.
From the combat to the camera perspective, the series has been completely refreshed with the most significant change being the ones made to Kratos who has developed so much that he feels like a completely new character. In the original series, he was a one-note character that made it difficult for fans to empathize with. The reboot showed off a more somber and self-aware Kratos. It was bold move with a globally recognized character and was one of the changes that made anyone believe that with the right amount of care and attention, a franchise can continue to be great even with the passage of time.
It may not be soon, but there will come a time where the most successful and long-standing franchises will become stagnant and their popularity will decrease. Franchises like Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA will work to make small changes to deter the inevitable, but eventually they will find themselves down a path that will require significant change. Consumers are much more aware today than they were 20 to 30 years ago. There are always new competitors to the throne and developers are always looking to create the next big thing.
Look at the Battle Royale genre, Fortnite and PUBG were the current kings of the hill and then Call of Duty and Apex Legends arrived to make a claim for the throne. Instead of making adjustments to their own franchise, Call of Duty developers were simply looking to penetrate a different market. While Blackout and Warzone has been an interesting alternative, they still have a long ways to go before becoming the lead in this market, especially with Fortnite continuously improving and adjusting to ensure its relevancy.
Not every franchise will be given the opportunity to reinvent themselves. It’s actually a luxury that few can afford. Publishers Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony tend to always find a way to make their established franchises relevant regardless of the climate. They have the funds to significantly alter their franchises for the better, even though it can be considered a risk to do so, it is however, a risk worth taking as otherwise, like all things, it will be replaced. Halo Infinite, which releases Holiday 2020, is looking to make significant changes to its formula to help modernize the franchise in the hopes to attract newcomers and satisfy established players.
There’s no better time than the present to make a change.