On the Perils of Franchise Fatigue
Jonathan Anson / Jan 19th, 2016 No Comments
The woes of mainstream gaming companies seem to have no ending in sight. But among those suffering are two very notable cases: Nintendo and Sega. Both are naturally well-known by gamers for being pioneering companies which set the high bars in the industry. Yet both continue to suffer financially. The stocks of both companies continue to dwindle and seem to show no signs of stopping.
What could be causing this? The question is bound to result in a myriad of reasons. Poor leadership and a lack of a progressive direction might come to mind. Perhaps, at least on the surface, one of reasons behind the financial woes of these companies is because of the video game universes they’ve come to be known by. Gaming mascots like Sonic and Mario specifically are big sellers primarily because of how iconic they are. They are also a large reason for why these established names are having problems.
The Price of Fame
Gaming companies often rely on established names and mascots to bring in money because they know people will buy them specifically for how famous those brands have become. In 2014, Sega released three original Sonic the Hedgehog titles. Nintendo, not to be outdone, produced eight original titles featuring the iconic plumber. If you think those numbers– which include remakes and ports of older games onto newer consoles–are small, it goes up even more.
The phrase “more is better” isn’t necessarily true. Reception for the newer Sonic and Mario games are generally mixed and only on some occasions warrant praise from both fans and critics. But even these days it’s a rarity that new games receive standing applause rather than scorn or middling acceptance. Take Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for instance. Released in 2014, it is the last major Sonic platformer gamers got their hands on. The title has been universally panned for its unoriginal gameplay, tedious pacing, and poorly written story.
Even more telling is how Sega didn’t provide review outlets with advance copies of the game. This gesture definitely speaks volumes to the company’s lack of faith in one of many final products featuring their once-famous hedgehog hero. How can two legacy characters once famous for consistently providing more hits than misses provide uncertainty for their creators? Perhaps no other term might describe this other than franchise fatigue: when a specific licensed property is focused upon so much.
In putting so much effort into producing new games featuring beloved mascots, developers inevitably suffer repercussions in opting for the safety of knowing well-established franchises will draw in money. In doing this, developers sacrifice the opportunity to developing new, original titles. They also neglect to expand on other existing properties they own, many which deserve more attention and expansion.
Franchises like Star Fox, Metroid, Double Dragon, Call of Duty, and Pac-Man exist because studios took a chance on them. They helped shape what gaming is today through their innovations, ideas, and stories. They continue to do so to this day and are household names that gamers feel solidarity with because of that. Such franchises are almost always guaranteed to be moneymakers. Therefore, it’s easy for gaming companies to play safely and use their notoriety to ensure sales. But doing so tips the scales and the lack of balance eventually results in the mixed reception that well-known franchises are becoming more known for.
A Change of Strategy
The opportunity to tell different stories in unique settings with new characters is being squandered due to this strategy. With it goes the fresh new stories, concepts, and innovations that genuinely help make gaming better. Instead of moving in a forward, the Segas and Nintendos of the industry seem more content to go in circles for the sake of guaranteed profits.
As the stocks of Nintendo and Sega show, it’s a strategy that’s not working in their favor. The time has come to take chances on new and original games. To take chances is what drives progress. That means having to move out of comfort zones. It’s scary and unpleasant but it’s a step that needs to be taken.
This is what the gaming industry should be doing more consistently as a means to restoring balance when it comes to making games. But the scale isn’t going to right itself on its own. It is a good step in the right direction and opens the door for a steady stream of innovations. By focusing less on past successes and providing new, fun experiences for gamers, the industry will be able to progress and evolve into something better.
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tags: mario , nintendo , sega , Shenmue , Sonic the Hedgehog , video game industry