What I'm currently playing: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Civilization V, and Poker Night at the Inventory, which has five players and is only here so I could get a third five.
Here and there I read annoyance or anger over the habit of publishers to stick to just a few franchises and slightly tweak them over and over for massive profits. I think that's not at all the problem.
Here I am playing the fifth in two series, after having played the fourth, and in the case of Civilization, the third (I won't count my brief time with Civ II). I like these series. Are they just incremental steps in the series rather than innovative new games breaking new ground? Well, yes. What's wrong with that?
The Civilization series has it's formula: build cities, kill everyone else, rule the world, using a mix of city management and planning as well as military strategy and tactics. Until V it didn't have any major deviations from this formula. Sure, IV added some features and the expansions added more and we got more nuances to the civilizations, but ultimately it was the same general game. V brought the biggest change with the wargame-like combat, for which it ended up receiving criticism. Maybe it wasn't innovation, but it certainly ended up being an argument against change. People knew what Civilization was and that's what they wanted. And there's the whole reason for the franchises, at least on the consumer side: we know what we're getting. I know that some companies consistently make good games and some series are consistently good.
Similarly, as I see it, Skyrim is a much prettier Oblivion with some nice added mechanics, but it is essentially the same game. I don't mind this at all. Oblivion was a fantastic game for me and so far, Skyrim is performing well. The fact that it was not a dramatically different game was what sold me on it: I knew what I was getting and I knew that was a gameplay and type of story that I enjoyed.
I think the true problem is this: first person shooters and sports games. They're stagnant. I believe that they are doomed to be stagnant, at least until something changes dramatically. "Shoot guys in this hallway" has its limits. Crysis pushed this out by often giving an island rather than a hallway, and I commend it for that, but that's a harder model to go with and I don't think it is going to catch on. Open areas are harder on the game, harder on the AI, and frankly, I think many people don't even want that much flexibility. I know I played the Halo demo for a long time because it offered convenient point and click violence, without much need for planning or any thought at all.
I do like the shooting people gameplay, but the typical hallway shooting just doesn't do much for me. It's too scripted, too restricted, and in general, lasts only a few hours. I don't see much sense in paying $50 for an afternoon or two. Maybe I'm just spoiled by too much WoW, which as linear as it has become, is still a wide-open sandbox compared to 99% of FPS. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the Stalker games so much, for their combination of shooting people and sandbox.
I don't like sports games much because unless they go in the silly direction, such as anything featuring Mario or that one NBA game we played back on the N64 (Hang Time?), they just seem stupid. This is of course, my opinion, which is how we know it is correct.
You probably noticed that I'm leaving out that all-important multi-player experience. No one is paying $50 for a few hours of scripted AI. They're paying $50 for months or years of online play with friends and enemies. That's great, but it's not for me. So for me, a single-player player, they aren't worthwhile.
We've now established that franchises are good, except when they make games I don't like. Why would anyone make these bad franchises and why would anyone buy them? Well obviously, they make them because people buy them, like in the classic movie: "if they come, you will build it." So why buy them? If the previous game was playable and fun, why buy the new one if it is only incrementally better? Slightly better for a few hours of single-player isn't worth it, but slightly better over months or years of play, now that is worth it.
But why not make a much better game? Because that's harder! And riskier. Franchises are safe. Customers know what they are getting and companies know what to make. New ideas might not work. Putting major changes into an existing franchise risks its security. Putting them into a new title risks a lot of money, and who will be the customers except the people already buying the incremental upgrade? It's risk with little reward.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to Skyrim and ponder why the Dwemer ruins remind me of a combination of Gnomeregan and Titan ruins, complete with their own degenerate race that breaks through walls to kill everyone, which look like exceptionally ugly elves.
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