Tonight, somewhere around midnight, I’ll get in my car that I’ve been renting (Thanks Mom!) and drive down to Wal Mart. While there, I’ll shamble past throngs of odd and probably tired people and, as I have for many years now, pick up the latest Halo Game on its launch day. But I’m wondering now more than I ever really have before, how long will I continue to do this for?
In the video game industry more so than anywhere else, core franchises with one narrative seem to last for an unusually long length of time. Though Fast & Furious is one standout IP in the film industry, most franchises there with a non-universe model don’t last past 3 movies, let alone 7.
But in the games field, Halo is on its 5th installment featuring Master Chief, there have been 9 Assassins Creed games and, as a developer with Bioware tellingly said on a Kotaku Q & A, “We do not have a sunset planned for the Dragon Age Series at this time”. Nothing seems to ever end.
The question for me is why?
Is it cost? It can’t be. These days most AAA games run into the same stratospheric heights that Universal, Marvel and Sony continually breach, according to some reporting GTA 5 cost around 100 Million alone to produce and that estimate doesn’t include costs of marketing. Thankfully, it made a very large profit and kept the team at Rockstar in business to finally make a Bully sequel.
Maybe it’s the release cycle? Unlike franchise films in Hollywood (Which are released on an almost yearly basis these days.), successful game IP’s seem to take their time between releases. Halo 4 came out in 2012; its sequel is coming out tomorrow. Wisely limited exposure of the brand seems to keep a good video game alive. For the opposite, just look at Guitar Hero.
Or, maybe I’m totally wrong and it’s the narrative experience and the ability to interact that keeps a long running game series going. When a film has a bad ending, you can’t lobby the director to change it drastically unless his last name is Lucas. When a game has a hideous ending, fans have demonstrated that enough campaigning can get it modified to function better.
I ultimately continue to be puzzled by the staying power of game industry brands. Unlike their counterparts in film, music and the literary fields, they seem to have an incredible staying power. I used to think Halo, Call of Duty and Assassins Creed would eventually end. Now, I must admit that I don’t see it happening. As long as talented writers exist and as long as games keep making money hand over fist, narratives will continue to be stretched and multiplayer will keep being played. Good luck to all future developers and I’ll see you online my dear reader. I’m on the Xbox and I use my real name.