To Sequel or Not 2 Sequel ?
That is the real question

Videogame sequels rinse franchises and milk audiences! (Or do they…?). We asked two Engineers to argue it out…

“Oh great… a sequel”.

Truthfully, how did you say that in your head? With excitement and anticipation?  … Or with weary fatigue?

This is a tough, even eternal challenge for all areas of the entertainment industry, but arguably more so for videogames. The Last of Us Part II, for example, has recently been released and drawn huge attention as well as emotional responses. The original set a high standard, for some Part II met that standard and exceeded it, for others no sequel would live up to their first experience.

When does a sequel drive a successful and innovative franchise, and when is it just lazy, relying on previous equity and consumers’ continuing buy-in?

Arise the Sequel!  [as contended by Engineer, Simon Stokes]

Firstly, who doesn’t love a franchise? “The next James Bond…” “Star Wars: the next chapter… “  “FIFA 21, featuring ” … “Dumb and Dumberer” (OK, they’re not all perfect).

But here’s the rub…  if you want great games, and I mean really, really great games, you need to invest. Heavily.

If you are going to create a masterpiece – especially a story-driven, deeply immersive interactive experience – you need to know what works. What characters, what animations, what lighting, music, moments, SHOCKS, and surprises work.

And that investment is best built on what you know works. The next chapter. The hooked audience’s eagerly-anticipated next bite.  If you’re fishing and you catch a big fish, I’d imagine you’d be tempted to try the same bait, tricks and spot again… surely?

And innovation is an expensive mirage.  Minecraft. Roblox. Warzone. Even Fortnite.  They may all look like quirky, brand-new successes, but (spoiler alert!) they are not. They are fine-tuned masterpieces, forged through the developers’ experience and expertise, built on years of creating great, great games; using tricks that work to hook us in. There is no ‘luck’ involved – it is pure skill; based (often) on a winning formula.

The real art is in knowing what the audience wants next… and keeping it fresh.

Zelda was getting tired and lost until the arrival of the 4th sequel – Zelda: Ocarina of Time – which was listed by Guinness World Records as the highest-rated video game in history, citing its Metacritic score of 99 out of 100.  So too, with movie sequels, like Batman and Bond – James Bond was in the gutter, choking in his lame, obvious-gag humour and his arrogance, until Daniel Craig came along and ripped him back to his flawed untouchability.

So too, with videogames.

The creativity lies in the ability to drive a new experience, a new emotional-charged storyline, a new exciting expectation through an existing franchise.  But the commercial success will be driven by that successful franchise, and its fans.

Is that the best you can do? [as argued by Engineer Rachel Ballard]

On Friday, after Disney made a considerable hoo-ha about it, I decided to snuggle down and watch Frozen 2. I fell asleep.

Admittedly I’d had a glass of wine or two, but the original Frozen wouldn’t have resulted in me snoozing. Frozen 1 had twists and turns, it introduced you to new themes and characters, hooked you in and then gave you a great and satisfying ending. Done, boom, finito.

Frozen 2… the reindeer gags continue, the soul-searching Princess is still searching and at the end… well, I didn’t make it.

I know it’s a bit pessimistic but through bad experiences in both TV & film and gaming I’m hardwired to be suspicious of sequels and I always prepare myself for disappointment. Here are my main complaints:

  1. In my opinion, huge entertainment companies should be more creative, they should always aspire to create the next amazing and immersive world. Standing still, or at least never leaving your house, is boring. Assassin’s Creed Unity springs to mind… To coin a term from Pixar’s Up, adventure is out there.
  2. Creativity in sequels is often restrained by the parameters that were set by the original; you leave yourself in a tricky spot of not wanting to stray too far from a model that worked or to disappoint the enthusiasts (who are often the loudest critics). But creativity doesn’t tend to do well within tight parameters… so the result can be just a bit bland. Some Halo sequels are great, for example, but some not so much. Does Xbox rely too heavily on a franchise that sits within a tight set of parameters?

You can be left feeling like a franchise is just a trick to get more money for less investment or thinking (cough cough Hobbit, cough cough FIFA).

Pokémon created Pokémon Go, an extension that is a whole new experience and type of game. That’s an example where fresh thinking is applied to a franchise, and it really works. But there are mixed reviews of the latest console game, Eurogamer for example calls it ‘a shadow of a former great’… Could Nintendo have put that brain power into creating something new?!

After all, huge entertainment companies live and thrive off new and brilliant content – new characters, new stories, new worlds. If you have created something fantastic then you can probably create something else fantastic, you do not have to do a repeat of the first. Elon Musk and Richard Branson never hold back.

In Conclusion: [As edited by Engineer Dan Abu]

Put simply, real creativity and innovation do not fit a formula. They may build on previous success and continue the story or start from scratch, but they have to contain that spark… that special, beguiling lightning-in-a-bottle inspiration that only comes from something new.

Could franchises look to new technologies, such as VR, AR and 3D audio to make something new and different?  And should entertainment companies push themselves to create more content outside of franchises, while still innovating from within? Let’s hope that the ’20s sees entertainment pushing the envelope to excite us all.

By: The Value Engineers

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