Daily Reaction: Is the Overmilking of Games Udderly Ridiculous?

With the news today that Bungie saw Halo Wars as “whoring out the franchise”, Daily Reaction discusses the difference between building a franchise and plain ol’ greedy milking. Pour yourself a warm glass of cow juice and read on.

Seb: For some series, whether the latest title is milking it or not is simply a matter of personal taste, but sometimes it’s so blatant that the company is trying to get as much money out of the consumer as possible, without having to invest in innovation or change.

Halo Wars is quite an interesting one, because it did push the franchise in a new direction, which is always good, and the title was actually the best console RTS of this gen. Now Halo ODST – that was milking, a short, underdeveloped title that was rushed out at full price to ensure that people kept playing Halo.

Milking is a real issue that faces the industry. Think about movies – most are one-offs, without sequels, and even the biggest are generally trilogies, with perhaps a prequel a few years later. IPs like Harry Potter or James Bond are rarities, while game franchises spanning 8 or more titles in as many years is painfully common.

Call of Duty is the most obvious western example, with a new title every single year, generally bringing very little change, short campaigns and no time for a new engine. It’s a real shame that the biggest console series – the one that has the greatest chance of bringing in new gamers or getting younger gamers into consoles rather than mobiles – is one of the least innovative, least original franchises around. Last gen, the ‘flagship’ series was Grand Theft Auto, which had plenty of time between each iteration, brought change, innovation and forced other games developers to seriously step their game up.

Dan: Yeah, it’s difficult to to blatantly state that one series is just being produced to milk its success. Yet when it comes to titles like Call of Duty and the Halo series (after Halo Wars) being produced on a yearly basis, there are a number of factors that really start to bother me. Both franchises have made an insane amount of money, yet seem to have been pushed out year after year without much of any improvements. Titles like Killzone, and Borderlands which have seen less success than either of the two annual franchises, yet seem to take bigger steps in bringing a bigger and better product than before to the end-user. This inability to evolve a product to its full potential is the true crime that is being committed, not just the fact that we see some of the biggest franchises this generation become repetitive cash grabs. We have the choice of whether or not to invest our money into a rushed product or not, but we do not get to decide when a product gets kicked out the door.

With the success of DLC as a method to bridge a finished product to its development team, an almost unlimited amount potential to extend a product’s life has become available. Yet this new method of distribution is just ignored as titles like Madden and FIFA generate yearly sales without the need to add much value to the product. The amount of added investment in between releases, pales in comparison to the amount invested between titles that are given the time to gestate. As an example the product value between Madden 11 & Madden 12, just cannot compare to the difference between Mass Effect 2 & Mass Effect 3 – especially when they are at the same price point.

Seb: I don’t blame publishers for a bit of milking, it’s a tough industry and milked games can often be a sure-fire hit. But they are a short-term revenue source. Eventually, every series comes to an end. So publishers need to balance the release of existing series and the release of the potential ‘next-big thing’. Unfortunately, that’s not happening – big publishers are driven by short term profits to satisfy investors and to earn personal bonuses. So that means we’ve seen horrifically few new experiences.

But I also blame the consumer. Generally, when a new IP comes out, it fails. We need to have more responsibility over our purchases, we need to reward innovation and change more.

Next gen, things are going to get even worse. Sure, there might be a few new IPs to mark the launch of the hardware, but after that it’ll settle back down to yearly releases of the same ol’ same ol’. Even the best games can be hurt by excessive releases. I reviewed Uncharted Golden Abyss for our sister site GameRev, and because it was the Japanese import, it was only a month after Uncharted 3 – and even with the best series of the half-decade, I could feel the franchise fatigue.

Assassin’s Creed is another classic example, we really didn’t need that many so quickly. They’re releasing a bloody trilogy this year that doesn’t even include the first game, alongside AC3, which is insane. Five AC games this gen? Far, far too many.

Dan: Agreed, especially when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series as a whole, it’s exactly the same problem I am having with Final Fantasy 13. When you create a game and the world within the game, it can be hard to close that off to a single experience, but when you revisit the same set of characters within the same world, the connection a player feels starts to diminish. When we first get a new and exciting experience, we as the player start to forget the anchors to our own world, and join in someone else’s – we play into a fantasy, simply because we become accepting of things that would normally break what we know to be true and false. Yet, when a title starts to lag or age, the investment we feel lessens, and we are less willing to let things slide, so the fantasy starts to break. Such becomes the big issue as people’s reactions toward unofficial sequels (FF13-2), can become quite opposite to what they felt with their initial experience to that exact world.

With all of that said, I do not blame anyone for repeatedly purchasing titles year after year, or even publishers pushing out the same titles, but I do think they are shooting themselves in the foot for the long run. As gamers who usually only play Madden and/or CoD or Halo every year, they never are never given the opportunity to expand their investment into the gaming world. Therefore they are less likely to purchase other titles, and are more likely to be able to walk away from the games industry as a whole. So, as EA, Activision, and Microsoft seem to keep dipping in the same pool every year, they run the risk of eventually losing a substantial portion of the less vocal gamer population.

Where do you stand on the matter? How many times do you milk yourself a day? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow Seb and Dan to get a glimpse at our sore udders.