Picking The Brain – Annualized Franchises

The holiday season has begun in the world of Video Game Retail, and that means that we are in for MORE of the typical “Call of Duty”, and “Skylander” Games that we have grown accustomed to through the last generation. I came from the retail space so I knew that every year we could always count on a few franchises delivering their latest product every October or November. For the first couple years it was exciting, especially for the franchises that come off of record breaking years. Slowly it then began to taper off. The excitement wasn’t what it used to be. Midnight releases became to Status Quo, and it became “I’m just here for my game” conversations. That is a topic for another day, but I want to look at the benefits and problems of annualized franchises.

There are some games that have been annual for many, many years. Madden, NBA, FIFA, MLB, and WWE are annualized games that are in the sports genre. Many believe these titles should be annualized, as players change teams on a yearly basis and the focus on a games mechanics differ per yet. Madden will focus on defense on year and then the next turn the attention to offense. But is this just another way for publishers to get more of your money than a simple easy fix? With these type of annualized titles I tend to lean more on the side of DLC. Even a yearly $20 subscription that will get you the latest updates to your favorite sports games could be a fix. The DLC will update team rosters (which the games ALREADY do), and give the gamer the ability to download the content adjustments or new game modes VIA DLC.

Other franchises such as Call of Duty, or Assassins Creed just need to take a BREAK! I remember being excited for the first Assassins Creed and then waiting for another couple years until the second game in the series released only intensified my excitement. Call of Duty follows that same wave length. It wasn’t until the game broke sale records that the publisher said we have to capitalize on this opportunity and release a new one every year, not taking into consideration that a shortened development time on triple A titles hurts the final product.

A great game timetable from development to completion is 3-6 years, sometimes longer (Bioshock anyone?). It takes many hours of perfecting and testing to ensure the games are not broken when released. Some of this has to do with how easily game updates and DLC are obtainable by gamers now, but most of all to catch the holiday window which runs from mid September to mid January. What publishers are not seeing is that these franchises are slowly starting to decline in sales. Call of Duty pre-order and sell through numbers are no where near what they used to be, and Assassins Creed is following suit. Gamers today are starting to hold off on a franchise one year knowing that they are going to get a brand new one next holiday, and can get this years for a much cheaper price. Gamers are not stupid, and to think that you can sell billions of copies every year is just absurd. There is nothing more to look forward to. It used to be, “I cant wait to see what happens next”, to “Ill wait until next year and catch up just before its release”.

This is happening, and whether publishers choose to believe this or not is on them. With publishers loosing millions every year because of over estimating, because they are basing their expectations with those of the previous year, will soon realize this with money not showing up as frequently as it had before. Sure these will still sell a few millions copies, but coming from billions to millions will hurt. That is how gamers are responding. Take the time to give gamers a break from a franchise and help out your developers to make a game they TRULY want to make, not one they can easily develop from a previous version and get it a quick release. Why else do you think some of the talented staff and developers from these franchises move on to other companies or form their own (Respawn Anyone?)?

This is part of the reason as to why we put together a top 5 list of games that need to take a break. It builds excitement, and it helps relieve a lot of stress off of your developers, by giving them the opportunity to build a game they will LOVE and be PROUD to ship. Interview the staff at Treyarch, or the staff developing Skylanders and look at the turnover rate, and see how happy and excited they are to be working on the franchise? I am willing to bet your research will not lead to promising results.

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