I've often heard 2011 negatively coined as 'the year of the sequels' as the unrivaled Game of the Year nominees were all follow-ups to widely successful titles.
While there's no arguing that last year's Skyrim, Uncharted 3, and Arkham City were all quality additions to the well-established franchises, there is the constant criticism that current generation games are milking franchises past the point of originality.
So what makes this year any different from the last? In the next three weeks we will be hit with the fifth Assassin's Creed title, seventh Halo, and ninth Call of Duty. What is the reason that publishers and developers invest so heavily in these franchises rather than new projects, and why is the critic in many of us so quick to attack games on this account?
In order to satisfy the greatest amount of fans as possible, the developers aim to create a sequel that is fresh enough to sell as a new product, but also not abandoning the core gameplay of the original. You hear this debate used by the publishers themselves but also by the professional critics and everyday fans.
For example the Assassin's Creed fan inside me would be upset to hear that the next game is going to feature Desmond enlisting in the military to run-and gun his way out of every situation. I wouldn't take it well that the franchise is abandoning its smooth hybrid between stealth and action-adventure.
I also saw the well-written article explaining how the Pokemon games need to evolve in order to stay alive in the current era.
Developers are fearful of too much repetition. The gentlemen over at Ubisoft could only do so much more with Ezio Auditore before fans would start to take notice. (Oh you noticed already? 5 extra points)
Going above and beyond, or even similarly cliche phrases of the same meaning, is something that us as consumers demand in a product. Treyarch and Activision found out that teenagers like zombies, so they made Space Zombies! (ahem, not unless you pay your $10)
Sequels sell well because they already have an established fanbase. This is nothing new in media, in fact the principal has been around longer than the gaming industry itself.
Every time I hear a Nicki Minaj song come on I hit my head against the wall multiple times, but since she sold so many singles, you can bet on another full-length album coming out in the coming future.
Familiarity with the content creator is incredibly influential among investors and publishers. The music industry makes so much on those $1.29 singles being bought by every other high school freshman. (also Ms. Minaj's drywalling friends are making a pretty penny)
Rather than fighting the barrage of sequels that comes at us twelve months a year, us as a gaming community should learn to minimize the pre-determined bias we have about sequels. Play the franchises we like, pass on the ones we don't, and support the rare new IP's we're given.
You could just accidentally trick yourself into playing a great game.