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Sequelitis is Good for Innovation

Gears of War 3. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (3). Battlefield 3. Uncharted 3. Modern Warfare 3. Mass Effect 3. Diablo 3. And that's just the '3's!

I used to look at these lists and get depressed, but now I've found a new appreciation for so-called "sequelitis." And I'd like to propose that it's actually quite good for everyone - consumers and developers - in the current gaming industry. "But how can that be, Steve? Surely such an extreme epidemic of sequelitis is a sign of imminent creative-death and overbearing greed in the industry! We'll all be playing Tony Hawk's Call of Madden: World Tour 5 in no time if the publishers don't start taking more risks!" Calm down, fellow gamer, it's really not that bad at all.

First, the obvious advantage of sequels: They make for better games. Assassin's Creed is a fine example of a game becoming more and more refined with subsequent releases. The first game was fairly innovative, but it was pretty lukewarm. But with the sequels, they really got in their groove and that made for some really cool games. Of course, at some point this benefit starts diminishing and things start to get boring...

But that second "milking" phase only lasts for so long. Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero (and rhythm games in general) are two franchises that were milked to death, and now nobody cares much about them anymore. Call of Duty will suffer the same fate if they don't innovate, and God of War 3 had a tinge of this in it. So, while I agree that the "milking" phase is boring and depressing for both consumers and developers, it doesn't last for very long.

Sequels are usually a safe bet (before the end of the milking phase), and this is good for the financial stability of the industry. Large companies are responsible for the livelihoods of hundreds of employees, not to mention their shareholders (which are often linked to the retirement funds of hard-working individuals). Without this predictability, you would get a lot less investment in the industry as a whole, and that would suck for everyone.

And lastly, sequelitis is not crushing innovation! These days, with the emergence of downloadable platforms and iOS and all that, innovation is thriving more than ever! If you can't find innovative games, you're not looking hard enough. Sure, you may have to look a little harder, but it's all there and there's TONS of it.

I want to leave you with this thought: What if sequelitis is actually indirectly INCREASING innovation? Think about it: If AAA studios were actually focusing on innovation, they would squeeze out many smaller developers with their money and resources. If Activision made Braid and did a good job, Jonathan Blow wouldn't have a chance against their production values and marketing. But if you're a small indie developer and you see Call of Duty 12 coming out, that is good news for you! Because you know certain gamers will be starving for innovation, and they will likely look to indie games like yours to get their fix. So this lowers the barrier to entry for smaller developers, and that results in a far more diverse industry, ripe with some amazing ideas.

So don't bitch, be happy :)
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008