Another year, another franchise. By now, gamers are all too familiar with the several franchises that have become annual household names within the industry. Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Need For Speed, Super Mario Bros, FIFA; the list is quite vast. However, companies have managed to secure a stable fanbase of loyal customers who return once a year to their devoted titles, regardless of the problems that seem more visible with every new iteration in the franchise. From franchise fatigue to relentless marketing campaigns, here’s five glaring problems with annual video game releases.
1. Rushed Development, Broken Launches
With every annual launch comes an abundance of issues upon its release, and no other problem is more evident than broken or glitch-ridden games that require massive day one patches to even be playable. The worst offender in recent memory was Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which launched with a myriad of issues that infamously went down in gaming history as why companies should not rush development. The sad thing is, Unity is not a particularly terrible game, but the glitches bogged down the experience so much that it bordered on unplayable at launch. What you had was a glorified cup coaster until adequate patching was done, and even then, the appeal was lost as quickly as the game was thrown on shelves with a full price tag. Rushed development almost always spells doom for a day one launch. It’s no wonder Ubisoft has taken a year-long breather to work on their next Assassin’s Creed installment, Empire.
2. Rehashed Mechanics and Lack of Fresh Ideas
A tight schedule usually doesn’t give developers enough breathing room to explore new ideas to implement into the game. The result is games using rehashed mechanics from older titles. Sure, the settings may be varied yearly, but the core gameplay remains intact to the point where it becomes rather tedious. Call of Duty found a winning formula and seemingly fresh new direction with the introduction of more futuristic gameplay mechanics such as exo-suits, weapons, and distant settings. However, the recent backlash of Infinite Warfare’s fifth outing into more sci-fi-based territory has proven that the idea has overstayed its welcome, and a lack of fresh ideas has caused loyal fans to voice their immediate concerns. Perhaps change is for the better.
3. DLC-driven Agendas
In what is becoming a discerning issue in modern gaming, companies are more frequently pushing DLC along with the games upon release. It has gotten to the point where companies have blatantly removed content from the full game for the sake of being paid DLC. Recently, Battlefield 1, the World War 1 shooter that rivaled and surpassed Infinite Warfare’s hype and mainstream favor, received criticism for the content featured in its Premium Pass. This includes both the Russian and French armies as part of the DLC plan (which, ironically, are among the catalysts for World War 1 in the first place). While Battlefield may not be an annual release, it sits among the franchises most highly regarded and simultaneously criticized upon each release for its lack of innovation in gameplay and setting. Ubisoft has also been guilty in the past, more evident with their prized Assassin’s Creed franchise slapping ludicrous price tags on redundant or otherwise baffling DLC.
4. Relentless Marketing, Keeping Mass Attention
The pressures marketing departments constantly face has to be trying to keep mass attention every single year. While a loyal fanbase of consumers remain mostly consistent each year, there also comes the additional challenge of gaining new fans and not losing already hooked fans who may see through their rehashed mechanics and opt for a different variation. This was in full effect last year as we saw devoted FIFA fans turn to PES 2016 as FIFA 16 fell under the pressure of attempting to market essentially the same experience for the umpteenth time. No doubt, it was an incredibly smart move for PES 2016 as they improved on several mechanics and offered an abundance of new content that FIFA 16 severely lacked. The competition then evolves into not only marketing for the masses, but challenging fellow industry veterans for the same appeal. It’s a tiresome process and one that would benefit from more time in development to gain hype and attraction while stirring up new ideas.
5. Franchise Fatigue
Finally, the most glaring problem with annual game releases as old as video games itself; franchise fatigue. Any franchise attempting to aim for annual releases tends to wear down on consumers. The reason titles like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout or Tekken have gained more traction in gaming culture hype is because of the vast spaces between releases. Gamers will take kindly to franchises attempting to better themselves through a trial and error process that spans more than a year in development. This alleviates the pressure of meeting deadlines or pushing missing content as part of an elaborate DLC package after day one bombs. However, keeping people interested is the main goal, and fatigue sets in quickly if developers are careless. The same consensus eventually arises from gamers: annual releases could use some more time on the drawing board.