Is the ‘annual game release’ format a ship that’s sinking?


I’ve never been a fan of annual game releases. I have various reasons for this of course, but the main problem stems from the fact that it leaves developers with a very short development period and ends up being a rushed, short and/or incomplete experience.

You just have to look at the Need for Speed and Assassin’s Creed franchise to see proof of this. These constant annual releases all but milked a franchise to death and, though they made a truckload of money (which is after all why publishers are in this business – to rid you of your money) it ultimately spelled doom of a once very popular franchise. Next up is Call of Duty.

People have been asking for a long time now for the Call of Duty franchise to change its style to something a bit more earthbound and realistic. Not everyone likes space warfare with robots, though I personally think the game this year will be better than some make it out to be. That said, would I prefer if they’d return to their roots in a World War 2 game? No doubt. The difference with the Call of Duty games is that the series has two teams working on it for at least 2 years. This was more apparent when they released Call of Duty: World at War right after CoD 4: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward got the recipe right, while Treyarch returned to the older format of WW2. Back then players hated the game as ‘Modern Warfare was the way to go’. Now it’s so modern that players are crying out for the old warfare – these poor devs can never win. But, I’m a little pissed at the publishers for pushing developers to create the annual releases.

Take a look at Guitar Hero and you’ll find another fantastic series that met the same fate and, though it was not the case in the early stages, Tony Hawk’s Pro experienced a similar scenario. Today we don’t talk about the latter game. It’s a swear word here at SAG. So what about sport games? If there’s one genre that makes sense it’s the sports genre. Rosters and details are finely tuned and updated annually, so it makes it a logical approach. Could they just update FIFA/PES from last year at a fraction of the cost (as DLC) – very likely, yes, but then they’d lose money… so don’t expect that to ever be the case.

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Look at games like (and I’m referring to the main series) Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Witcher, Half Life, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Titanfall, Battlefield, Uncharted and several more and they have two things in common – the quality and critic review scores are usually positive and those titles had many years of development behind it. It’s not a 12-14-month project. Serious blood sweat, tears and, most importantly, time went into creating their piece of art. It’s not just a cash cow to the developers. They’re expressing themselves through their work and they’re taking their sweet ass time in doing so.

So is the annual game release ship sinking at record speed? Probably not, people keep buying so we’ll see publishers pushing games out at top speed. What I do think is that it’ll have some publishers rethinking how they go about this model of theirs. Ubisoft’s decision to put Assassin’s Creed on a hiatus is something that I applaud. Let the people build some hunger for a franchise and return it with something spectacular later on that’ll be remembered as one of the classics, instead of just more of the same with extra glitches.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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