Naughty Dog Doin’ it Right: How to Bring a Series to an End
All good things must come to an end.
Naughty Dog, the developer that brought us games like Uncharted, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and The Last of Us, has proven itself time and again to be a practitioner of this philosophy. Naughty Dog is a professional at bowing out gracefully and knowing when to call it quits. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, for example, was recently released in May 2016, and is officially the series’ final installment. In fact, Naughty Dog announced from the beginning that Uncharted 4 would bring the Uncharted series to a close. Considering the franchise’s popularity and success, it is no surprise that fans were saddened by this announcement. After all, Nathan Drake and the rest of his crew have been with us since 2007. This has been almost a ten-year relationship, and now it has come to a close.
But is that really such a bad thing? Let’s think about it. How often do you play a continuing game series or watch a continuing television show that just needs to die already? There’s no need to point fingers or name names—I’m sure you can think of at least three examples off the top of your head. In spite of the never-ending, drawn-out zombie-fest that these things become, we still continue to play them and watch them. Perhaps a part of it becomes addicting. We know we should give it up but it’s just so awesomely terrible that we can’t.
So what is it that makes Naughty Dog so special, and how are they doing things the “right” way?
Quantity: Sometimes, Less is More
In comparison to other companies, Naughty Dog hasn’t put out a lot of games in terms of quantity. Some of the games it put out in its early years were so forgettable—and some of them, poorly received—that no one has even heard of them or can even remember them (Rings of Power, anyone?). It wasn’t until the release of Crash Bandicoot in 1996, and later on in 2001 with the release of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, that Naughty Dog began to make a real name for itself. From that point, it only continued to put to out top-notch work. Come 2007, the Uncharted series and Nathan Drake emerged onto the gaming scene, and Naughty Dog took a different turn from its original platformers. The rest was history.
It all comes down to pacing. Naughty Dog doesn’t hit often, but when it does, it hits hard. This kind of business practice is a true demonstration of the company’s faith in its abilities. Perhaps many companies release so many games, and so often, out of fear that their fans might lose interest if too much time lapses between releases. This isn’t just limited to original releases—remasters, mobile games, and HD collections bridge the gap between installments just as much as new games do, even if only for a little while. For Naughty Dog to pace itself may be a bit of a risk, but the collective critical reception of its games proves that it is entirely possible for a company to slow down on its releases without losing its fans—or its money.
Quality: Too Much of Something Good Can Be Bad
Plain and simple: the games produced by Naughty Dog leave a good taste in your mouth. Like I said before, we Uncharted fans are all probably sad to know that the series has come to an end, but it is a bittersweet moment. The series concludes in a neat way without leaving open ends, and without leaving fans wondering. The Last of Us also follows this pattern. Though there have been talks of a sequel, the first game ended in such a way that if Naughty Dog never produced another TLOU, we fans could rest easily at night, knowing that no questions were left unanswered.
This is another excellent business decision. Say that TLOU was not well-received, yet the ending had been written inconclusively. Where would that leave the developer and/or the publisher? Where would that leave the fans? A game that is not well-received will likely never birth a sequel, which leaves the franchise and the company in a bad spot if they suggest (or explicitly state) that a sequel will follow. This does not apply to TLOU. Likewise, none of the Uncharted games end with cliffhangers. They all come to a neat close, leaving enough room for sequels to follow, and for new fans to jump into the series who have not played the previous installments.
This is the reason why a lot of book publishers don’t want to publish debut novels with cliffhanger endings. It is too much of an investment in something that might not pay off. The practice of writing conclusive stories is a testament to the company’s faith in its abilities to start with a fresh, blank slate for the next game. Naughty Dog often leaves its fans hungry for sequels and follow-up games, but it is good kind of a hunger that will eventually be sated.
Why Should We Care Who We Buy Games From?
All of these points then beg the real question: If we’re going to play the “bad” or “okay” games that are milked to death, as well as the “good” games that know when to quit, what really is the difference? Why should it matter to us, the consumers, if a series comes to an official end or if it continues on and on until the apocalypse comes? If we enjoy the game or the series, should we really be concerned about where the series is headed?
We should care because it comes down to quality. It is probably safe to say that we have all been burned by that one game that we pre-ordered or paid full price for that disappointed, whether due to the quality of the game, the length of the campaign, the glitches, or whatever it was that made the game sub-par. It may be difficult, then, to justify spending that money when a consumer lacks faith that the game will be 110% amazing.
That being said, games that meet that expectation of quality (like Uncharted 4) are worthy of the sixty-dollar investment. We consumers can sleep peacefully at night knowing our money did not go to waste. This is the reason why we should care about quality-made games, and the companies that produce those high-quality games. Because let’s be honest: sixty dollars is a small investment. If we are going to pay that much for a video game, it should be well-worth that sixty dollars. There is an old adage that claims “you get what you pay for,” and it goes no differently for video games. We know what we are getting with Naughty Dog. It is known only for producing games that withstand the test of time. The Crash series, the Jak and Daxter series, the Uncharted series, The Last of Us—all of these games represent the company’s aim for quality.
This doesn’t mean that other companies who produce continuing series are “bad” in any sense. However, everything must come to an end eventually, and knowing when to bring things to an end is, again, a true testament to a company’s creative genius and confidence in its abilities to produce something new and fresh. Maybe rehashing and continuing a series with an already-devoted fan base is simply a way of playing it safe. Maybe trying something new is too risky for a company, especially one with its reputation staked on a particular continuing series. Maybe it’s just too darn costly to try something new, so why not keep going with a series that continues to earn a steady amount of revenue?
But in spite of all this, it cannot be ignored that certain companies—like Naughty Dog—set a bar for others to reach. Perhaps other companies will follow in its footsteps soon enough. Such tactics would only be beneficial for us gamers, and in the long-run, for the companies themselves.
What do you think? Leave a comment.