Yearly-Release Games: Profit Machine or Prolific Artistry?

Assassin’s Creed Ragnarok

The games development industry has grown year on year since it’s inception and it does not show signs of stopping. The UK’s game industry market value alone reached £5.7 billion in 2018, a noticeable increase from 2017 with £5.18 billion 1. Long gone are the days that games belong to a small cult of followers, now the industry is one of the largest entertainment businesses in the world and appealing to a wide range of demographics. With this in mind developers and publishers have in recent years changed their products, development pipelines and marketing approaches to generate more income in order to profit and support this growing demand in the industry.

Annual release cycles, one of the many consequences of this growing business, are a point of contention within the gaming community and are a hot topic whether you’re a developer, consumer or both! The question at the heart of the matter is one of quality and engagement. With franchises such as Assassin’s Creed (AC) and FIFA having new games released every year, sometimes more than one a year with the case of Assassin’s Creed Unity and Rogue, many have questioned the need for this many entries and whether or not it’s building a “reputation as an overused series” 2.

Cyberpunk at E3 2019 Photograph: E3

Now to look at this simply as a single entity mass-producing for profit does ignore the countless development hours contributed by the vast teams responsible. This does not take into consideration the creative endeavours, the design process, and play testing involved in creating new experiences year on year. To dismiss the work of hundreds of employees, all with their own motivation and perspective, is a potentially harmful view to take if not expressed clearly and constructively.


Assassin’s Creed: A journey through the years. Every year.

Assassin’s Creed was first introduced to us back in 2007 and despite the overwhelming hype and apparent ingenuity, it was met with negativity.

“The game had been so hyped that its limitations were thrown back at it: its repetitive mission structure, a paucity of things to do, and the now-explained sci-fi element that made many bristle” 3

Fast-forward to 2009 and the fans were introduced to the next entry into the series, Assassin’s Creed II (ACII), and the legacy of Ezio Auditore da Firenze one of the most popular protagonists in the series to date. Building upon the ingenuity of the first game and emphasising the key successes of the inaugural title, ACII marked a turning point for the series and demonstrated what Ubisoft Montreal was capable of. It is still lauded as one of the more successful entries into the franchise alongside it’s direct narrative sequel Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Assassin's Creed II Concept Art
Assassin’s Creed II Concept Art Courtesy of Ubisoft

This marked the beginning of the annual releases for Assassin’s Creed and over the subsequent 4 years following ACII’s release, Ubisoft Montreal developed Brotherhood, Revelations, Assassin’s Creed III (AC 3) and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. An enormous feat of development considering some of these earlier games have been held in highest regard and considered some of the best in the series (Polygon, Digital Spy, and GamesRadar all including ACII, Brotherhood and Black Flag as three of their top five). Already we were seeing some fatigue with the 8 hours of introduction in AC 3 4 and the fact that Black Flag is widely considered as a better pirate game than an assassin game 5.

Cracks beginning to show

The controversy of yearly releases began to take flight further down the line with the, what felt like simultaneous, releases of Rogue, Unity and Syndicate in 2014 and 2015. In order to complete development of these games in such a short amount of time it no longer fell to Ubisoft Montreal to foot the bill and instead Ubisoft Sofia and Quebec were included in the process. Now three developers releasing three games is not unheard of but when you consider the apparent drop in quality of each games, especially the controversy surrounding Unity and it’s exclusion of female characters 6 despite their integration in previous titles, then it should be asked; was this the right move for the franchise?

Missing face glitch Assassin's Creed Unity
Graphical issues were found everywhere during early game play, especially on newer console hardware. Screenshot: Ubisoft

Ask the audience at large and you’ll be met with a wide variety of responses as although critically it was relatively successful 7, it was met with a great deal of controversy upon release. Being one of the first titles in the franchise on new generation console hardware it was rife with graphical issues 8, and developers had tried to vamp the franchise by introducing new systems but it had felt as though the game needed “stripping back” 9.

Light on the horizon

Whilst so far this paints a rather negative view of the franchise over the years, it’s undeniable to state that Assassin’s Creed is anything if not successful having sold over 140 million units over more than 20 titles 10. The success of the franchise is self-propagating and has allowed Ubisoft to introduce their audience to a wealth of different historical events and cultures ranging from Ancient Egypt to the Third Crusade, the American and French Revolutions, and Victorian London. Looking to Ubisoft themselves it’s clear to see that they show no signs of stopping as the franchise is “increasingly focused on long-term player engagement” 11 with the development and eventual release of downloadable content for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the near future.

Assassin's Creed Discovery Tour Ad Banner
Assassin’s Creed Origins free update introduced an educational discovery tour showcasing the beauty of Ancient Egypt along with museum like tours and information. Image: Ubisoft

New technology

Ubisoft has always been towards the forefront of discussion when hype is building for the new console generations as Assassin’s Creed released 18 months to 2 years after the release of the Xbox 360 and PS3, AC: Black Flag released the same year as the PS4 and Xbox One, and now, with the recent release of Google Stadia, Ubisoft are aiming for Odyssey to be a part of the launch line up. They have utilised modern hardware, for better or worse, in order to showcase the best they have to offer in the vast worlds they create and have contributed some way to the sales of new console generations with their annual appearance at E3. This task would be far more difficult without the foundation of a strong franchise such as Assassin’s Creed. Could it be that the annual release cycle has been the reason Ubisoft is able to develop an “R&D [Research and Development] policy that incorporates the most recent technological advances” 12.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Google Stadia advertisement
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of the largest scale games to be present on the new console. Image: Ubisoft

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

As Ubisoft have identified themselves, the development of Assassin’s Creed into an RPG franchise is acknowledgement of the “capacity for adaptation and agility in the video game industry” 13 . If we’re to take a step back and instead view the franchise through the lens of a game designer, we can begin to see some of the positive impacts that a yearly, or at least regular, release cycle can have. Making games is an iterative process:

“an adaptive process whereby designers move through cycles of conceiving of an idea, creating a prototype that embodies the idea, running playtests with the prototype to see the idea in action, and then evaluating the results to make the idea better.” 14

The iterative design cycle describes the process designers take to ensure the highest quality product on release. Image: apprize.info

Simply look at the progress made between a handful of titles; allied NPCs in Brotherhood, more dynamic climbing systems in AC 3, refinement of ship combat in Black Flag, larger NPC crowds in Unity and almost complete overhauls in Origins and Odyssey. If we view this as an example of iterative design and how developers can effectively improve and develop their ideas over the years then in the long term we can see a huge benefit to us as consumers rather than plainly griping at the potentially inconsequential inconsistencies and more minor issues within the games.

Learn through experience

Building upon the experiential learning of playing through historical periods, Ubisoft have gone out of their way to create content specifically aimed at educating their audiences through accessible means 15. Whilst they only think of this as a “supplement to teacher-guided education” 16, it’s plain to see the benefit of game-based learning with some studies suggesting “that playing interactive
educational games may have a positive impact on children’s problem solving skills” 17. Now that game play has been tried and tested over the years, is this a new direction the platform could take in order to increase the positive benefit of the franchise on more than just enjoyment?


FIFA: The World’s Game

FIFA International Soccer Cover Art
The original entry into the series, FIFA International Soccer 1993. Cover Art: EA

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the long-standing, self described international governing body of football. They’re a household name for any followers of the sport and since the early 1990s have made their way into our homes in the form of the FIFA gaming franchise. The first entry into the series, FIFA International Soccer was released in late 1993 on a range of platforms including, but not limited to, PC, Amiga, Sega CD, and SNES. Developed by what we know as EA Vancouver, Electronic Arts’ (EA) largest and oldest studio, the team were prompted to release a soccer equivalent of the already successful NFL game, John Madden Football. It was a small development team, working under pressure to release for the holiday season, and striving against executives who predicted a flop as nobody really cared about soccer in the USA. How they were proven wrong as the initial predictions of 300,000 total units were blown out the water within the first four weeks with over half a million copies sold 18.

Since then we have experienced an annual release of a mainstream FIFA title without fail and in some cases receiving two in one year. This is an astounding achievement considering the 26 years of the franchises existence and it’s home firmly remaining at EA. So how has this been possible to sustain? Why, other than staggering profits, has EA continued to devote so many resources to this franchise?

Method behind the “madness”

Wither more than 45 million unique players engaging with FIFA 19 and FIFA 18 on console and PC last year 19, it is clear to see that the primary motivation for EA to continually release these games is the fans. FIFA has long been one of the top selling game franchises of all time, amassing well over 260 million copies sold in it’s lifetime. This is enabled in part by the level of accessibility that the developers offer with versions often stretching the life of console generations. Titles were being released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 four years after the new generation came out, and there was even a release of FIFA 14 on Playstation 2, 13 years after the console first hit shelves 20. Catering to this wide spread market is an effective way to get your game in front of people and continue to hold their gaze. In 2016 with the release of FIFA Mobile, and the annual content updates it receives, the game now seems to be ever present in the lives of it’s audience.

Jadon Sancho in FIFA 20
Jadon Sancho rendered in engine for FIFA 20. Screenshot: EA

The FIFA titles have incrementally improved upon a winning formula each year, with some years having more impact than others, but the overall progression and development of the game can be seen when looking through the back catalogue. FIFA 19 introduced the Active Touch System “fundamentally chang[ing] the way you receive and strike the ball, providing closer control, improved fluidity, more creativity and increased player personality”, a new dynamic tactics system to allow for greater mastery of the pitch, and updates to their real player motion technology for more realistic animations across all areas of play to name a few 21. FIFA 20 as well as mechanical changes is reintroducing the fan-favourite FIFA Street in the form of a new game mode VOLTA FOOTBALL. Just for the last two years of a 26 year lifespan this is already a progressive step in terms of developing the gameplay and experience for their players. With a game, in real life and the digital world, as divisive as football they’re not always met with the softest reactions, but it’s clear to see EA are not just churning out the same old play every year.

FIFA 20 VOLTA Game Play
FIFA 20 VOLTA game play in Amsterdam. One of the many locations available. Screenshot: EA

The primary reason that so many people purchase the new iteration every year is of course to keep up to date with their favourite athletes. For a sport that changes so often with players moving teams, rankings and league tables altering and games played multiple times a month, it’s clear to see why fans would want to keep their personal slice of the game as relevant as possible. Maintaining the longevity of the game and inspiring it’s audience to play is clear to see when considering what actually motivates players from an experiential level. The Gamer Motivation Model 22 attributes 6 core motivators for why we play games; action, social, mastery, achievement, immersion, and creativity. Taking each of these in turn you can see why a lot of players, especially those who enjoy the sport itself, can find enjoyment within FIFA. Playing with your friends or others across the world uniting over a common love of the sport, the highs and lows of a match but this time you’re in control, mastering your techniques and finding your solutions to the other players defensive strategies, immersing yourself in a worldwide phenomenon and empowering yourself with just a taste of what a championship may feel like.

The future of the sport

Rumours have been speculating in recent years that EA may move away from the annual release cycle of the Madden and FIFA franchises in favour of a subscription model 23. Since the Xbox 360, online stores and digital downloads of games have become ever more the normality with the UK alone boasting over £2.01bn in digital and online revenue over the £770m in boxed software 24. This shift in purchasing habits has enabled many publishers to cater to a wider audience, increase profit margins with ventures such as digital deluxe editions, and distribute more effectively around the world. Marketing your game and controlling the representation of it in online stores can have a huge impact on the sales of your games and even support environmental efforts by greener distribution online. So moving forward to a subscription model is not exactly going to break the boundaries of games considering the implementation of this structure in games such as World of Warcraft and added content models such as Fortnite.

UKIE Games industry in numbers
UKIE Games industry in numbers shows the comparison, and evident rise, of digital downloads over boxed software. Image: UKIE

So with the rise of free-to-play, subscriptions services and digital content, could this be a strong move forward for EA and FIFA? Now nothing has been confirmed about this model at the time of writing and we’re unsure if and when we’ll even see information regarding it, however, if we assume a positive scenario we may be able to envisage a free to play version that allows you to pick from a selection of teams, trial particular game modes and engage with basic content of the game; this could drive a larger audience to the game who may otherwise be reluctant to pay upwards of £50 for a full copy. Adding on top of this the subscription service for premium features of customisation, wider team rosters, competitive online play, cosmetic upgrades and more. Regular patches will update roster information, statistics and more so that you’re able to keep current with your favourite teams and players. If we assume the average copy on release is £60 and, in an effort to keep a similar revenue stream, EA charge around £5 per month, many would see this as a reasonable cost to experience the full game and added features. Being able to cross play between these players would further entice and encourage players to upgrade, even for a month or two at the very least.

The dangers here, however, could be numerous for consumer and developer. If there is a free-to-play segment then they may see a sharp drop off in committed players who simply want to play a game or two and already have access to their favourite teams. On top of this many players may just pay for the odd month and cancel the renewal, dramatically reducing the £50-60 intake from every potential player whether they engage with the content after purchase or not. Equally, there may be some level of ostracism with players who aren’t able to regularly pay the subscription fee, but could save over time or receive the game as a gift.

The Pathless and Apple Arcade promo banner
The Pathless from Giant Squid and Annapurna Interactive is one of the first titles for Apple Arcade, released earlier this year. Image: Apple

Now there is a lot of speculation here as no details have been confirmed, however, looking to the better odds does reveal potential for an exciting turn for the franchise. Could we see more games take this route in future? Would it be financially viable with the amount of subscription services amassing lately? Between Netflix, Spotify, PS Now, Humble Monthly, Xbox Games Pass and many, many more would it all be too much for the average consumer?


Final Thoughts

It has been incredibly interesting to look at these topics from a different perspective as I have been guilty on more than one occasion of touting the “a game every year is bad” view without ever giving it too much thought. Looking at the decisions made, the evolution of titles, and speculating on the various benefits has certainly made me rethink my stance on the matter. Overall a large reason for these games continuing the model as discussed here is largely down to us, the consumers. If we continue to buy and support these games then they will undoubtedly continue to be made. If we speak out against the unwanted patterns then changes can be made, much like they were with Assassin’s Creed Origins and more recently when Ubisoft have stated no new game for 2019 25. We do have the potential to change the market but we should be saying it with how we choose to spend our money, and our discussion should always be considerate of the people that are making these amazing experiences, not careless ranting.

Assassin’s Creed characters line up.

We may well see more titles move to a subscription service as we have recently seen the release of Apple Arcade boasting a healthy catalogue of games early on and a bid for more independent support 26 and whilst this may seem like a great move from the consumer point of view, time will tell on the ongoing benefits to developers and whether or not this could be a suitable change for franchises in future. So what do you think? Do you feel these, as well as other franchises have overstayed their welcome? Do we need to allow room for other IPs to take flight and cement themselves into our gaming catalogues? Or do you enjoy the regular installments? Are they a comfort in your gaming regime that allows for ebb and flow amongst the sporadic crazes and fresh mechanics every quarter?

Works Cited

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  2. Schreir, J. (2014).Leaked Images Reveal One Of This Fall’s Two Assassin’s Creed Games. [online] Kotaku. Available at: https://kotaku.com/leaked-images-reveal-one-of-this-falls-two-assassins-1547111652 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019]
  3. Edge. (2012). The Making Of: Assassin’s Creed | Features | Edge Online. [online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20131228162338/http://www.edge-online.com/features/making-assassins-creed/4/ [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019]
  4. Bramwell, T. (2012).Assassin’s Creed 3 review. [online] Eurogamer.net. Available at: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-10-30-assassins-creed-3-review [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
  5. Plunkett, L. (2015).Assassin’s Creed IV Is Still Great. [online] Kotaku. Available at: https://kotaku.com/reminder-assassins-creed-iv-is-great-1698364138 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019]
  6. Farokhmanesh, M. (2014).Ubisoft abandoned women assassins in co-op because of the additional work. [online] Polygon. Available at: https://www.polygon.com/e3-2014/2014/6/10/5798592/assassins-creed-unity-female-assassins [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019]
  7. Metacritic.com. (2014).Assassin’s Creed Unity – Reviews, Articles, People, Trailers and more at Metacritic – Metacritic. [online] Available at: https://www.metacritic.com/search/all/assassin%27s%20creed%20unity/results [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019]
  8. Hernandez, P. (2014).Assassin’s Creed Unity Has The Best Glitches. [online] Kotaku. Available at: https://kotaku.com/assassins-creed-unity-has-the-best-glitches-1657939797 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019]
  9. Bramwell, T. (2014).Assassin’s Creed Unity review. [online] Eurogamer.net. Available at: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-11-11-assassins-creed-unity-review [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019]
  10. Jones, A. (2019).Assassin’s Creed all-time sales top 140 million. [online] PCGamesN. Available at: https://www.pcgamesn.com/assassins-creed-sales [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  11. Ubisoft. (2019). Ubisoft 2019 Annual Report. [online] Available at: https://ubistatic19-a.akamaihd.net/comsite_common/en-US/images/53ddr%20va%20final_tcm99-352601_tcm99-196733-32.pdf [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  12. Ubisoft. (2019). Ubisoft 2019 Annual Report. [online] Available at: https://ubistatic19-a.akamaihd.net/comsite_common/en-US/images/53ddr%20va%20final_tcm99-352601_tcm99-196733-32.pdf [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  13. Ubisoft. (2019). Ubisoft 2019 Annual Report. [online] Available at: https://ubistatic19-a.akamaihd.net/comsite_common/en-US/images/53ddr%20va%20final_tcm99-352601_tcm99-196733-32.pdf [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  14. Macklin, C. and Sharp, J. (2016).Games, Design and Play: A detailed approach to iterative game design. 1st ed. Boston: Addison-Wesley, p.106
  15. de Rochefort, S. (2018).Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Tour lets the beauty of Egypt shine. [online] Polygon. Available at: https://www.polygon.com/2018/2/14/17008318/assassins-creed-origins-discovery-tour-impressions [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  16. de Rochefort, S. (2018).Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Tour lets the beauty of Egypt shine. [online] Polygon. Available at: https://www.polygon.com/2018/2/14/17008318/assassins-creed-origins-discovery-tour-impressions [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  17. Kenna, A. (2016).Problem solving and interactive educational games: a case study of Year 6 children. [online] Manchester: Manchester Institute of Education, The University of Manchester, p.4. Available at: https://bsrlm.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/BSRLM-CP-36-1-08.pdf [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  18. Parkin, S. (2016).Fifa: the video game that changed football | Simon Parkin. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/21/fifa-video-game-changed-football [Accessed 28 Nov. 2019]
  19. Electronic Arts (2019).Electronic Arts Reports Q4 and Full Year FY19 Financial Results. [online] Available at: https://ir.ea.com/press-releases/press-release-details/2019/Electronic-Arts-Reports-Q4-and-Full-Year-FY19-Financial-Results/default.aspx [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  20. Martin, G. (2019).The Best-Selling Videogame Franchises of All Time. [online] pastemagazine.com. Available at: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/10/the-best-selling-videogame-franchises-of-all-time.html?p=2 [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  21. Electronic Arts (2018). FIFA 19 New Gameplay Features – EA SPORTS Official Site. [online] Electronic Arts Inc. Available at: https://www.ea.com/en-gb/games/fifa/fifa-19/features [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  22. Yee, N. (2015).Gamer Motivation Model – Quantic Foundry. [online] Quantic Foundry. Available at: https://quanticfoundry.com/2015/07/20/how-we-developed-the-gamer-motivation-profile-v2/ [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  23. Fingas, J. (2017).Engadget is now a part of Verizon Media. [online] Engadget.com. Available at: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/09/ea-may-skip-yearly-sports-releases/ [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  24. UKIE. (2019). The games industry in numbers | UKIE. [online] Ukie.org.uk. Available at: https://ukie.org.uk/research [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019]
  25. Byrd, M. (2018).Assassin’s Creed: no new game in 2019. [online] Den of Geek. Available at: https://www.denofgeek.com/uk/60037/assassins-creed-2019 [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]
  26. Lynch, G. and Hood, V. (2019).Apple Arcade release date, price, games and everything you need to know. [online] TechRadar. Available at: https://www.techradar.com/uk/news/apple-arcade [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019]

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52 Comments

  1. Ernesto
    0

    It’s all about low risk, publishers don’t want to risk scaring away potential customers and people that buy few games don’t want to take a chance on getting a game they don’t like. This causes both of them to make and buy the “exact” same games year in and year out.

    I remember when I was one of them and would buy the NHL series every year from 09-13. After a while it finally hit me that every year I was paying $60 for the exact same game I bought a year ago and the only difference was some minor bug fixing (that usually introduced more bugs) and updated rosters. Thing is they get away with this because people are either too naive to notice or just don’t care because they don’t want to try anything new.

    • CAntonyBaker

      Absolutely, at the end of the day games are a business and publishers will continue to make profitable decisions. However, you highlight a key aspect that players are unwilling to potentially part with $50-60 for a new game when they don’t know what it will be like. With fewer games releasing demos or trials it’s tough to know. It would be good to see more games aim to bridge the gap between these regular titles and other genres or franchises in an effort to widen their audience. Standalone updates instead of full releases potentially? I haven’t played it but Blood Bowl could be a good example of bringing NFL game players into a fantasy genre and beyond.

      Do you think you would pay for a subscription based NHL game given you had committed before and presumably enjoyed it enough to pay for it year on year?

  2. I played the first 2 Assassin’s Creed games and the first one was very interesting. It was original, it was fun, it had an amazing story, and I personally enjoyed it very much.

    Where they messed up is they released a bunch of games every year after that, that were pretty much exactly the same game…

    What does this mean for me and playing these games? Well it means I skip em . . . I just don’t play these games anymore. Why? Why waste 60$ for the exact same thing I played last year? Which ultimately means these franchises are missing out on possible profit from ppl like me.

    • CAntonyBaker

      I was very similar, played a lot of the earlier ones but began to lose it around Assassin’s Creed 3 or 4. The trouble is seeing these games pose very similar situations for the same amount of money each year. I have tried Origins when it was on sale but wasn’t enamoured with it as much as previous games and barely got past the intro. It’s something I want to try and play and enjoy given the setting and newer ideas they implemented but not right now.

      It’s difficult to please everyone though, as if they released games that were pretty different then there would be a lot of people upset because they just want more of the same that worked for them before. Not to mention people are maybe more willing to part with money if they’re more aware of the content of the game.

  3. allizon
    0

    There will always be a lot of idiots who are fine with buying the latest COD every year because they are uninformed. Thank the lord and god our savior raptor jesus for the invention of kickstarter.

    • CAntonyBaker

      There will be always be people that will pay for, and play these games yes. To call them idiots though is unfair as some people genuinely love those titles, as they love FIFA or Assassin’s Creed. Criticising them for enjoying them and buying the same game is not the way to get them to branch out and play other games (if that would be your ambition) and it’s also not how I would like to see the industry shape itself. People are free to play and enjoy the games they love. I would hate for people to judge me based solely on the games I enjoy.

  4. Rolando
    0

    This really stifles creativity in the designers who are forced to make it. Instead they should be constantly switching IP’s every 2 years and bring out a sequel 3 – 4 years down the line.

    It will bring in a breath of fresh air and give new ideas of innovative game play mechanics to add to the sequels. You will also be able to harness the older and newer generation. Of course this move is much more riskier and more money is involved in creating a new IP, but once you have a few IP’s in your belt you can always cycle them successfully.

    • CAntonyBaker

      Definitely agree that this could stifle creativity, there are developers I speak to (not related to these titles) that often want to remain in the same company but feel tired with the same old game they’re working on. We don’t necessarily know the cycle that developers like this implement (please let me know if you have a source as it would be interesting to know further from first hand perspective) to keep their staff inspired and working on fresh material. There is a culture nowadays of expecting sequels to successful games so company’s are under pressure to release. You can develop along in the background but you need to have something released or supported regularly to pay the bills and keep staff employed. It is a tough situation given the business of games but there is room for discussion and my hope is that this article poses the question for debate as opposed to the usual polar opposite stance many take.

      • Even if they were just working on one IP, a year, or even 2 years, is not enough for them to creatively explore new ideas and innovate.

        Even for things like Ass Creed games they are taking 3 years to make, although I assume the dev teams at the start of that process are smaller and just laying the building blocks, then more and more people are assigned to churn out thing such as art work later in the project.

        Even then there is very little room for them to experiment creatively and we have a situation where the talented people and the glut of resources available to them are being completely hamstrung by the needs of the publisher to ensure delivery of a game by a hard and fast date.

        Letting these people try things which may or may not work and “go back to the drawing board” so to speak, would be the best way for them to produce innovative new games. They just have no leeway to do this at all because they are in a rigorous schedule of content creation that leads to very iterative releases.

        Whether the releases are annual or not, the key is to let the developers, who know what they are doing, have creative control. Not someone who’s area of expertise is financial spreadsheets. Sadly this will not happen anytime soon imo.

        The counter argument of course is that these games are costing millions to make and profit must be maximised in order for projects of that size to be viable hence why giving devs another year or two on each game just isn’t possible. Without seeing their financial data this is impossible to know one way or the other though. I do feel like companies such as EA and Ubi could afford to use the profits from their yearly IPs in order to fund big original projects but as we’ve seen with things like Titanfall and Evolve this doesn’t always work out either.

  5. I heard ubi developers must work literally like a slaves because of annual releases.

    • CAntonyBaker

      There has been some reports I’ve seen in the past about crunch expectations in these developers and I hope it’s not true but unfortunately it’s a reality many face across the industry. I may look into it more in the near future and potentially write an article about crunch, the dangers and potential solutions of it.

      • Rosemarie
        0

        The games are made over many years from different dev teams. They arent made every year, just released.

        • CAntonyBaker

          Not assuming that they are made every year, that would be near impossible. There have, however, been rumours and reports of crunch in Ubisoft as with many companies in the industry over the years.

    • how is it bad that they have consistent work that pays the bills? People buy the games and the games do get better, so what is the actual problem? That you have to spend more than 60 dollars on franchise?

  6. Addison
    0

    For the majority of people that DONT play these games, the yearly releases are FREAKING annoying… It just seems like they are just expensive DLC’s. And to top it off…there are 6-9 months of F’in HYPE!!

    • CAntonyBaker

      I’ve definitely heard a great deal of people have this same reaction to the annual release cycle, especially when they take the spotlight at events like E3, EGX and Gamescom. It’s no doubt though that they often are the reason some buy consoles in the first place.
      I’m no longer on the side of consumers of these titles but it’s hard to argue when so many people still buy into them so there is definitely still an audience that get really excited about these new titles.

    • I definitely agree. As someone that doesn’t play Assassin’s Creed, everytime I see an announcement, my eyes roll. never saw the appeal, and especially gains a certain quality of annoyance as we see yearly iterations.

  7. I am a big fan of Call of Duty games BUT ONLY the Treyarch titles (World at War, Black Ops, and Black Ops 2). I am a huge nazi zombies fan and look forward to the game every two years. This adds an extra demension to the series with both multiplyers and zombies modes. Others in the indusrty should take note.

    • CAntonyBaker

      What makes you particularly enjoy the Treyarch titles and not the others? I haven’t played Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 2 so well out of the loop but it would be interesting to hear the quality difference between publishers.

      Do you mean that other developers should include zombie modes in their games or just additional game modes that add extra gameplay?

  8. Shepard
    0

    I blame it on WoW. The annual release thing is publishers’ way of essentially charging a subscription to play the same game over and over.

    • CAntonyBaker

      You can’t deny that publishers will be pushing for these games to be made in order to generate money, it is a business. Are MMOs to blame? It’s an interesting thought to process and one that could spawn another article for me further down the line, especially as there are rumours of subscription services for games and platforms such as Apple Arcade proving some early success. I think it’s a cultural shift though, many of our entertainment services (cinema, TV, movies, music etc.) are becoming subscription based – we’ve been expected to pay monthly fees for satellite TV for years now. It’s only natural that games catch up as another form of media. Is it the right or wrong decision for the industry far and wide? Time will tell.

    • Blizzard doesn’t do annual releases for WoW. “Annual” means “yearly”. People really need to stop misunderstanding basic words. /facepalm

      • CAntonyBaker

        I don’t think anybody here thinks Blizzard are annually releasing games, they understand it’s a subscription service as both comments clarified. It was more framing the question if publishers are seeing a successful ongoing income and making their own potential version. With titles looking to move to subscription services it’s hard to say that MMOs won’t have influence as well as services such as Netflix and Spotify etc.

  9. Is yearly releases bad for gaming industry… welll. This is a yes AND no question. Yes, good for gaming because a core design and concept are constantly reiterated and tuned to perfection. No, because by the time you actually do get to a late game in the series, it would have been long worn out and not compelling anymore.

    The best example is obviously the Assassin’s Creed series. Anybody who remembers and have played AC throughout it’s history will know the jump in quality from the original AC to AC: Black Flag. If you were to play the original AC and then skip right to BF, you’ll have a lot more fun and a lot more things to do. The graphics would also be way better despite being on the same console you used to play AC with. The caveat is that the original arc has already been resolved, so the story in BF is best enjoyed as a standalone title and not taken as seriously as the previous titles.

    • CAntonyBaker

      It’s difficult to keep an ongoing story in a franchise and serve the committed fans at the same time as making the series accessible for anyone to enter at any point. I think the modern narrative within the games excluded a great deal of players because they felt they had missed out and were out of the loop. The core game play in the historical settings, however, were a strong selling point for the games and brought a lot of players in. Well executed mechanics, refined core loops, exciting and engaging stories that are independent from one another but tied through effective world building. That would be a lovely thing to see for those players who wish to read the connections and still serve those that want to jump in because the game “looks cool”.

  10. Valerie
    0

    The only game genre or franchises which deserve yearly releases and won’t burn people out by doing so, are SPORTS GAMES!!!

    ….and even with those, looking at the sort of graphics and creativity “ceiling” we seem to be approaching in this generation, people have begun to consider if some of these annual sports games will fare better as meaty Expansion packs, as opposed to Full-priced empty shells of a game.

    • CAntonyBaker

      It’s tough to say that Sports games are the only games that won’t incur burnout and definitely not appropriate to say that they’re the only annual release we “deserve”. I think it would be interesting to see a sport game use the expansion or subscription model to see the success and application within the industry but people love all sorts of games and large portions of the audience genuinely love to see their favourite franchises regularly receive fresh instalments.

  11. The problem is definitely deadlines and lack of imagination, but that has nothing to do with annual releases or needing to change franchises, as a gamer who plays lots of genres, I can say that the core gameplay of a good series should indeed stay the same so it stays in the future when graphics and mechanics can be pushed farther with better tech, but companies should also make different types of games than their neighboring dev teams.

    The problem is quite simply dev teams copying other dev teams, it needs to stop, i don’t need more than one military fps game that plays just like the one i have, i just don’t.

    You cannot expect to gain a good profit off selling people something they already have with a different name attached, it’s a fools errand.

    Find a niche genre that isn’t made yet, or hasn’t been made this generation, then make it and sell it, the goal of appealing to everyone or a “wider audience” is a cancer in game development that waters down good niche ideas that make games different from eachother.

    • CAntonyBaker

      There’s definitely a need for more diversity within the industry in terms of mechanics, experiences and stories and that will hopefully come to fruition as developers hopefully encourage the hiring of more diverse professionals suitable for the roles in order to draw from various experiences across the world.
      Whilst I understand what you’re saying regards the similarity between games released currently, I think it helps to breed competition and hopefully more creativity further down the line. If we take Call of Duty for example, if they were the only FPS around then they wouldn’t have to even try to implement new modes as there is no one competing with them. With Battlefield alone posing a credible threat to profits they need to think about what they’re producing. Monopoly on titles is a bad thing and means there is no reason for ingenuity. Equally, a lot of developers need to make the “standard” games as they sell well meaning they can generate funds to develop the titles they truly want to.

  12. Last AAA game I played was Metro 2033 I don’t think I missed out on anything in the past years I see. my wallet thanks me

    • CAntonyBaker

      I think we need to stop classifying games as either AAA or Indie now as the line is so blurred in terms of the quality of experience that can be had in the wide variety of titles out there now. Hellblade for instance is made by a reasonably small studio, with lower budgets than most, sold for lower than most and still a very well regarded game play experience and narrative.

  13. I don’t even think yearly released sports game are a necessity. Remember, you’re just buying it for the roster change, and they’re just tacking on mundane stuff to say gameplay was ‘improved’. And for games like ACreed or CoD, what I’m really worried for are the studios. You can only drive them hard for so long before they burn out. Not to mention quality.

    • CAntonyBaker

      Yes, I don’t think we “need” annual release games but there is a definite trend to be seen over the past decade at least so there must be a reason that they keep selling. I agree with you that the concern should be on employees but then again companies such as EA and Ubisoft have so many IPs at their disposal that there hopefully is fair opportunity to move laterally between teams (within reason) to keep from stagnating.

  14. I would rather a game made out of inspiration, creativity, and ideas and released when it is ready to be released.

    When you have an annual deadline to work with, things get rushed, things get left out, shortcuts are made, its terrible.

    I honestly think assassin’s creed needs to disappear for 2+ years, then make a comeback, 1 a year is tedious, and its making me dislike the whole franchise.

    • CAntonyBaker

      I think it’s a key point to be made that a lot of developers are trying to voice online that if a game is delayed it should be seen as a good thing! It means the experience needs refining, improving and making ready for a quality release without imposing crunch. I understand that it’s difficult sometimes depending on the company when funds are potentially low, publishers might impose strict deadlines in order to receive the next stage of funding or people are working on temporary contracts. It’s definitely not something that should continue but it does inform the reasoning behind these sorts of deadlines. Hopefully something to improve in the coming years as more understanding and awareness is generated through the consumers and audience.

    • I agree mostly, although I would argue AC needs to just go away period.

  15. Great article. I don’t even buy annual games anymore. It wasn’t something I set out to do in protest. I just got bored of them over the years and stopped buying them

    • CAntonyBaker

      Thank you for taking the time to read and for the compliment. I very much have felt the same way recently. Sometimes still buying games because they’re on sale and not even playing them, it’s very strange. I wrote a piece on my own blog about how I’m wanting to turn this mindset around for my own benefit and learn to enjoy things for what they are. Learn to love something I held very dear for so long.

  16. Let people vote with their money. There is no other way to do it.

    • CAntonyBaker

      Absolutely, it’s probably the largest factor as to why these annual releases are still being made. People want them so they buy them. It’s a simple market of supply and demand; as long as we show demand, there will be a supply.

      • If we let them vote with their money, we will only have more AC Unity, COD, Battlefield and FIFA.

  17. Bad games make gaming look bad, period. Yearly buggy, unfinished “games” are not good.

  18. Ellen Park
    0

    AAA+ year after year is damaging..

  19. What you postulate is interesting, as it’s true that a yearly release gives way to technological and gaming progress. However, as someone who also likes to focus on the story of a game (if it has one), I’ve wondered if Ubisoft’s yearly release method has damaged its franchise, narratively speaking. It seems that Ubisoft has no plan for the long-run in terms of the plot of AC as a whole; this has lead to individual “main” games that feel more like spin-offs or one-shots post ACIII instead of games that are part of the main plot.

    Although it’s fascinating to see how Ubisoft’s/AC’s yearly releases have demonstrated the changes to the mechanics over time (especially in such a short amount of time), the games seem to be in a narrative limbo. I personally would prefer for Ubisoft to take its time to at least get its plot and overall endgame plan in order–which I think would consequently enhance the gaming experience, as they can then make the mechanics run parallel with the story, character development and/or narrative tone (not that they haven’t done this in previous games, but having a better idea of what they want from the characters and story, especially in the “Modern Era” segments, could certainly help with what the player can do with different characters and eras within the same game).

  20. titles like Assassins creed and BF should not have a deadline or come annually(it just destroys the games when they release it half done and then have to spend the next 6-12 months patching it to how it should have been on release day….

  21. chavman
    0

    Gaming industry is now akin to the mobile phone industry with a new model every year. There are people who will buy the new iPhone or Samsung ever year without fail and the same is for FIFA, MADDEN, AC, COD, BATTLEFIELD, regardless of the minimal changes. And until we as customers demand more by not buying the same product every year with a 0.2 upgrade this will never stop. NEVER!

  22. Ever since CoD went annual the franchise went completely down hill. Same for Battlefront.

    Annual releases just ensure you have lower quality games that are overpriced and add nothing to the game mechanics, story and franchise. I really hope that this practice ends soon because at the moment I just have so little to play because all these rehashed yearly releases are boring/buggy and simply bad overpriced crap.

    Just because the majority thinks something is good; that doesn’t make it good at all. There was a time when the majority of people thought slavery was a good thing. There was also a time when the whole world thought Nuclear power was going to revolutionise the energy market and make “nearly free” electricity for everyone. Yet look what has come of all of that. In general I think if you have learnt anything from history it is that the minority opinion tends to be the better one.

  23. Rudolph Fox
    0

    One word to explain everything related to this annual release target: Crunch. Which means massively overtime work for the developers.

  24. They are bad for me because i have more than enough games to play. Having to stop everything to get the annual AAA game out of the way is kind of annoying.

  25. majorlariviere

    I understand what you’re saying with regards to the iterative process of game design. But I can’t say I relish the idea of paying to be part of a company’s play testing department. I can’t recall the last time I purchased a new AC game myself. Aside from the incremental improvements to game play, it did often feel like I was playing the same game (Black Flag was an exception, of course). There are also other facets of these releases that I particularly dread. One being that often times, as you illustrated, the games are riddled with glitches and bugs on release and often require extensive patching before they’re playable. The other being the gradual implementation of micro transactions, which invariably alter final gameplay, and often for the worse. With this in mind, I’m inclined to agree with you that a subscription service would be more palatable than an upfront cost. Good article, by the way!

  26. Thompson
    0

    For casual gamers yes. For everyone else HELL NO.

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