Burning a path for a new mainline entry in a beloved franchise is something that’s become a commonplace staple of the videogame industry… But is it all worthwhile?
Be it sourcing estimates for potential sales figures, gauging interest, or simply in an attempt to drum up hype, these ‘Trial by Fire’ releases as I call them are extremely noticeable to even the untrained eye when glossing over long-standing franchises. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a prime (And topically relevant) example of this ideal – A game that has been critically panned for lazy gameplay, a lack of significant artistic difference or direction, muddling and paper-thin dialogue and narrative, and an overall level of estimated passion equatable to that of a deflated balloon – The antithesis of a game created purely to see how well No More Heroes performs as a brand and a household name rather than how it’s actual gameplay, story, characters and world stack up in a modern era of gaming.
‘Trial by Fire’ games never work. That much I’ve made apparent, but without explaining the reasons why in much detail – Well, earnest reader, indulge me in a little metaphor, if you will. Imagine your favourite cereal brand; let’s take my poison of choice, Cookie Crisp, for instance – If Nestle created some abstract form of Cookie Crisp, say, a cereal with wheat-based fruit-ordained cookies in order to gauge interest in their main cereal, would I expect them to outright cancel their mainline cereal, or their previous work in innovating their core cereal because this odd spinoff failed drastically? No! Not only am I hungry, but I’m disappointed at the thought too – That would be the literal definition of brand suicide, yet we see it so commonly in the videogames industry.
Brands left behind, forgotten, abandoned… All because they couldn’t nab mass interest with a spinoff title that everyone expected to be a mainline entry in their existing videogame series. This issue doesn’t just end or start with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, however, as many, many titles throughout the years have succumbed to the same fate.
Now, there are instances where this sort of thing can work, however, at least in my opinion, it only seems right to use a game to gauge interest if these games are gauged through a medium such as Kickstarter – Kickstarted titles such as Shenmue 3 can prove to publishers, investors and the larger gaming community that there is a living, breathing and large fanbase for these long-stagnant franchises, and can be used to not only create compelling titles, but also create sequels to game series that haven’t gotten a lot of love with the more recent eras of gaming.
So what should publishers and developers do instead of testing the waters through sloppily developed test titles? Well, to be honest, simply questioning your fans, holding a poll, opening yourself for feedback or suggestions is one of the best ways to develop profitable and legendary titles that not only bring franchises back for a second breath of life, but also can introduce them to a whole new era of gamers and potential fans – Remakes such as the Ratchet and Clank remake, despite it’s shortcomings, are a prime example of this, bringing the original charm of Ratchet and Clank’s world to a new generation, whilst remaining appealing to older core fans who may have been getting tired of the drawn out and saturated story of the Future sequel series.
Another (More risky) option for developers to take is to remaster older titles to see how they perform in a modern gaming market – Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Joe, we’ve had enough of all these bloody remasters!”, and I would agree with you if only we didn’t see the power they held – Remastering every single Kingdom Hearts title in some form for the PlayStation 4 has brought a large wave of fans into the hype pool for Kingdom Hearts 3’s launch next week, and bringing Crash Bandicoot to the modern era (Whilst not officially confirmed) is assumed to have had at least some sort of hand to play in bringing back his fellow purple rival, Spyro, into a similar spotlight.
Games that are purely created for the singular purpose of gauging interest are, ironically, the one thing that decays my interest further – There are far more appealing (And not to mention cost effective) methods to see how many sales your next main title may obtain that not only serves the fans with faithful and worthwhile experiences, but also have the opportunity to expand that potential revenue and source of loyal fans.