×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Franchise Fatigue Gives Way to Fresh Ideas From Videogame Creators

To find out how discombobulated the videogame industry is these days, ask gamemakers what they think of their business. You’ll set off feelings of exuberance over how many people are playing, thanks to a variety of digital platforms — and frustration that the bottom line is dictating what titles get the greenlight.

Sound familiar, filmmakers?

Sequelitis invaded the games biz years ago, with Electronic Arts banking billions off its football, soccer and NASCAR games, and Activision turning “Call of Duty” into a record-breaking series.

Game publishers have managed the concept of franchises as well as any major Hollywood studio — perhaps better — with multiple teams working on sequels simultaneously so that a new iteration could be released annually. They’ve even embraced the reboot, with a younger Lara Croft refreshing “Tomb Raider,” and they know how to build up demand, too: RockStar’s “Grand Theft Auto V” was a billion-dollar hit in 2013 in part because five years had passed since the previous game’s release.

But franchise fever is taking a toll on creatives’ well-being. To keep such mega-successes humming, massive teams have been assembled to produce new levels in a seemingly endless stream of downloadable content. The point is to keep the games out of the “used” sections of GameStop stores and to monetize every digital platform from smartphones to next-gen consoles.

Popular on Variety

Ken Levine, creator of Take-Two Interactive’s “BioShock” franchise, shocked the biz when he announced on Feb. 18 he would shutter Irrational Games and return to the way he started: with “a small team making games for the core gaming audience.”

Expect more shocks to come.

“It’s crazy out there,” says Shannon Studstill, founder and head of Sony Santa Monica. “The amount of investment people are putting into these IPs is amazing.”

Amazing but daunting at the same time for Studstill, who struggles with the expectations of the consumer. “Are they expecting endless gameplay or can they accept a high-quality nine-hour story-driven, character-driven experience?”

With so much on the line, losing a bit of the creative layer, as Studstill puts it, was always inevitable. When a small Finnish company like Rovio can launch “Angry Birds” and compete with anything from Activision or EA, all gamemakers wind up on a level playing field. The need to try something new doesn’t come as a surprise; the industry is encouraging it.

Over the past two years, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences has awarded game of the year honors to thatgamecompany’s “Journey,” centered on walking and exploring desolate environments; and Naughty Dog’s thriller “The Last of Us,” in which character development and narrative heft are more important than blasting bad guys.

Both were risky projects that broke new ground in storytelling in their scripts and with their visuals. Hollywood sorely needs a similar injection of originality.

“Greatness is often built on failure,” Studstill says. “You learn from that and build on that.”

That’s a startling comment from someone who runs the large game studio behind hits like the “God of War” franchise, an exclusive series for Sony and a reason why some gamers buy a PlayStation. But it’s also refreshing that leaders in the games biz have the itch to innovate again — to do what got them into the industry in the first place. They don’t want games to become as corporate as movies now are in Hollywood. Creativity is the main attraction for them, not the ancillary toys or T-shirts.

Levine is ready to turn his back on the sure thing. When he co-founded Irrational 17 years ago, he said that making visually unique worlds and populating them with singular characters was his mission. “In that time, Irrational has grown larger and more successful than we could have conceived,” he wrote on his blog, adding that “BioShock” has become “the defining project of my professional life.”

Only time will tell if people like Studstill and Levine can succeed at going back to their roots and launching new hits that gamers embrace.

If they can, one thing’s certain: They shouldn’t be surprised if publishers come around and ask for ideas for a sequel.

More Digital

  • Editorial Use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    YouTube Institutes Stricter Harassment Policy, Won't Exempt Public Figures

    YouTube has promised to ramp up its fight against hate and harassment: The Google-owned video service announced changes to its harassment policy Wednesday, which include a ban on implicit threats of violence and insults that target someone for their race, gender expression or sexual orientation. “We will not tolerate harassment,” said YouTube’s global head of [...]

  • Janko Roettgers, Jeremy Legg, Vicky Colf,

    Listen: Inside HBO Max's Streaming Strategy With WarnerMedia CTO Jeremy Legg

    HBO Max may not be streaming to consumers until May 2020, but for Jeremy Legg, the hard work has already begun. The WarnerMedia chief technology officer is deep into the development of parent company AT&T’s highest priority next year. While rival efforts from Disney and Apple are already in market, he envisions launching a product [...]

  • quibi

    Quibi Orders Gaming Thriller ‘Curs_r’ From Anton, Stigma, Ridley Scott

    Quibi has greenlit the development of “Curs_r,” a gaming drama series executive produced by Anton, Stigma Films and Ridley Scott. The series will be directed by Toby Meakins (“Bite Size Horror”) and is written by Simon Allen (“The Watch,” “Das Boot,” “The Musketeers”). Matthew James Wilkinson (“Yesterday,” “Amulet”) is producing. The series centers on the [...]

  • Susie Banikarim - Vice News

    Vice News Hires Susie Banikarim to Head Newsgathering Operations (EXCLUSIVE)

    Susie Banikarim, a journalist with nearly two decades of experience in digital and TV news, is joining Vice News as one of its top editorial execs. Vice Media Group tapped Banikarim as executive VP and global head of newsgathering for Vice News, a newly created role. She will be based out of Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters [...]

  • Daniel Ek Spotify

    New Netflix Original to Tell the Story of Spotify's Creation

    In a case of one disrupter telling the story of another, Netflix has boarded a series about the creation of Spotify, the Swedish startup that’s become one of the world’s leading music services. The as-yet-untitled limited series, to be directed by Per-Olav Sørensen (“Quicksand”), is inspired by the book “Spotify Untold” by Sven Carlsson and [...]

  • Jamie Gutfreund Greg Coleman - Tubular

    Tubular Labs Adds Jamie Gutfreund, Greg Coleman to Board

    Video-measurement firm Tubular Labs announced two additions to its board of directors: Jamie Gutfreund, ex-chief strategy officer of CAA and formerly Hasbro’s chief consumer experience officer, and Greg Coleman, former president of BuzzFeed. Gutfreund and Coleman are not personally investing in Tubular Labs but will receive stock options in the privately held company. They join [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content