The following article contains my Extended Thoughts on "The Viscous Cycle of Rebranding" (originally mislabeled as "Over-Innovation") discussed in the Gameology podcast with my co-host Mathew Falvai. You can listen to the Podcast via RSS, on iTunes, Google Play Music, or watch the episode in video format:
The Vicious Cycle of Rebranding
I'm sure everyone has had the experience where they've been excited to play a new game in a series only to try it out and find its not what you were expecting. There may be lots of ways in which a game can disappoint you, but this is specifically in regards to a game which ends up being almost completely different from the original save for perhaps a familiar looking world or a few characters you recognize. While sometimes a developer is accused of changing too little between entries in a series, in this case it feels like they've changed too much, resulting in an experience that is entirely different from what made you like the game in the first place.
When creating a new entry in a franchise, developers walk a thin line between changing too little and changing too much
While not always the case, it's possible the developer might have wanted to create a new franchise or one-off original game, but then felt the pressure from their publisher concerned that this new game would not sell well because it isn't part of an established brand. As a result, the publisher may consent to funding the project on the condition that the developers brand the game as a new entry in an existing franchise. Of course, even if the developers are able to make a good game it will still result in something vastly different from what people expect out of the franchise, which in turn can lead to damning User Reviews and therefore less sales of the game in the long term. In the absolute worst cases, this can lead to players abandoning the series and the death of the entire franchise (at least temporarily, nostalgia can be a powerful resurrecting force). Given everything publishers stand to lose in the rebranding of a product as a new entry in a franchise, it speaks of incredibly short-sighted planning on their part that they consider this to be the "safe option", or more likely it speaks volumes of what the publisher's sales charts must be telling them about consumer purchasing behavior.
Rebranding a game as a new entry in an existing franchise might make economic sense to Publishers, but it hurts the creativity of developers and the expectations of gamers.
It's a viscous cycle which needs to be broken to benefit developers, publishers, and players alike. Unfortunately, there's almost nothing the developers themselves can do to break the cycle since these decisions are tied up in the finances that fuel the creation of the games in the first place. Developers are at the mercy of whoever holds the purse strings, and Publishers likely won't change their ways unless the sales charts dictate that change. That means it's up to us as Players (and consumers) to vote with our wallets, aim to make informed purchases, and assist others we know in making informed purchases (assist grand-parents in picking out better games as gifts). There's a big rush to be the first to experience something, and it's incredibly tempting to get a new game in a franchise you love, but you've got to ask if the potential disappointment isn't worth waiting a few days to see the reviews. If we can pull this off, it will mean that developers everywhere will get their original ideas off the ground and inspire us with new worlds and the stories within them.
Prove to publishers that we want new experiences, vote with your wallet and reward innovative new games