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Analysts Ask: What Dooms A Game Franchise?

The latest issue of Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak's 'Video Game Journal' for the Susquehanna Financial Group asks the question, "What dooms a franchise?" Or, more specifical...
The latest issue of Jason Kraft and Chris Kwak's 'Video Game Journal' for the Susquehanna Financial Group asks the question, "What dooms a franchise?" Or, more specifically, "Under what conditions might a franchise -- after having had some success -- be doomed?" The investigation relies on the theory that game players and developers are in constant pursuit of realistic experiences in games. "Like many art forms -- such as photography and cinema -- video games have largely been driven by developers' desire and consumers' appetite for greater realism," says the study. "It should not surprise us then that video games have become more realistic every generation. It should also not surprise us that limitless interaction has been a goal of many developers and publishers of games," it continued, specifically focusing on two design aspects, complexity and interaction. The largest leap in both complexity and interaction, says the article, is the jump from 2D to 3D. "Sure, Street Fighter was fun, but the first look at Tekken was breathtaking," they said. "Super Mario Bros. was unimaginably addictive, but Super Mario 64 was so powerful, it induced motion sickness." And just as games' natural evolution into 3D made 2D franchises such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders irrelevant, the article argues that online play will lead franchises designed for a solitary experiences the way of the dodo. "If you are a game developer or publisher, online service is now a prerequisite to play," they said. "If you do not online-enable a game, it could kill you. People want to play online. Why? Simply because many of us are tired of playing computers." Single-player games, says the article, are ultimately just a challenge in beating one set of artificial intelligence. "There is satisfaction in beating AI, but once you've done that, there is nothing more to do," it clarifies. "You have to move on." And moving on for the modern gamer, they say, is only easily done online: "A friend might come over, something easily accomplished when you're eight years old, living in suburbia, and your best friend lives three houses down; a bit harder when you're 30, grown up, living in a major city, and all of your friends are at a bar watching the Knicks lose." Controller evolution itself can also kill a franchise. "As consoles and controllers evolved and became more complex, games evolved with them," says the article. "If Pac-Man or Space Invaders made use of these new controllers, and you could crouch in Pac-Man or move in stealth, or zoom with satellite radar in Space Invaders, these games would cease to be Pac-Man and Space Invaders. They'd become Splinter Cell and Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon. This is a less-than-perfect analogy, but we think you get the idea." The two biggest fighting game franchises of the 90s - Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat - have become commercially irrelevant due, again, to the shift from 2D to 3D, they say, due primarily to the franchise's heavy use of projectile attacks in-game, which do not work well in 3D due to there simply being too much room for a miss (as opposed to on a 2D plane, where the only chance to "miss" is with a player's opponent dodging the object). Another cause for a franchise's death, they say, is quite simply due to being ousted by a superior product. The example given is EA's Medal of Honor franchise, which has been consistently outsold by Activision's Call of Duty; which, not so coincidentally, is developed by the core team behind the original Medal of Honor title. The final cause for a franchise's death, they say, is a franchise tie-in's lack of relevancy. For example, now that the 'Matrix' movie trilogy is over, not many are anticipating a sequel to the video game franchise. "Most of us are modeling Spider-Man 3 in 2007 and Spider-Man 4 in 2010," says the article. We have the same expectations for Shrek 3 in 2007 and Shrek 4 in 2010. But what happens after that? Could Columbia Pictures adn DreamWorks continue to churn out Spider-Man and Shrek movies? It's possible. However, like Batman before it, and Superman before that, Spider-Man as a theatrical attraction will probably fade in time." The article concludes by looking at major franchises from the "Big-4" publishers - Electronic Arts, Activision, THQ, and Take-Two - that they feel may be doomed, and offering possible ways to keep them legitimate. Activision's Tony Hawk franchise, they say, is doomed without online aspects. "One gimmick could breathe life into the game: an onilne tournament," says the article. The same advice is offered for THQ's WWE professional wrestling franchise. "We can think of no better reason to play a 'versus' game than an online tournament with rewards," they clarify. For Electronic Arts, Kraft and Kwak question the fate of upcoming The Lord of the Rings games without a movie to back them up. As for Medal of Honor: "If Airborne fails to capture shares from Call of Duty, it may behoove EA to focus on the wildly successful Battlefield series on PC." And finally, though they admit that the first sequel on a next generation console will "probably be very successful," the article argues that Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto will become irrelevant without online capabilities, ideally they say with cooperative play. "With the right platform and architecture, the game could evolve easily, with ongoing episodic content to sustain the network and satisfy demand," the article concludes.

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