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Are Annual Franchises Activision's Kryptonite?

In the past, we've wondered if the "annual-ization" of big-name franchises is a good idea. For instance, we question if a developer has ample time to deliver an appropriately new and fresh experience.

And yet, the yearly sequels keep showing up; Call of Duty is obvious but Ubisoft is also going for annual installments of their critically acclaimed and immensely popular Assassin's Creed series. There may be no stopping this machine that craves holiday dollars each and every year.

But you should check out an op-ed by LucasArts creative director Clint Hocking, where he elaborates on why annualizing franchises really can prove damaging in the long run. After finishing the article, we had to look back on the generation, and we remembered some scathing words from EA. Activision has been blamed for milking various titles, and that includes Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk, and Call of Duty. The latter is going strong, of course, but the other two...

We know about the third-person CoD title that's coming and suddenly, we see all those "Hero" spin-offs dancing before our eyes. Over-saturation. It's a term we've heard often enough before. And even though it's almost impossible to imagine the all-powerful, borderline omnipotent Call of Duty series declining significantly, nothing is impossible. Activision seems to know only one form of progression, and that involves jamming its successful products down our throats on a routine basis. It's a standard marketing practice, of course, but might the annual-ization of their cash cows prove destructive in the future?

The creative process requires time and refinement, even if the studio in question is utilizing tried-and-true formulas and existing pieces of technology. And last we checked, gamers do demand quality.. Yes, that includes the CoD crowd, believe it or not.

Tags: activision, annual sequels, gaming industry, call of duty

9/13/2011 9:10:51 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (29 posts)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 9:48:08 PM

I fail to understand how someone can buy the same game every year. If I am going to enjoy a FPS I expect the game to have time to grow and expand as a community.

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Nas Is Like
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 10:46:45 PM

"I fail"

"If I am"

"I expect"

Maybe you should stop viewing things from just a single perspective and view them from the perspective of other gamers as well. Not everyone is like you, but I don't think you fully get that.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:50:40 PM

How about since you seem to know why people buy the same damn game every year you explain to me why.

How exactly am I viewing this from a single perspective? Also never have I said everyone has to have the same tastes as me but that doesn't justify nor explain people wanting below average products when there are better products on the market.

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Nas Is Like
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 12:26:45 AM

Because it's not the same game. For someone who really hates on the series you sure are good at acting like you know something about it. When you really don't.

And people have different opinions. Just because you think and say there is a better product on the market out there, doesn't make it so. So get over it.

I don't think I've ever seen anyone on this forum say that Modern Warfare is the best product on the market or is better than Battlefield 3, you're really the only one. I prefer the Modern Warfare series because they're more fun to me, but I have never stated which game was better. I'm not egotistical like that. The sooner you expand your closed and ignorant mind, the more healthy discussions we will be able to have in the future.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 12:43:38 AM

I've played both MW and MW2 and hated both of them. The auto aim, repetitive gameplay, the 5hr SP campaign, the MP bugs that result in cheating galore, and the style of shooting that allows for anyone with 2 hands to master the game within days makes the entire series a complete joke.

Please explain to me how MW3 is not the same game, and don't tell me it has a new story for the SP portion. 99.9% of the people buying the game couldn't give 2$hits about the SP.

The MW series is not helping the gaming industry. Do you really think it's good for an average quality game to be this successful? Trends like this lead to the lowering of standards (evidently something you've already done). It doesn't require an egotistic frame of mind to know some things are better.

Just because you like Back to the Future3 more than Goodfellas does not make Back to the Future3 a better movie. So go ahead and enjoy the game, I'm not telling you that you can't but don't defend it as if it's actually a great game.

Last edited by LimitedVertigo on 9/14/2011 12:44:27 AM

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 12:43:47 AM

Totally agree with you on this one Limited Vertigo.

@Nas Is like

I think what LV is trying to express is his incredulity at the very thought of people buying what is essentially the same game on a yearly basis. How can a few extra bells and whistles justify a 60 dollar purchase? To someone who hasn't derived a significant amount of fun from the experience, it just seems downright silly. But then again as you said people have different tastes, and it must be the case that COD has provided you with hours of entertainment for you to buy MW3.

People have fights because their experience of the world is different.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 9:19:19 AM

Well, I`ve played CoD4, and I`ve platinumed MW2 and Black Ops. According to the online part, I`ve played a weeks worth of black ops, and 3 weeks worth of MW2.

I think I`ve played it enough (since it`s all my friends like) to formulate an opinion.

And to me... it`s the exact same game with a few tweaks... none of which seem to fix the actual flaws.

I think you are over-reacting to LV. He`s done nothing wrong. It`s not like he has insulted your firstborn or that firstborn`s mother.

Last edited by Underdog15 on 9/14/2011 9:22:15 AM

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 5:38:05 PM

@ Nas Is Like,

im not even gonna mention your slating against LV, because it was kind of untrue. He's hardly being egotistical, he's saying people are buying the same game essentially year after year.

and as someone who has played MW for several weeks worth of game time, prestiged three times in MW2 and played enough blops to know something about it, i CAN talk about it then. and frankly aside from the fact, there are some new maps and guns, honestly it is the same game every year. You could add the differences between MW2 and BLOPS mutliplayer via a DLC patch.

heck, criterion would've, burnout paradise was awesome!

as for the SP, i dont know about Blops, didnt play it, but the trailer showed it could have been good, but it seemed unlikely, the story of MW series has been uncohesive, farely bare and frankly not much of a story. Not even a single proper cutscene. I didnt know why i was really shooting people most of the time, except because they were shooting back. To compare it to uncharted would be stupid, but even to something like killzone, killzone's story was far more comprehensible. Mirror's edge, too. And considering the profits, you think COD would at least show some signs of actual progression.
Its not a bad game, before you bite my head off. I found it fun enough to keep playing. Didnt buy blops tho because i wasnt gonna spend another 45 quid on something i essentially already had.

It's ludicrous that COD shows pretty much no progression every year and yet still act like its a whole new game.

Last edited by Zorigo on 9/14/2011 5:40:59 PM

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 10:07:14 PM

I've been following MW3 and I must say that I believe Robert Bowling is really trying to innovate the series. In one interview he said that he wants to maximize the single player experience. Hopefully he isn't just blowing smoke when he says this. Also, he's been talking about really trying to balance the MP. The killstreak system is changed to try and promote teamwork over being the lone wolf.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 @ 1:15:35 AM

If they did maximize the SP I would give it a shot. I had MW1 for a while, and the only thing that dissappointed me was the length of the campaign.

The C-130 gunship blew my forking mind!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 10:28:58 PM

If this were true, shouldn't the sports game publishers have taken a bit of a hit a decade or so ago?

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Sunday, September 18, 2011 @ 8:18:59 PM

I think sports games have got a short while left with the yearly releases before they slow down. The excuse is always, in the past anyway, that it's a new season(esp for fifa,PES, Madden etc)with new teams/players/leagues /kits and all the roster changes and so on. this, while most consoles stayed offline was nearly enough-they would all compete with each other(where there's a PES/Fifa kind of rivalry anyway)and tweak their gameplay a little but basically , to this day, when there's not an engine or generation change they've been justifying the new game more by season than by improvements.

Anyway, I feel it's leading to a by product that, with the patching freely available to pretty much any console and PC gamer, is totally avoidable but pretty annoying.:we have to re-learn a game EVERY year cos of the little tweaks because they now know they have to do a little more than just a kit/player roster and team/stat update to justify a yearly full retail game. So, not only are we paying full for the same game(near as dammit) but, also, one with just enough nuanced changes to make playing each other and re-learning controls tweaked for sales own sake. It can't feel good if you work on the games either, can it?

I think, soon, we'll have enough of it and see EA(probably, imho)investigate yearly DLC and bi-annual "full" fames with appreciable, sensible and necessary evolutionary game changes. They could even market the "off" year DLC on disc at a lower price and put on SP patches for offline gamers etc and please pretty much EVERY sports gamer out there while the reduced costs would allow equal profits and a better product allowed to be played for a decent time while the creative devs have a decent time to evolve the games rather than "find" the changes they must to make us feel a new game's worth buying at full retail every year.

I just think it's a better way for each-gamer and developer-while also seeing NO reason it can't be an equally profitable model as well as better for gamers, developers and games themselves so publishers should be able to love it too!

FPS is different with the current explosion in online play but, personally, I find it telling that I STILL prefer COD4 to any that followed in the series because, even today, I feel it's the most balanced in the series and is also the height of the series SP efforts with some amazing campaign levels. It's similar to sports games now as a lot of people play them online out of choice but the pressure on devs is different with SP shooters needing story and longer dev time and expense. We may see a further widening between on and offline shooters, imho, before Acti kill a golden goose with the COD name.Map packs, zombie packs and so on make relatively cheap DLC already and moves are afoot to make the meta game ever more important.

I think Acti are now aware there's a place where the series is not going to be able to stick to formula and stay SO bif and are trying a lot of stuff in future and I, personally, feel, we'll see a division of the SP and MP game parts in the middle future and definitely next gen. If publishers expect gamers to swallow paying for unfinished games(Bethesda)just cos they know they can patch why should we let them have it all ways up and sell us tweaked rather than redeveloped MP and short, silly SP campaigns just to maintain this yearly release schedule? I think it's at the edge now, is a pain for them(Acti etc) and, hopefully, there's a better way forwards for all of us whether we love or hate COD/SP/MP?whatever!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 10:30:26 PM

If someone wants to see how a game should grow over two years, he or she should look at Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2. Mw3 is a joke.In fact, it wouldn't suprise me if IW spent 6 months developing the game then spent the remaining 18 months printing the 20-30 million discs.

I can't believe people will let themselves get scammed again. It is funny because when a new COD is about to come out people talk about how great it will be. They praise it like it is bread. Then 5 months later, nobody talks about it. When BO came out, 95% of my friends were playing it. However, ever since the end of this spring, I have noticed that on average 5 out of 24 friends play it. The same thing happened with World at War, and Modern Warfare 2. Despite this, those same people are still going to buy MW3. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Last edited by Bugzbunny109 on 9/13/2011 10:33:55 PM

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:05:38 PM

Eh, LucasArts has no room to talk about anything until they give us Battlefront 3 ;) Best star wars series ever and only game I truly enjoyed from then, since the ps2 era.

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Nas Is Like
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:25:46 PM

Fully agreed. I'm still pissed we don't have a Battlefront 3 yet. It should've been out in 2008 or 2009.

F--- you, George Lucas.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 1:04:20 AM

Battlefront was/is some of the best FPS shooting available. As much as I'd love to see Battlefront 3, I don't see it happening anytime soon. And it's really not needed since there's a really well made total conversion mod for the PC version of CoD4 that essentially makes it Battlefront 3.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:37:38 PM

No thank-you Activision... your brains need modernisation...

Battlefield all the way!



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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:42:51 PM

From the desk of Andrew Ryan:

"A man chooses, a slave obeys."

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011 @ 11:51:16 PM


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 2:35:13 AM

I'm one of those millions of people who love the fact we get the same game with different maps every year - you know why? Because I freakin loved COD4 - it was the game that got me back into gaming after a 20 year lay off (and things changed since my Atari 2600 days) I love the fact I instantly know how to play each COD game - I know the controls - as do the other 40 year olds I play with. Its COD4 with new maps every year - and millions of us, young and old love that. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT DONT PLAY IT - BUT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE STOP WHINING ABOUT IT.

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PSN French
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 2:58:32 AM

...and developers put sequels to Heavy Rain, Heavenly Sword, L.A. Noire, and other artistic risks on the back burner to sell you a few new maps for $60. It can be said that the avid CoD player is indirectly ruining the industry. Developers go where the money is... which is why Hollywood has sucked so bad for the last 15-20 years. Forgive true gamers for defending their hobby.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 @ 9:40:07 AM

No one is hating, dude. Some gamers love diversity, and what PSN French says is true. Developers do go where the money is, and I believe we are already seeing the effects of a lack of diversity on main consoles. Anything risky is only released via PSN or XBOXlive Marketplace.

Even if the mechanic stays the same, and it should for the most part within a franchise, there still needs to be improvements. Many of the flaws like host migration, hit detection (especially in regards to explosions), and locked-in animations continue to exist from sequel to sequel. Not only that, but after these games are released, there is next to no support from the developer. Which is especially strange for one that prides itself on it's longevity due to online multiplayer.

What is particularly frustrating to many of us, is that despite huge budgets to work from, CoD still lacks the quality assurance it should always have. Smaller budgets manage to make air tight games all the time. I'm not talking about graphics or anything like that. I'm talking about the little things that SHOULD be fixed to allow the game to run smoothly.

Additionally, many gamers appreciate SP far more than MP, and it's a shame that the SP focus seems to have fallen by the wayside. In fact, Activision almost talks exclusively about it's multiplayer.

It's great that you love it, but consumers are meant to have a voice. There's nothing wrong with gamers voicing their issues with a particular product. I know I, for one, will jump on board the CoD train the second necessary improvements are made. However, I'm extremely skeptical this will happen.

Last edited by Underdog15 on 9/15/2011 9:42:21 AM

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Sunday, September 18, 2011 @ 8:26:48 PM

I still think the biggest industry joke is COD being P2P on HD consoles even today. Warhawk managed to have dedicated servers so, surely, the biggest and simplest series improvement in MP is within the financial means of COD, no?

What you're, also, asking for, UlsterScot, is to BE ripped off because I just don't think there's any need to release yearly OR deprive you of maps while the way it's done now all gamers, to an extent, lose out. You could still have the yearly maps without the yearly, rushed SP elements, you know?DLC is already a big player-why not extend THAT and allow devs extra time? There's other ways which wouldn't stifle so much. That's what I'd like to see anyway.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 5:25:10 AM

yes developers do have ample time to develop the games 2 years is plenty!
besides COD what other games do antivision release anally?
if anything its EAs kryptonite because there the ones releasing fifa, madden yearly with nothing but small changes!
downloaded the fifa demo yesterday and cancelled my preorder for it, it looks almost exactly the same as last years game!
why am i paying 120 bucks for last years title?

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 9:48:26 AM

@ Lv
I completely agree with you.


If you polish a turd guess what its still a turd. The Cod franchise has no ingenui ty at all. The Mp is run by a p2p server which is where the bs begins, then there's the camping and the glitches that ruins the experience. Battlefield for that matter has evolved with its ingenuity. Having more than a year to work on a title will help it.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 11:43:47 AM

Sorry NAS, but I also agree with LimitedVertigo and Underdog. I don't see any changes in the MW franchise that warrants another $60 installment. Only small tweaks and new maps, why not just put out a patch to add to the existing game as a $20 download?

For me, it falls along the same lines as the complaints with the Madden series - just give me a download to update rosters if your not going to add any value to the game in the next installment.

And for the record, I totally think that Activision killed the Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk franchises with annual releases.

It's all about QUALITY, not quantity, Activision.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 @ 12:33:27 PM

Over saturation and mental fatigue.

Seriously with a constant churn of variants, spin-offs and annual versions people can quickly tire of a game simply because it's always in their face.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 @ 3:00:11 AM

and yet it continues to be the most fun game in existence - as evidenced by the sales figures - which must really chafe all you haters. It might not be graphically brilliant, intellectually stimulating etc etc - COD sells bazillions purely because its so much FUN

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 @ 9:32:17 AM

Who's "hating"? Not everyone finds it fun, as is also shown by the sales figures. Otherwise, there would be over 100million copies of the game sold. But there aren't. The ratio of a single CoD game to systems bought is only 1:5. That means only roughly 20% of gamers think it's fun enough to buy.

From what I've read, there are no "haters". There are merely people who don't get the hype and state why they feel that way. If anyone is being judgmental, it's you criticizing them for finding flaws in a game you love. It may be fun, but it's not fair to pretend it's without flaws. Some of those flaws are enough to grate on the nerves of even the most patient of players.

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