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With widely-held expectations that Microsoft and Sony will release next-gen consoles in 2013, the year will mark the beginning of the new console cycle. As such, most publishers are likely to take a more cautious approach to new IP, with new titles likely to be withheld for the next generation consoles. Much like 2012’s FIFA and Assassins Creed releases, the most anticipated new games of this year will, with some exceptions, be a continuation of an already successful franchise.

In the first of two articles, Euromonitor International explores the underlying problem long running franchises can face, as well as the strategies that developers will use to keep their direct sequels interesting. In the second article we will examine new methods, such as prequels and reboots, and new IPs for some of the other big releases of 2013.

Tired and fickle gamers

One of the growing problems that some long-running franchises run into is the issue of franchise fatigue. For games that rely on an established core audience, the simplest commercial solution from the publisher appears to be to simply keep going, but there is a considerable risk of public backlash against a poorly developed additional story – especially when it fails to meet the expectations of previous instalments.

For example, Mass Effect 3 became a widely circulated title in 2012, with many fans immensely disappointed with the ending of the series, even leading to Electronic Arts being voted the worst company in America in The Consumerist. Resident Evil 6 has also failed to fully live up to the company’s sales expectations, and some blame negative critical response to the fragmented story and gameplay changes that made the game seem conventional. With that in mind, here is what some publishers will be doing to keep their franchises fresh for gamers.

Sequels lead the way

To keep the upcoming sequels from feeling stale, one method that will be employed by publishers (especially ones that have franchises that span multiple decades and consoles) will be to focus on new or additional game play mechanics while making the story line unconnected to previous titles.

Grand Theft Auto V is incredibly likely to be the most successful title of the year as the previous installment made more than US$500 million in its first week and has sold well over 20 million copies to date, according to Take-Two Interactive. It’s launch date has been pushed from “Spring 2013” to September 17 and the game will continue the tradition of remaining in the same physical universe of the previous games, but with entirely new main characters and a story that does not stem directly from any previous games. Further, to keep the gameplay itself from feeling too repetitive, Grand Theft Auto V will introduce the ability to switch between three characters and will be set in one of Rockstar’s largest open world environments to date.

Grand Theft Auto V

Photo courtesy of Flickr-David Schexnaydre

Other likely successful titles for 2013, such as Bioshock: Infinite and Pokémon X and Y, will make use of the same method of moving to different areas of a single or similar universe, but the main story will be largely unconnected from previous story lines. Characters and events from previous games may be mentioned, but will likely have little impact on the narrative. Much like Grand Theft Auto V, these games will also introduce new gameplay mechanics to keep players of previous titles interested. Bioshock: Infinite will introduce an immense new environment and Pokémon X and Y will be the first game of the main series rendered in fully polygonal 3D graphics.

Dead Space 3, Crysis 3,and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm are all titles expected to do very well in 2013 due to the success of previous entries, with plots that pick up from near the end of the previous instalment, though perhaps from a different perspective. Publishers of these franchises, Electronic Arts and Blizzard Entertainment, will not want to ignore consumers that may not have played the previous titles. To this end, it is very likely that previous instalments of these games will be made available on Steam or other online stores at a substantially reduced price before or at the time of release of the new game.

The new console effect

Most new video game releases this year will face the challenge of keeping gamers interested in franchises that, in many instances, are older than the gamers themselves. Added to this, the impending new console releases may cause many consumers to be more conservative in their game-buying habits, in order to save up for the new systems. These new games will therefore need to work even harder, introducing new features and innovative story content, to keep gamers interested and maintain their previous titles’ strong sales figures.

However, there is more to expect from publishers than just direct sequels in 2013, which we will analyse in the next article.

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