Keeping Old Franchises Young
Classic franchises still need new ideas to remain successful
One of the most common trends we’ve seen in recent years is the idea of releasing (or re-releasing) games that belong to old franchises. It’s a tried and true concept, especially if said franchise has a faithful following — and it can prove to be an effective and efficient way of making good money. I mean, let’s face it: when fans see the faces of their favourite characters in a sparkling new trailer at a big press event, they go berserk. Mass conversations then flare up online and pre-orders go crazy. It doesn’t take much, sometimes. In fact, the older/more established a big franchise is, the better the odds are it’ll sell in high numbers to an eager fanbase.
But this approach can be a double-edged sword. It can be tempting for a developer or publisher to assume that success follows success — that is, the power of a franchise’s name alone will be enough to drive high sales. The important piece that’s often missed here is the idea that longstanding and highly-successful franchises are often carefully nurtured over the duration of their life. To put it another way: developers should never take these big names for granted, especially if this means skimping in any way on the quality of the product. I would argue that numerous titles fly under the radar in terms of poor quality simply because they are associated with top-tier franchise names — had they launched with a new branding of their own, I doubt they’d have independently survived.
What does it actually mean, though, to maintain quality in a long-running franchise? It’s not just about polish. It may seem ironic, but one of the key ingredients that keeps certain franchises highly successful over many iterations is that the developers continually introduce new ideas to keep fans engaged. In other words, they don’t merely rely on the franchise name and branding — they instead consider how to push each iteration of the experience forward in some meaningful way.
There are plenty of great examples of this approach. God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and The Last of Us immediately come to mind. Consider all of these franchises and their various iterations and you’ll notice that in every single case, the developers haven’t ever rested on their laurels; they have continually strived to inject innovation and change into these series to keep them relevant and interesting.
It is also worth considering games that are attached to either anime or movie franchises. Many of these — famously — end up being quickly forgotten (if they rate a mention at all). And yet there are exceptions here. Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 and Dragon Ball FighterZ are two obvious examples. The former offered a fulfilling and believable story mode and gave players a huge roster of playable characters (resulting in great replayability). The latter was incredibly faithful to the source material in terms of its animation, and its challenging gameplay was approachable yet exhibited incredible depth. There are less stellar examples, like Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. It featured a series of (admittedly impressive) cut scenes that barely aligned with the original story due to technological limitations. This combined with a subpar battle system that couldn’t decide on whether it was an RPG or a fighting game, and was topped off with a bunch of hollow subquests. It didn’t help that the game lacked polish. This is a pretty clear example of a case where reliance on the franchise name — without really investing in building a uniquely interesting, compelling experience underneath that — doesn’t work.
It’s not just that an individual “bad” game may not sell. The implications are far broader: there’s a risk of doing damage to the franchise itself over time. Consumers tend to remember being burned by a purchase; and as we all know, it’s very easy to burn a consumer and very challenging to win back their trust.