2016 saw the release of multiple game sequels – we had titles such as Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2, Watch Dogs 2 and Dead Rising 4, among others. These games all have something in common – none of them performed as well as their respective publishers initially projected.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts and figures: the sales for Dishonored 2 in the UK, as of 14th November, were 38% down from the original Dishonored during the same period. It should be noted that this doesn’t include digital sales, but it’s nevertheless a worryingly sharp decrease considering the critical reception for both titles was positive.
The week one sales for Watch Dogs 2 were estimated to be around 80K. The original title from Ubisoft sold a staggering 380K during the same period. Watch Dogs 2 certainly received higher praise than its older brother, but the sales figures didn’t reflect this in the slightest.
Titanfall 2 also suffered a similar fate – according to GameIndustry, the highly rated sequel sold “barely a quarter” of the numbers achieved by its predecessor, despite having the advantage of releasing on multiple platforms. The original was an Xbox One exclusive, though one could argue that the hype at the time for a new IP from the creators of Call of Duty certainly helped boost initial sales. Similarly, the timing of the release for Titanfall 2 was most unfortunate, arriving one week between the launches of fellow FPS juggernauts Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Nevertheless, franchise fatigue certainly seems to be seeping in for a lot of consumers. For a long time, there was a strong argument for the existence of sequels – throwing a number at the end of a title would pretty much guarantee boosted sales for the publisher. Gamers are getting more savvy though – after a number of embarrassing mishaps from numerous publishers, including games broken at launch and bizarre pre-order campaigns, folks are certainly more hesitant to throw their money down straight away. It doesn’t help matters when most AAA titles are released towards the end of the year, with the looming shadow of Black Friday preventing consumers from paying full price.
Some publishers are thankfully getting wise to the challenges ahead – the gaming community breathed a collective sigh of relief when Ubisoft decided to take a much needed break from the Assassin’s Creed franchise after its latest release, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, failed to put the series back on track after the disastrous release of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Perhaps the issue stems not from the over saturation of a particular brand itself, but its publisher’s inability to treat its fan base with enough respect. Ubisoft stumbled with the launch of both Unity and the original Watch Dogs, over promising things that couldn’t be delivered on and ultimately leaving fans with a sour taste in their mouths. Gamers are not quick to forget, and if pushed they will gladly vote with their wallets.
The digital indie market is also providing a million and one different distractions, with break out hits in 2016 such as Inside, Abzu and Stardew Valley proving that new, fresh ideas are exactly what a lot of consumers are after. This mentality is also seeping into the AAA space – after yearly iterations of the same franchises providing little more than minor tweaks to the tried and tested gameplay formula, gamers are itching to get their hands on games that will provide a different experience. 2017 will see new IPs such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Yooka-Laylee, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of these titles succeed in a way that so many releases failed to do this year.
Which will of course turn them into franchises, and so the cycle will no doubt continue.
Ultimately though, we’re starting to see a shift in behaviour towards the AAA gaming scene as we head into 2017. Yes, there are still many sequels planned for various franchises going forward, but with the apparent failure of so many titles in 2016, publishers will undoubtedly take notice and take a bit more care with how they handle their important IPs in the future. You can forget about Titanfall 3 for a start – that’s just not going to happen, no matter what EA say.