Opinion: Annual Releases are Good for the Industry
Annual releases has been the hot-topic for every budding gamer for the past few years and it is often brought up as something detrimental or as something that hurts the industry. I am here to argue the opposite side of the coin. This viewpoint may indeed be controversial but it is not a foolish one; whilst top quality games are most certainly produced over a three to four year period there are several that are produced on a yearly basis.
The Call of Duty series has been a poster child for annual releases, for better or for worse. Whilst two development companies alternate work on two separate projects the idea is effectively the same with the shooter coming out every November- in some shape or form, come rain or shine. I implore the readers to ask: when has top-quality gaming (regardless of your opinion on the series it still falls in to the ‘playable’ category) been a bad thing for the industry?
Yearly releases may grate for some with the same- ironically- tired excuse being dragged out every 12 months about how Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden, Assassins’ Creed etc offering up the same formula year upon year. Now think to how many games with far longer times in development shake things up. There aren’t many. The Legend of Zelda is widely acclaimed- for good reason- but when you look at it objectively it is the same tried and tested formula which Nintendo manipulates in to a new game. When you look at it cynically they have put a new coat of paint on every Zelda game for the last twenty-odd years and watched the money roll in.
Why are long cycles required anymore? We are in to the fifth and sixth years of the current generation so why should we, as consumers, expect to wait for half of that for developers to get to grips with a new piece of hardware? The size of teams such as the developers of the Assassins’ Creed series proved that good, quality annual releases can be done with a large team. They recognised this and tripled their development team from the first game to the second. No mean feat but hardly an impossible task for behemoths of the gaming world such as EA and Activision. They have thrown their weight around and managed to compile a team that has produced great games year upon year with the FIFA series being an example that annual releases can mean revolution just as much evolution.
Since, say, 2000, we as gamers have come to expect far more from this industry. What was once a bedroom-dwelling past time has become a cacophony of lights, glamour and all round razzmatazz to ensure the typical man in the street picks up the latest game. This has accelerated our desires for better games, far more quickly. Technology evolves so fast now with websites such as Twitter and YouTube dissecting every minute detail of every game from stage one of the rumours until the release date that it has now become the norm for gamers to expect games much more quickly. Long labours of love are scarcely recognised for their long development time and often shape up to be an apropos of nothing when it comes to game sales. A game that comes out every year, like clockwork, is better suited for success due to its brand identity and relevance. Just look at the sales for annual franchises and compare them to long-standing games like Uncharted. The casual gamer is more likely to pick up a game that they see regularly every autumn that one that is sporadically on the shelves.
Even through all the debate and reasoning it still remains to be seen why there is such a furor over a non-issue. Is a year not enough time to save up for one more release? If you don’t like a game that much then you don’t have to buy it. It’s not as if other industries pull the same thing. Oh wait, they do. Apple are the most prominent serial ‘offenders’ yet they are paraded around as the beacon of hope and creativity in the free world. That isn’t even touching on the new, updated models of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, kitchen sinks, fridge magnets and anything else that can be rebranded ad infinitum. Games need to come around once a year for regular updates and the things I listed above genuinely don’t need updating (bar kitchen sinks- they need to be fully upgraded. Remember kids: a faulty kitchen sink costs lives) because they are fashion accessories at absolute best and, unless you are a complete tool who would rather cut out their own windpipe than go without the latest iProduct then you don’t deserve a place amongst the living.
The majority of games that receive ire are shooters. Battlefield and Call of Duty receive the most flak but I feel that criticisms levelled at the game come from the core beliefs of the average internet gamer that shooters are bad and must be destroyed. When anyone brings the yearly debate in to focus Call of Duty is always a prime candidate for comments but why not FIFA, Madden or NBA? Speaking of the NBA 2K series, 2K Games have churned out two games widely perceived to be the best of their kind two years running because they are a studio at the top of the game. It is not the release date we should be talking about when it comes to this debate but the people behind them. Back from my tangent- sports games are beacons of hope for my argument; sports games get away with it year after year by producing good quality games that don’t just amount to roster updates. Many other games do this too yet they aren’t the ones that receive the abuse on messageboards across the internet. Annual releases are downright essential for sports games, a roster update released as DLC on an aging engine would only satiate a few and it would ultimately prove a catalyst for the death knell of physical discs as we know it- hardly a good thing.
I know my argument hasn’t exactly been balanced but there is certainly repetition and mediocrity amongst the annual release games. Assassins’ Creed Revelations, arguably, has spoilt what was once a benchmark for the industry. This clamouring for something new has seen an unprecedented upsurge in gaming in the past few years. Would game developers have taken risks on Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Flower or any other acclaimed indie game you care to mention if people had just stuck to the same formula? The answer is a definitive no so whilst there are certainly more good points that bad points to annual releases it also make indie games far more profitable and viable.
To summarise, the industry is changing at a far quicker rate than at any other point and this is fueled by consumer demand, too. More games at a faster pace has never been a bad thing. We all want top quality games to pop in to our consoles and PCs so the school of thought that annual releases are detrimental to the industry is an asinine one. Other industries shamelessly pull out minor upgrades to much fanfare yet it is a cardinal sin in gaming. Innovation is rare in gaming now; Call of Duty doesn’t innovate but it sure as hell is a quality game- the release date shouldn’t matter.
Once every four years, once every two years or once every year; gaming is gaming and it shouldn’t matter when we get the next iteration in a series just as long as there is a demand for it.