New Game+: The revival of a video game franchise

February 17, 2012

Video game franchises come and go all of the time. To think, just three years ago the Guitar Hero brand was one of the biggest in the industry. In five years, even Call of Duty may not be as prominent as it used to be. We all expect the Marios and the Final Fantasys of the world to be around as long as video games are, but what about those franchises that don’t make it? It’s always nice to see them return, but is it always for the best?

I never thought I would see the day where there would be a brand new Twisted Metal game available, but here we are. The brand itself may not be as recognizable as it used to be, but for fans of the series back when it was big (like myself), there is always a reason to be excited when it makes a triumphant return. Of course, you can’t expect everyone who buys Twisted Metal to be one of the people who picked up the original PS1 game at launch, so you have to try and cater to two groups: those who were invested in the franchise, and those who are completely new to it.

That’s the tricky part: reviving a once-beloved (or perhaps not so beloved) franchise is one thing, but having to cater it to a new audience without alienating the old? It’s probably one of the hardest parts of the entire process. No matter what a team might do, some die-hard fans might attempt to pick it to pieces. The nature of today’s gaming culture gives everyone a voice, so developers will get feedback even if they don’t want it. This holds true for any upcoming game, but those that attempt to bring back a once-discarded brand might fall under extra scrutiny.

There are those companies that attempt to bring back a franchise with a fresh take in mind (or simply trying to appeal to what’s popular and slapping the name of an old franchise on it). Perhaps it’s unfair to say that the upcoming XCOM and Syndicate revivals are doing just that, but the outcry from fans isn’t entirely unjustified. It’s one thing to attempt to re-create a series for a new audience, it’s another to completely lose everything that made it great in the first place. Sure, unknowing fans might gravitate towards it just because it’s better than absolutely nothing, but what does that gain besides further scrutiny in the end?

That’s not to say I’m completely against those games (I’m a huge X-COM fan and I’m excited for the upcoming shooter), there just needs to be a better way to handle these resurrections. Going back to Twisted Metal, it was handled perfectly: the series’ original creator back on board, the gameplay looking reminiscent of what you would expect from that series and new elements being introduced that don’t seem out of place. Older fans, like myself, can see that the series’ roots are being respected, while people completely unfamiliar with the franchise could potentially be drawn in by a game that, to them, is unlike anything else popular on the market these days.

You can take a core idea that was at the heart of the franchise in the first place and expand on it successfully. You don’t need to scrap everything but the name, but if you do, at least give the fans something to work with. What are the key elements that make it a new game in that specific franchise? What can you identify that is unique and not hidden away by the new direction of the game/franchise? Even upon the initial reveal, these things are important to maintaining trust with those loyal fans who supported the franchise when it was once a big hit. Imagine if Call of Duty completely lost steam to the point where Activision retired it. Ten years later, they bring it back… but as an RTS. Longtime franchise supporters will be jumping for joy, I’m sure.

That begs the question: what is the point of reviving a franchise if you wish to change everything that made it successful in the first place? That specific genre might not be as popular as it used to be, but who’s to say it still can’t succeed?  If you’re going to take a chance on a franchise that completely burned out, why not try to stick to its roots? The name X-COM means pretty much nothing to a lot of gamers, yet there were still plenty of outcries when the FPS revival was announced. To the unaware, this is basically the same as revealing a new franchise, so the risk is the same. To the new fans, they might feel absolutely betrayed and feel no need to support it. In that case, who wins?

A game like the new Syndicate seems intriguing, but you could have called that game pretty much anything else and the sales numbers would have remained almost exactly the same. I doubt many old-school Syndicate fans are going to run out and purchase a game that doesn’t seem at all like the original. Did EA just see a list of licenses they owned and decide to start putting them to use again for no other reason? It’s always a good thing to see an old, cherished brand brought back into the spotlight, but the benefits are practically nonexistent.

So it comes down to this: there are two ways to revive a franchise. One is to bring it back just as you left it, attempting to maintain the heart and soul of it while also doing your best to try and draw in a new crowd. The other is to attempt to bring back the name, but have it be a completely new project, seemingly separated from what it was in the first place. Sure, there may be elements of what made it so great to begin with, but when you have to actively search for them, they might as well not even be there to begin with. It’s a fine line to walk, and sometimes publishers just ignore the line completely.