Link to blog post
The balance between pleasing the hardcore and expanding the franchise is a really interesting one that you see in a lot of games. (i.e. Halo 4) I also think this is why new IP is so embraced; with no established fan base you can essentially please everybody as there is not right way or wrong way to making your game.
Here’s the problem with video game sequels, as opposed to linear/film ones.
In a game, the users are used to the cadence of the experience. However airtight each game mechanic is. They are, quite literally, learning a new “language” with each new game that they’ve never laid their hands on before. (Case in point: From Gears 1 to Gears 2 we changed the firing speed of the shotgun by 50ms. Barely the blink of an eye for most people. However the die hard fans who loved that weapon felt it immediately. You can’t fool them. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.)
In a sense, if they like the game, they’re experiencing what is most likely the mental equivalent of falling in love while under duress. They’re discovering a whole new world of mechanics, characters, sounds, musical themes. If they love what they’re interacting with then that love runs EXTREMELY deep and is a very powerful thing. Think about your first visit to Rapture, or the Mushroom Kingdom, or Hyrule.
Now, remember, that a great video game often takes years to produce. So the time between your first experience with the original and the long awaited sequel can feel like forever. You read every preview. You salivate over every screenshot. You hear scary rumors, about how character X may die, or weapon Y may fire differently, but you attempt to have faith in the developer. (Now, imagine the pressure that the folks at 343 had taking over the reigns of the Halo franchise from Bungie…no pressure.)
I like to cite the example from the TV show “The Sopranos” now about Tony’s mother and her relationship with Tony’s dad. By all accounts, Tony’s father was a bad man, a criminal who, like Tony, wasn’t a very good husband and father. However, upon watching the first two seasons of that show you see Tony’s mother Livia as she recalls her relationship with the guy as if he was perfect. “He was a saint.”
No, he wasn’t a saint, you’re just remembering the highs. It’s the same reason why one of the most powerful spam/malware attractors on the Internet are “What’s your ex doing now?” Because when you break up with someone you romanticize the highs, the sweet sweet moments when you fell for that person, not the lows, the horrid moments when you knew this person wasn’t right for you.
Now, by all accounts, a sequel is usually a more refined experience. I’m going to let you in on a little development secret. The first features to often go into a sequel are the ones that we cut out of the first one. Shocking, I know, but towards the end of a development cycle a good producer knows to keep cutting in order to get the core of the title out the door. (Remember, this is a business.)
However, a refined experience isn’t always what the user wants. Sometimes they loved everything about that first game, the warts and all. Halo fans loved their overpowered pistol. Smoothing that out seemed to enrage them. Gears fans loved their overpowered shotgun. Quake 1 fans loved the One Rocket Launcher to Rule Them All. Then, in the sequel, when you take the balance to the virtual forge and iron out the impurities something can be lost.
(It’s the same problem that Top Gear has had with Lamborghini since Audi bought them.)
Then, we ultimately get to the sequel conundrum that I’ve mentioned in interviews before.
HARDCORE USERS claim they want the SAME EXACT GAME, only with upgraded graphics. Never mind the fact that one of the things they loved about the original was the clarity of experience, the clean, simple lines, the lack of business in the environment. Ignore the fact that you could have done that with some more DLC to keep their experience new and fresh. (That’s “nickel and diming” them.)
THE PRESS’s #1 question to any developer? “What’s new?” Their #2 question? “What’s changed?” And wait for it, because #3 is coming “How are you going to keep fans of the original happy?”
By and large these are conflicting goals. Making a sequel is an attempt to balance all of that.
But if you give the hardcore what they claim to want then the press respond “It’s just Game 1.5”
And then if you change it too much the hardcore will claim “you ruined it!” while the press might just give you accolades for a bold, fresh take.
That, my friends, is the sequel conundrum.
Thought this could spur some interesting discussion.