Why Do We Keep Buying Game Sequels?

Why Do We Keep Buying Game Sequels?

From game-related message boards and comment threads across the Internet, the message comes loud and clear: We need more original franchises. Developers are getting too comfortable falling back on familiar IPs.

And then we blow it all by buying seven million copies of Call of Duty: Blacks Ops on launch day. If we say we’re sick of sequels, why do we fall in love with them?

At the end of the day, there’s something to be said about the comfort of familiarity. At the Digital Interactive Gaming 2010 conference in London, Ontario, Jesse Divnich, the Vice President of Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR), discussed the power that brand equity commands in the games industry. Simply put, people will happily buy a sequel to a game they enjoyed, even if that sequel garners slightly lower ratings than its predecessor. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was a smash both critically and commercially, so it makes sense that Call of Duty: Black Ops would spur a whopping 4 million pre-orders.

“The truth is, once a high consumer promise is established for a brand, the equity built plays a persuasive role with consumers,” Divnich said. “As long as the slip on quality is not significant, sales are unlikely to be impacted as consumers are more forgiving.”

But, Divnich warns, even the influence that brand equity yields is finite. If consumers are burned by bad sequels once too often–as well may be the case for the Wii, which lost significant ground in 2010 partially because of a library that’s clogged with shovelware–they will turn their noses up at subsequent releases and take their money elsewhere.

Thus, sequels need to be carefully developed and released. Even if a follow-up garners decent scores from critics, consumers can still be hard to please.

“After a high consumer promise and strong brand equity is established, publishers often use secondary developers for the next iteration,” Divnich reported. “With the reuse of assets and lower development costs, publishers are able to generate greater profitability off the next iteration. The increase in profitability can then be used to fund the next iteration that will again re-establish that original high consumer promise, and grow the series.”

However, Divnich reminds consumers to think about the huge risk developers take with every release, and are usually aware that the brand name train can’t maintain its speed forever. “Consumers tend to forget the enormous amount of resources, risk, and difficulty of achieving a 90+ rated title, he said. “Often, publishers are willing to sacrifice significant profits in order to establish a high consumer promise and strong brand equity, so that future titles may focus on recovering those costs in order to continue to maintain a brand’s strong equity.”

It’s a delicate cycle that strives to balance customer satisfaction with profitability. And, for the most part, it’s effective–as long as equilibrium is maintained. Big name titles cost millions to produce, and that price tag is only going to keep climbing. Publishers like Activision will likely keep making with solid, dependable titles like Call of Duty games–but these releases probably won’t be paired with any kind of startling innovation in the near future.

So if you enjoy Call of Duty for what it is in the here and now, you’re in luck.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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