Annualized Video Game Franchises: Bad Idea?

Annualized Video Game Franchises: Bad Idea?

It’s strange to think that two video game franchises based on war are being maneuvered like actual soldiers by the companies that publish them. Activision and EA are circling each other, each one seeking to outdo the other’s war games. Their next big bout is already written in the stars: EA is counting on Battlefield 3 to out-do Activision’s gargantuan hit, Call of Duty: Black Ops, this fall.

If Battlefield 3 does indeed fill Call of Duty with bullet holes by winter, Mike Hickey, an analyst with Janco Parnters, believes that we may see yearly Battlefield releases.

“We suspect [EA] could release a Battlefield franchise game annually, switching between Battlefield and [Battlefield]: Bad Company 2 versions,” he said, “similar to how Activision manages their Call of Duty franchise.”

The development of the Call of Duty games alternates between Treyarch and Infinity Ward, two subsidiaries of Activision. 2010’s Call of Duty: Black Ops, developed by Treyarch, was a huge success, topping off nearly a decade of yearly Call of Duty releases. But does Activision’s success story justify yearly releases for EA’s Battlefield games?

At a glance, it seems foolish to warn against the same formula that brought Activision success just last winter, but in the long term, yearly game releases in a single franchise are not a good way to go, especially if said titles are destined for brick-and-mortar retail. Alternating game development between different studios is a decent way to keep fresh ideas flowing into an old name, but a certain level of consistency needs to be present or else the fanbase will feel alienated.

With that in mind, year after year of Battlefield games will dilute the experience. Anticipation for Battlefield 3 is currently high; people are interested to see how EA will follow up Activision’s big show. If the two companies parade one title after another, it’s not going to see those impressive preorder numbers for very long.

The rise of the digital market has also made us wary about paying full retail prices for games that would have worked just as well as downloadable titles or expansion packs. In particular, the death of Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise has made us a bit cynical about coughing up a big sum for what we perceive as minimal new content.

It’s still a good idea for EA to alternate the studios working on Battlefield games, but releasing those games year-by-year would turn the franchise into a muddled mess of indistinguishable titles. It’s questionable if a year is even enough time for developers to communicate about what didn’t work in the previously-released installment of the game, and rework the content as necessary.

But with EA’s recent drive to cut down its retail presence, we probably won’t be seeing a mountain of Battlefield games–at least, not on store shelves. As for shifting the Battlefield solely to the digital market, that remains to be seen.

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.

1 Comments

  1. Late comment but:

    a) I hope not.

    b) There are two very well defined streams here. Battlefield has always been optimised for the PC where as Bad Company is optimised for consoles. Battlefield 3 marks the first time the pure BF has been brought to the console owners.

    I am hoping that outside of additional add-ons that they keep away from the yearly release cycle that has hammered away at the quality of the CoD series lately. Though sadly I can’t see EA taking a long term view on a huge money spinner like the BF series (esp. with the frenzy currently surround BF3).

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