I’m not mad. I’m just stating a fact. There is no such thing as Far Cry 3. In fact while we’re at it, there’s no such thing as Far Cry 2 either, or Command and Conquer: Generals. If we want to be old school we can also deny the existence of Grandia 2.
Why? Well… what is the definition of a sequel? The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the next installment (as of a speech or story); especially: a literary, cinematic, or televised work continuing the course of a story begun in a preceding one”, for argument’s sake we’ll throw video games in there too. Therefore, to be a sequel, a work must continue the story, just as a prequel gives back-story. It’s not about the title, it’s about the content.
In fairness, in the case of video games, this rule may be somewhat stretched. The Final Fantasy games don’t continue a story, nor do the Grand Theft Auto Games. They do, however, carry a lot of themes across. The game mechanics remain the same throughout. The game universe remains the same.
On the other hand, Far Cry (Spoiler alert) is about one man who is stranded on an island fighting mercenaries. One thing leads to another and he winds up fighting mutants in one of the strangest plot twists in modern gaming. Far Cry 2 is about a mercenary who is contracted to kill an arms dealer in Africa. Whilst pursuing the jackal, the mercenary contracts malaria and must find a cure. Far Cry 3, on the other hand, is about a man who is stranded on an island full of people crazed by the T-virus.
So why do games developers make sequels that have nothing in common with their predecessors? The answer is they don’t. They make a Command and Conquer and then go to work on a different game, which publishers then elect to call Command and Conquer because it’s a recognised brand. It’s a quick and easy way to make sure the public recognises your new game. Everyone who played GreatGame 1 will recognise GreatGame 2 immediately, whereas NewGame 1 won’t provoke the same response. I’m not saying Far Cry 3 will be a bad game, it just shouldn’t be called Far Cry.
This is why one of the biggest concerns for the industry is the lack of confidence publishers have in developers. Recycling a name is a way of saying “We don’t trust you to make a top-selling game, so we’re reusing a name to get consumers to buy it.” Would this not have a demoralising effect on developers?
There is certainly evidence of a divide between publishers and developers, even under the same roof. Bethesda Softworks (Publisher) sued the creator of Minecraft, Notch, whilst Bethesda Game Studios (Developer) actually created an in-game item named after Notch. I only bring this example up to show how separate a publisher can be from a developer.
Interestingly, Crytek developed Far Cry and Ubisoft published it. Then, Ubisoft developed and published Far Cry 2 themselves and will do the same for Far Cry 3. So why are they using the brand name from a different developer? I can’t think of any answer other than marketing, which is a covert way of saying money. Obviously every company wants to profit, but it’s like rebooting Spiderman every couple of years. Your audience will get fed up, and you won’t be able to win that trust back.
Making a sequel should not consist of adding a number onto a previous best-seller. Making a sequel should be about telling a story (Dragon Age), creating a universe (The Elder Scrolls) or giving the player a consistent challenge (Left 4 Dead). It takes a lot of effort and creativity to make a game, games developers usually work 10-12 hours days, 6 days a week when in the final stages of production. I’ll go out on a limb and say they’re not putting themselves through that just for money. They’re doing it because it’s their passion and they want their project to be finished. Ask John Romero (Doom, Quake), a guy who risked his entire career for the pursuit of a freely creative games studio; Ion Storm gave us Deus Ex. Gabe Newell left a million-pound job at Microsoft to develop Valve; they gave us Half-Life and Steam. Games developers give a shit.
Publishers should trust their audiences and developers. People will buy a game they like regardless of its name. Developers want to make good games, give them freedom and don’t recycle brand names. With the immense popularity of online distribution and a surge in indie game sales, the buyer has never had as much power as now. Publishers can fight this, or they can embrace it. One of the most popular games available is DayZ, a free mod for Arma II. It is not a sequel to anything and does not pretend to be. People played it, enjoyed it and told their friends to play it too.
It’s a sad fact that the vast majority of Hollywood releases are sequels, remakes, reboots or reimaginings of previous films. If game publishers continue a similar vein, people like Gabe Newell will become exceptions to the rule. It is a worry that Half-Life, Portal, Mirror’s Edge, Team Fortress and Left 4 Dead all came from one company. That company isn’t doing too badly.