Are We Taking Too Much Franchise Ownership?

Like any other business, game development is all about the customer. Creating a product that will appeal to your customers and make them want to spend their hard earned money on your game. In an era where beta tests, demos and previews are a basic expectation, fans are having more and more input on the direction a new game takes during production – but is this such a good thing?

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use Halo as the prime example, being a franchise many of us know and love.

Many would rightly say that fan input can only be a good thing, after all, the fans are bound to know what they want. Reach’s Armor Lock wasn’t well received: this was evident in the feedback given, and so when it came to Halo 4, we didn’t have another Armor Lock. Sure, something like the Hardlight Shield was included to scratch that protective itch, but the issues with Armor Lock were resolved. If it weren’t for the fan feedback, we may have had a new iteration of Armor Lock in Halo 4.

Halo 5’s Beta has recently finished, and we’ve been presented with a selection of on-the-whole well received changes. All of these changes came directly from player feedback.

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Halo: CE has a place of pride in history, yet it’s probably the entry in the series with the least consumer input during development

 

However, perhaps feedback isn’t always productive. With the boom in social media use, we have so many channels through which to tell game developers what we do and don’t want from their next game. Trouble is, this doesn’t always promote creativity.

Halo: CE was entirely the brainchild of those at Bungie, no fans telling them what game to make, and the Halo formula worked. Sequels that followed initially stuck to this successful formula, and the games were popular.

Cue Reach. Bungie experimented. Armor Abilities happened, Sprint happened. The golden formula was upset and people were frustrated by that. Halo 4 comes along and has a similar effect – Sprint becomes standard, Armor Abilities were adjusted, Thruster Pack was introduced. People were again disappointed in this Halo game and again communicated their disappointment.

Then Halo 5 comes along. Likely out of concern that by entirely reverting to “Classic Halo” formula, Halo would not keep up with modern games, Sprint is kept in the game, and the rest of the game is adjusted to work better with it. Armor Abilities are removed and their replacement assimilated into the new mobility features that complement Sprint. Saying nothing about the game beforehand, 343 crafted a new Halo formula out of a “broken” one, and it seems to have worked. Halo 5 has had excellent reception following the beta, and it would definitely not be the game it is if fans had directly impacted the development of it, bar the feedback from previous games.

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Halo 5’s design has been built by 343i without fulfilling widespread concerns like sprint removal, and beta feedback suggests that they’ve pretty well nailed Halo’s next step

 

This may seem a bit… daft, given the current climate of poor game releases, but I think that whilst we as a community do help to improve games and make them better than they would have been (possibly even preventing another so-called disaster like Reach supposedly was) we may also be starving the game of the creativity of the developing studio. There’s so much pressure on game developers nowadays to meet the wants of it’s community, but if we’re theoretically developing the game, the developers can’t action some of their own concepts. Having such a transparent development process can also weaken the game’s impact, because we often now know what to expect from a game as much as several months before launch.

I remember a time where developers decided they would make a game, did just that, and released it. This system produced good games, bad games, miracles and abominations, but nowadays we don’t tend to get that lottery, it’s really only one of two extremes – it either met our expectations and preferences, or “they didn’t listen to us and made a terrible game”. There never seems to be much of a middle ground anymore, at least with major game series’, and it’s a darned shame. If the Halo team had asked the community if we wanted a Halo RTS on console, I’m fairly sure that Halo Wars would never have happened, yet it turned out to be one of the best entries in the series (arguably). Sometimes the concept in the heads of a developing studio is difficult for us as fans to visualize and we can shoot it down before it even gets a chance.

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Halo Wars may not have existed if the studios had suggested the concept to the community beforehand

 

I am in no way telling you to refrain from providing feedback on games. We all have preferences and great ideas for upcoming games – but we have to remember that we’re not game developers, and that the studio teams will have some pretty great ideas themselves; these are their games. With the current climate of studios making sure they “listen to the fans” and the looming expectation that they act on every single suggestion that comes their way, this can put off developers from using their own ideas. This in turn could lead us to a future where genre-contained games are exactly alike, all the ideas having come from the same large fanbase and not individual self-contained studios.

Remember – these games are made FOR us, not BY us, maybe we need to try not to take so much ownership of a game franchise, take a step back, and let the developers do their thing.

What do you think? Are we too “entitled” and taking too much ownership?

Let us know in the comments!