If you looked at some of the games released in the 2020s, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled through a time warp into the past. Many are sequels and extra titles in existing franchises, some of which span back nearly 40 years. Why are older franchises still used for modern games – and what future do other retro franchises have?
Why Do Developers Rely on Older Franchises?
Older franchises are increasingly relied on to create modern games. Star Wars – which came into being in 1977 – is still creating new games. Similarly, Lara Croft, who featured in her first game in 1996 for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, is also still the source of modern Tomb Raider gaming material. Final Fantasy XVI was announced in September 2020 – more than 30 years since its initial instalment for the NES in 1987.
The 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong is still utilising its characters – especially Mario – with Mario Golf: Super Rush the latest release in 2021 for the Nintendo Switch. Pokémon similarly introduces a new generation to pair with a new console. Often these new games are created to showcase the power of a new console and introduce something new through something more familiar.
One of the main reasons that these franchises are used as source material for new games is because they have dedicated audiences. While having diehard Star Wars fans might be a
hindrance sometimes for the movies released, it benefits the games, which are allowed to tap into the mythology more and provide fan service. Creating games that are less of a risk because people know about them helps gaming companies build their portfolio, so they can eventually look to creating some new franchises.
Using older franchises also taps into the modern trend of how we choose to engage with content. We don’t want one standalone game that makes us wait years for a sequel. We want something that allows us to dive into its world. So, audiences just getting into gaming now can play 2021’s Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga and then have decades of other material to get into. The promise of a franchise to really delve into could be a selling point for those completely new to a certain franchise.
The renaissance of the arcade game means that there is an even larger source of content to be mined from. Modern updates of arcade classics can be played slightly differently, such as Tetris on smartphones. Even the Nokia mobile Snake game has been given a modern remake in Slither.io. Nostalgia is built up around these games and becomes a powerful tool to ensure the games sell. Those who played arcades in the 1980s are likely to have game-playing offspring today, so are likely to introduce them to versions of games like bingo they enjoyed at the same point in life.
But can this last forever? There is already grumbling that pop culture repeats itself too much. Studios like Disney are bashed for their live-action remakes that pale against the originals. Fans like franchises, but there are only so many times Mario can send a red turtle shell towards his racing opponents. This is especially noticeable when new, exciting games do burst onto the screen.
Could Franchises Be Dying Out?
Indie studios are perhaps better placed to create new franchises – and standalone games that become successful. They tend to do so more for the art of creating and less to balance the books. For example, the puzzle platform game Braid, developed by Number None in 2008 was defined as the rebirth moment for indie gaming and helped show that new games could be created. Hotline Miami – which spawned a sequel – was developed by Dennaton Games in 2012 and shows that new games could be developed that then had sequels.
Of course, the hugely successful Minecraft was created by indie developer Markus ‘Notch’ Persson in 2011 alongside Jakob Porsér. They sold production company Mojang and the IP of Minecraft to Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5 billion, but it had reached that valuation as an indie game. The success of notable indie games and the market share of the industry that indie developers are clawing away from more established production houses shows that the future could perhaps lie within the development of new games and not the reliance on sequels.
The online casino industry, for instance, represents something that relies on its present successes and the promise of the future. The industry is heavily tied to modern technology
and the direction it is taking. Each year’s games reflect the technology that allows them to be played – such as live versions of table games – or how audiences are wanting to engage in games like bingo, as exemplified by the rise in mobile gaming as players are increasingly wanting to play on the go.
Franchises are relied on for some content – such as the Deal or No Deal bingo room. But there are also plenty of new ideas floated, providing a mix of the two. Harrison Score, of WDW Bingo – an online bingo comparison site, adds that “famous franchises remain popular as a source of inspiration for bingo and slot game developers. Some games have been well received, others have been derided as lazy and a substitute for coming up with original ideas. Thankfully, some developers continue to produce very innovative content”.
Launching new games can be risky, but it helps an industry or company stay relevant. The online casino industry is better placed to launch new games as if the game flops they can just push it to the back of the extensive catalogue. If a console game flops, then it could be a costly mistake.
Some cynically suggest that studios no longer take as many chances on new games because they want the money from the franchises and don’t want to take any risks. Others argue that audiences are crying out for the next instalment in the franchise and that they are simply responding to the market. Franchises are unlikely to ever stop. What we’re most likely to see are new games that do well and then become franchises of their own. In 30 years, we’ll have sequels to 2022 releases and will still probably be racing around the Koopa Troopa Beach with Mario.