Why do we keep buying video game sequels?

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Keith Burgun's picture

A friend asked this question on Facebook and I thought I'd share my answer here:

Because in our current culture and industry, it's incredibly difficult for gamers to think critically about games and incredibly difficult for publishers to take risks. Here are some but not all of the reasons:

  • We lack a theoretical "video games journalism" industry - reliable sources such as newspapers, magazines that feature expert opinions on games. Instead we have what essentially amount to commercial "catalogs".  What we think of as reviews and critics really are just an advertisement arm of the industry
  • The cannibalistic nature of video game technology means that it's incredibly difficult for many gamers to be readily aware of the history of video games. Without knowing the past, it is very difficult to judge the present. Great example - Fallout 3. If I had never played Fallout 1, or hadn't played it since 1997, I might be excited by Fallout 3
  • Audiences "demand" an outrageous amount of production value (publishers, at least, believe this... whether or not it's actually true is another question). This requires a huge amount of investment by the publisher, which usually makes the publisher very invasive over the game's design. I often joke that games today are designed by publishers, for publishers. Publishers like sequels because of name recognition All in all, the video games industry and the culture surrounding video games is in a very juvenile, unhealthy, and unsustainable state.

The industry has been bloated for a long time - hopefully now we're starting to see it shrink back down to a place that more accurately reflects the amount of people who like video games. If you were investing money into a game as the game industry was shrinking, that would have a profound effect on your willingness to take risks. An armada of sequels is just one symptom of this shrinking industry.  What do you guys think?


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I did review it
Bret wrote:

It would be much more interesting to me what Matt Barton thinks of a game like Fallout 3.

See here: My Journey through Fallout 3 .

I've noticed about myself that I tend to get very excited when a decent game is new to me; the newness and novelty, combined with the hype surrounding the release, usually inflates my reviews towards the positive. It's really only after I've "come down" from that high that I can really evaluate a game like this objectively; it might take a year or more before I feel clear-headed and objective enough to really do a good job reviewing a game. Of course, that's impossible if you want to stick to new games, and not many people care to read a review of a game that's "so old."

Looking back on it now, it's painful to see how constrained the designers were with their choice of game engine. They had to forcefit or leave out elements from the previous two games because they just wouldn't work with the engine. The parts that worked easily with the engine (such as different weapons and great graphics) were top notch, but of course they couldn't offer us a decent turn-based combat experience or good third-person modes. It just seems stupid to me to pretend that your character misses even when you manually aim the damn sites. The RPG part that makes you miss (or spray, or whatever) is a poor idea and demonstrates the problem of working with a FPS engine when you really want to create a CRPG. It's a kludge.

To do the job right, Bethesda would have had to create an entire engine from scratch--a practice that seemingly nobody is willing to undertake these days.

Bret (not verified)
Point Taken

In a review of Fallout 3 I would look for the things you said in your original review, but also what you said in the comment below. But, I understand the feeling of playing a game with fresh/new eyes. It's like writing a book and having to put the manuscript down for a few weeks, maybe a few months. You pull it out again later and actually have some insight into how to edit the story, make it better, and "kill your darlings" (as some editors say).

I still think Fallout 3 is a good example of an 'okay' game that was a problematic sequel and more success than it really deserved. Reviews I read almost told nothing about how much better the stories and dialog choices were in the previous installments. I think my friend put it best.

"I like Fallout 3. It's a decent game. But in Fallout 2 and 1, shit got personal." He said.

He outlined a couple scenes to me where Fallout's humor was at it's best, and the kind of stories he told were absent from the third game. Obviously Fallout 3 wasn't going to have the same personality as the other games because of having different developers, but great humor was one of the things that made those games so great. That's, I'm guessing, why I heard that Fallout 3 didn't have the same spirit in story as 1 and 2.

In any case. My more experienced Fallout friends gave me their own reviews. But, still... I'd like to see more info like you just gave on the more popular websites.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
I can see it from the

I can see it from the "popular sites" standpoint, too, though, Bret. They are beholden to corporate masters and have strict deadlines, etc., and these are primary jobs for many of their staffers, so there's not really the luxury to go into a depth that would be lost on most of the audience that they're targeting anyway (gamers who probably don't care about the earlier games).

Something like Armchair Arcade we do in our (albeit, precious) spare time and discuss only things that matter to us, which certainly gives us more power than the big guys. With that said, the advantages the big guys have in terms of resources, access, ability to devote their whole working day to content, etc., certainly balances things out. There are pluses and minuses to both types of operations and certainly if we could do Armchair Arcade full-time (as our primary jobs), rather than spare time, the things we could do would blow the doors off of what we do now. With that said, we'd certainly - at least occasionally - have to fall into the same type of grind (at least to a small degree) that those other sites do, though there's no denying the difference in age/experience that we could use to counteract that to some degree as well.

Joined: 01/21/2009
Man I must be the only one

Man I must be the only one who loves Fallout :) I still stand by it being a excellent blend of real time and exploration RPG.. but ... to each his own.

take a look at original IP's. Good & Evil, Psyconuats, any football game that isnt Madden. Reviews love um, critics love um, people say how greet they are... and nobody buys um.

Games cost craploads to make, its just a fact. Most games dont make money, some do. take a look at the current crop of games. The COD and Battlefield games.... they sell, and people buy and they will, good or bad, buggy or not.. How can a COMPANY out to make money argue with that? Why would you try go against it? Most games, such as Spiderman, Hulk, MWarfare.. the game could be anyhting Spiderman game could be a Bionic Commando Grapple game.. Put him in a red spider suit, or a Blue Military suit.. or... call it Grapple man and put him in a trench coat... same exact game, all fun to play. Which will sell more? My guess is Spiderman... brand recognition is a powerfull marketing tool. Enve brand run into the gorund (as the picture shows, Mortal Kombat) even crappy games will sell with the name. its the reason we are seeing games like SPLATTERHOUSE (which is suposed to be very bad) ... brand recognition.

I follow it, my dad was a car mechanic, he loved Chevy, I love chevy (well I have very little like for any new car, chevy or otherwise). Is it the best car? to me, it was.. at one time, but to somebody esle it may be the worst pile of junk on the road. But compare it to a Yugo... I bet most people would buy the chevy.. Its bigger, its been around longer, its recognised.

And adverstising.. most game rags will Put Super Street Fighter on the cover before, Puzzle agent bob... not becuase thy think its a better game, but people will recognise Ru, ken, (or most likely the male demograph) Cammy or Chun Lie. it will sell a few more issues.. You wont see MINECRAFT on a cover. (well maybe someday).

being bombarded with adds, reviews, etc.. has to do something. Even subliminal..

Bret (not verified)
Armchair Arcade

@Bill: I would simply like to see game reviews that have the depth you speak of. I think if gamers want to be made aware of quality games (which I think they do) they should be told of the games that inspired them.

Maybe Armchair Arcade doesn't have to be a full time thing. But I like the journey you guys are making. I watch every Matt Chat and listen to every podcast.

@Matt: BTW Sorry for missing that review of Fallout 3!

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