Can you change a brand?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2014, 2:43 am
In yesterday's thread, Woody remarked:
"It seems that TESO has become the game that is cool/trendy to hate on. Amongst the more rational and balanced of observers there are two theories as to what is going on here. The first is that a number of ES fans went into the beta expecting Skyrim 2 and having never played an MMORPG before got something they were not expecting/wanting. Many of the criticisms I have read could have been applied to any MMORPG on the market. Indeed for the life of me I absolutely cannot see why people are complaining about the start of TESO when compared to other MMO's."
I found that funny insofar as it completely summarizes a previous discussion on this blog: Replace "Skyrim / TESO" with "Dungeon Keeper" and "MMORPG" by "mobile multiplayer strategy game", and you have exactly the discussion from two weeks ago here. It isn't as if the new game was an exceptionally bad incarnation of the new genre, but it receives a ton of hate because it switched genres. The majority of complaints are about features that are inherent to the new genre. And thus to the other fans, the fans of the new genre, the complaints sound rather silly.

One problem here is that it wouldn't even necessarily help if the developers would choose a different name for their new game. Zenimax could have called their MMORPG "Blobfitz" and people would still have expected a spiritual successor to Skyrim. If Rockstar would announce tomorrow a MMORPG about gangsters stealing cars, it wouldn't matter whether they called it "Grand Theft Auto Online" or something else, the expectations would be the same. If you have a history of making games of a certain brand, people expect the next game to be true to the spirit of the series.

Curiously enough this doesn't appear to happen every time. I don't remember ever reading anybody complaining that World of Warcraft was not a real-time-strategy game any more. Many long-standing series of games started out as single-player games and acquired multi-player game characteristics over the years. That didn't always work out well (think SimCity), but in general that sort of change doesn't get disputed so much. It isn't really obvious why switching from single-player role-playing game to massively multi-player role-playing game is so problematic.

In a way that is rather sad. I kind of like game studios making different sorts of games instead of an endless series of sequels. I think it is great if a company like Blizzard can decide to make a trading card game instead of a sequel of one of their existing series. But the cases of Dungeon Keeper and The Elder Scrolls Online show that it isn't just a few rabid fans, but also many so-called game journalists which are willing to give a game a bad review just because it isn't a sequel. And with bonuses tied to Metacritic scores, that sort of behavior might well end us in a world where nothing but sequels is ever produced. Do we really want that?
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