A Better Game Development Strategy: Sequels (Really)

Sequels are Bad! Game sequels have a bad reputation and are usually received with much-deserved scepticism from the original fan base: think this year’s AAA sports game that is too similar to the previous version, but with slightly better graphics.…

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Vlad Solodovnyk
12 Aug, 2015

A Better Game Development Strategy: Sequels (Really)

Sequels are Bad!

Game sequels have a bad reputation and are usually received with much-deserved scepticism from the original fan base: think this year’s AAA sports game that is too similar to the previous version, but with slightly better graphics. Yet also, sequels can deliver disappointments when they “betray” one or several elements that made the players fell in love with the original game in the first place, like a genre change, mechanics “upgrade”, loss of aesthetics, a move away from the original narrative – to name just a few.

Game developers also avoid sequels: who wants to work essentially on the same game all over again, with feeling like a sellout?

With both the players and developers harbouring negative feelings towards sequels, why bother having them at all?

The Seven Deadly Sequels

You’ve suspected this all along: the #1 reason why sequels exist is the siren call of the easy money. At Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2015, Sarah Northway, an indie game developer, admitted just as much:

“Sequels are a big bag of money that you just have to bend down to pick up. You take something that you know works and you do it again…”

Yet while the temptation to make a quick buck (alienating the fan base in the process) is there, money doesn’t have to be the primary motivation in game development.

Making the Good Sequels: 4 Great Reasons

Even when not planning on making sequels, adopting a mindset as if a game would be a first in a series can help solve several key challenges in game development, both for game studios and indie developers.
Used as part of an intentional strategy to iterate towards a better game experience, more polish, better funding for more and better content, the use of the release strategy involving releasing a minimally viable product, followed up with bigger and better sequels, will avoid the common sequel missteps.

Let’s review the major legitimate reasons to consider following a sequel making strategy – and tactics to use to avoid the most common sequel missteps.

1. Fight Feature Creep

Every game developer at some point confronts a situation when ideas outnumbered the physical, technological or a financial capacity, pushing the release date further and further into the abyss. A long list of ever-expanding features, also known as a feature creep, is a real danger for gaming projects of every size.

Why not spend a few months on a game version for a Flash game portal, followed up with a more ambitious Mobile version – all bulding up to a cross-platform masterpiece with all the bells and whistles?

2. Avoid Burnout

Whoever thinks gaming industry is where all the fun is knows nothing of how the industry really works: overtime, work on weekends, lack of motivation and burnout after months and months without making tangible progress.

Adopting a strategy of shipping a series of “good enough” products makes progress visible, the hard work rewarding, the result more real. Many indie games take years until release, with long unproductive, depressive stretches of time in between flashes of high productivity. The resilient and the persistent do make it to the final release, but think of all the games that were lost to perfection and the appeal of getting to a release faster becomes more evident.

3. Engage the Fan Community

For every decision and assumption you have to make for even the most primitive version of your game, fans will provide dozens more. Even the simplest games have their fans, so having a released prototype gives game developers not only a new source of ideas and feedback, but also an opportunity to build anticipation and the priceless word of mouth marketing support.

4. Broaden Funding Sources

Funding a full feature PC-downloadable game is a challenge no matter who you are.

Starting small (free Flash), then incrementally moving to more ambitious releases has a better chance of creating funding streams, notoriety for seeking traditional investors (or a Kickstarter campaign), or via early access preorders from a loyal fan base.

An Indie Perspective on Having a Sequel Strategy

Watch this 6-minute video presentation by Sarah Northway about using the sequel strategy well – one of the most insightful of the ones at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2015 and learn how she transitioned from a sequel sceptic to a sequel champion, realizing that there is more to sequels than just the money:

The Takeaway on Having a Sequel Strategy

Imagine if George Lucas had attempted to release the Star Wars trilogy in a single film. Chances are, generations of viewers would probably not have had a chance to see any of the resulting movies.

As a game developer, you do valuable work. One way to make the game development process less risky and more rewarding is by releasing a game not as an instant masterwork after years and years of solitary confinement, but as a minimally viable product prototype. Follow up with a longer, more polished version. Scale up with a cross-platform version, improving and expanding on your ideas throughout the process.

Even if you don’t plan on releasing sequels, planning on having them is a useful self-check mechanism that will help you focus on the core of the game and get you to the release date faster and more reliably.

We’ll be releasing some more advice on game development on our website outsoft.com soon, so stay tuned!

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About the Author

Vlad is a writer with over 10 years of experience in the IT industry. He thinks of technology as a tool and likes to write about the ways people choose to use different tools, often with unexpected consequences.

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