We Need More Games That Take Chances With Major Franchises

Earlier this week, EA once again spoke about the canceled Star Wars project from Dead Space developer Visceral Games. CFO Blake Jorgensen reiterated that part of the reason why it was scrapped was because players are moving away from single-player experiences.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/8xmaap/we-need-more-games-that-take-chances-with-major-franchises

It’s interesting to consider executives as risk-averse in these decisions. The choice to insert gambling-like activities (something EA has pushed massively in all their major products at this point) when this is already something which has forced regulation in major markets (eg China & Japan) looks far more like profiteering than risk-aversion. It’s a huge risk, it risks the very industry (which is completely different to the other “gaming industry”) and yet it has been embraced eagerly in an attempt to drive up short-term profits.

I’d say that these decisions all come from something far more related to short-termism and profiteering than any analysis of potential risks and attempts to find the least risky plan for sustainable operations.

For something like Star Wars I honestly can’t think of too many good reasons not to take risks or to do what they do with books. I don’t think you need to make these huge, resource intensive experiences for people to be interested in a new Star Wars story. Whether that be a Telltale like story, a Rebel Galaxy sort of game, or whatever, there are a variety of stories to tell in this vast universe.

Taking risks with major GAMING franchises seems more difficult since those universes don’t get TOO big typically.

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The game that always comes to mind with this is Chris Avellone et al’s underrated masterpiece, Knights of The Old Republic 2.

Yes, I know it was released incomplete and buggy for a whole list of reasons, some of them due to Obsidian’s ambition and some down to the publisher, but that doesn’t matter.

So here’s the short version of the story: the folks at Obsidian got the contract to make the sequel to one of the biggest games in one of (if not the) largest multi-media franchises of all time. Knights of the Old Republic was Bioware at their best, and it was a tremendous success. Obsidian got the nod to make the follow-up.

Avellone went out and consumed pretty much the entirety of the existing Star Wars Expanded Universe as existed at that time to learn the territory he was going to be playing in. He did his research.

And he decided that, basically, the Star Wars universe was full of shit. That the entire notion of the Force as depicted in film and novel was self-contradictory, that the Jedi Knights were in no way the unambiguous force for good that they were commonly accepted as being. That there were multiple interpretations of how the Force was even supposed to work, and they completely contradicted each other, and yet they all worked.

So he made a Star Wars game about how Star Wars was stupid, and he wasn’t even done. He managed to attack and deconstruct and evaluate a huge number of the tropes of Role Playing Games themselves, especially ones like Bioware made with simplistic sliding morality scales. The game attacks the entire idea of gaining experience points from combat by making both one of the main villains and the player character
into walking black holes of life force, all consuming voids that destroy everything they come near. It gives you an elderly mentor character, the first NPC you meet, and she spends the entire game lying to you. Not obviously lying, but subtly and intelligently twisting the PC and the player’s interpretation of everything that happens. One who dislikes the player more if they uncritically accept what she says.

I could probably write an entire essay about the ways in which KOTOR2 is a masterpiece of deconstruction, but to this day, and every time I play it, I’m still in awe of the sheer audacity. How did they possibly get it past Lucasarts?

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Wolfenstein 2 is an amazing example of the benefits of a taking a huuuuuuge chance on a big franchise and how you can do that now. While Wolfenstein isn’t a massive franchise, it’s still a well known important one, so the fact Machine Games got to do what they did with that feels like a miracle and really paid off.