Every major media franchise must eventually deal with franchise fatigue. It’s the public’s way of saying “change it up.” Gamers are certainly used to franchises stalling out. Since Modern Warfare came out in 2007, Activision has released a new Call of Duty game every year. Ubisoft has done the same with Assassin’s Creed. These are major AAA titles that every gamer knows and – at one point – maybe even loved.
But at what point do gamers lose interest in a franchise? And at what point do developers realize they have to change or die?
Turning Back the Clock
Battlefield developer DICE found the answer to that second question. They’ve reacted to decreasing sales numbers by ditching modern warfare in favor of the brutality of World War I. Battlefield 1 has already garnered DICE a lot of good press coming out of the summer.
With exciting footage shown at E3 and a beta that showed how serious they are taking the Great War, DICE is already reaping the rewards of changing up the franchise. Critics and gamers both seem excited to explore a slice of history that games have ignored.
DICE’s focus on the battlefields of 1914 has proven that change doesn’t have to come from looking forward. In order to move forward, it sometimes takes looking backwards. There are so many places, time periods, and perspectives that games haven’t explored yet.
Old Fight, New Battlefield
But giving an old car a new coat of paint isn’t enough to battle franchise fatigue. Battlefield 1 excites players because it promises new experiences alongside something familiar. AAA games can only risk so much.
Battlefield 1 won’t be a complete overhaul of the Battlefield experience. There will still be massive multiplayer battles, vehicular combat, and lots of annoying snipers. But the change in setting signals a change in how DICE is able to approach atmosphere and storytelling. That’s a step forward for a franchise that’s been focused on kickass multiplayer.
Changing the Creed
Ubisoft, a studio also known for annual releases, could be reacting to franchise fatigue in a pretty similar way. With Assassin’s Creed games selling relatively consistently year-to-year it’s surprising to see Ubisoft take the year off. As they stated in a blog post earlier this year, the development team is “stepping back and re-examining the Assassin’s Creed franchise.”
Ubisoft is taking the opportunity to examine what makes an Assassin’s Creed game an Assassin’s Creed game. Other notable franchises like God of War have done this recently. It could bode well for the stealth-lite, parkour-heavy experience the developer releases next year.
The franchise has become too bogged down in its own convoluted meta-story. It’s heavily rumored that the next game will take place in Egypt, which is a new change of pace from the European adventures fans have been used to recently. Ubisoft just has to be careful that they give gamers more than a new coat of paint.
DICE is running head on, bayonet drawn at franchise fatigue. With a new setting and new focus on atmosphere, Battlefield 1 could deliver an experience that’s just unfamiliar enough to revamp the franchise. At a time when Call of Duty is jetting off into space, it’s DICE’s decision to explore the past that seems most risky.
How many games let gamers explore medieval kingdoms and zombie-ridden wastelands? There are so many more settings, time periods, and perspectives to probe. AAA franchises need to learn how to change just enough to survive. In a world where developers like DICE and Ubisoft are changing up their routine, maybe gamers will see something new in blockbuster releases.
These games can only change so much. But if Battlefield 1 is a success for DICE maybe other developers will follow suit. Either that or next year gamers will have a lot more World War I shooters to play. Here’s to more than a new paint job.