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Blockbuster video games face a challenge to stay relevant

By Blane Singletary
Posted on November 17, 2011 | Columns | Comments Off on Blockbuster video games face a challenge to stay relevant

Two eagerly anticipated video games were released last week: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. EA’s Battlefield 3 came out just weeks before.

These games’ release dates have been etched into many gamers’ calendars, and their release has been watched by numerous media sources. They each sold millions of copies within days after being released.

It’s no question that these games generated much hype. Many games before them have achieved this ominous status of becoming “game of the year” before they were ever released. These games seem to attract a huge following of wide-eyed gamers who camp outside a game store for a midnight release.

But even if a game has a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, a trailer directed by Michael Bay and special limited-edition exclusives for people who pre-order, the quality of the game determines whether or not people will keep playing it after launch week.

For example, let’s take a look at the previous installment of the Call of Duty franchise, “Black Ops.” This game had an absolutely massive launch, thanks mainly to the huge success of its predecessor, “Modern Warfare 2.” Game companies hailed it as the 4,000-pound elephant in the room and adjusted their release dates accordingly so they wouldn’t have to compete with it.

While its launch community was big, within months, some people began to trickle back to Modern Warfare 2. It’s not that Black Ops was a flop by any means, but these people viewed its predecessor as the better game.

In an example of true game community permanence, we see Valve’s Counter-Strike. This game franchise was released in 1999 and has only received one sequel since then, which was really more of an update. But today, 12 years later, you can still find thousands of active servers filled with both veteran and new players.

So what is Valve’s secret? Shortly after the game was released, they also released their very own development tools, free, so gamers could create new maps, characters and challenges. It’s this spring of user-created content that has kept the Counter-Strike community alive for this long.

In contrast, Activision’s Call of Duty franchise is surviving on a new blockbuster release every year. It hasn’t released its development tools and in fact charge for downloadable map packs. If Activision were to announce it was completely pulling the plug on the franchise, how long would gamers continue playing it?

There comes a time when hype means nothing and the quality of your product means everything. If a game company wants its game to be remembered in a good way it needs to focus on that quality, not the ad campaign, and then find ways to foster that connection with its audience for years to come.

avatar Posted by Blane Singletary on Nov 17th, 2011 and filed under Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.  - This post has been viewed 16529 times.

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