Why are Gamers So Afraid of Change?

Developers walk a thin line when changing any aspect of a game for its sequel. It’s anybody’s guess whether they will be praised for innovation or taken out to the stockades for crimes against a beloved franchise. More often than not, any change to a franchise in a sequel is met with instant criticism, but one has to wonder: what’s the real virtue of a game being similar to its predecessor?

This criticism is anything but consistent. Consider the case of Thief (2014) and Bioshock: Infinite. Most of the complaints about the 2014 Thief game stem from its differences from the original. Perusing Metacritic reviews of Bioshock: Infinite, comparisons with Bioshock 1 or 2 are rarely mentioned. Each game deviated from its prequels, but only one game received flak for it.

Bioshock

What’s the difference? Bioshock: Infinite was a great game. Thief wasn’t. If reviewers had talked about how atrocious the game was on PC, or how its plot went off the rails before the prologue was over, I may have saved myself $60. Instead, all anyone could talk about was how different it was, and how that’s bad.

Sequels can also get flak for being too similar. People complained that Left 4 Dead 2 or Orcs Must Die! 2 should have just been downloadable content. Developers are often put between a rock and a hard place when continuing a franchise. It’s difficult to innovate and reach a wider audience while still satisfying longtime fans.

Left 4 Dead Blog

That’s not to say that long time fans shouldn’t complain about sweeping changes. It’s a major disappointment when a sequel to your favorite game takes a sharp turn from the original, because it means you’ll likely never get a followup with more of the stuff you loved. But each gamer should ask themselves if this change makes for a bad game, or just a bad sequel. I don’t think deviations on their own are a fair criteria for marking games down.

Consider this: if The Last of Us were a sequel to Left 4 Dead, would it still be considered a great game? They’re both shooters with zombies, but that’s where the similarities end. Would everyone hate The Last of Us because of its differences? It would be a slap in the face to anyone who wanted a legitimate Left 4 Dead 3, but it would still be an amazing game.

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140728185706

Change can be bad. Diablo III’s auction house was a famous disaster. It made scouring dungeons for good items useless, and Blizzard scaled the game’s enemies in such a way that you needed the protection and damage output that auction gear provided. This made it so anyone without these pricey finds had no chance at higher difficulties. The Auction House ruined Diablo’s balance, not because it was too different, but because it was a bad idea.

The easy solution here is for gamers to stop judging games on this murky criteria. Fans of franchises have every right to be upset, and reviewers should let them know this won’t be the same game they know and love, but the verdict on whether a sequel is good or bad should hinge on the game itself; not its likeness to the original.

  • inplainview

    Interesting article on, what I agree to be, a quite perplexing subject. A likely reason it is so pervasive is that it is an easy criticism to levy (because obviously this is said in generally a negative fashion) while offering no real room to retort outside of “But that’s what makes it good”. It’s an easy way to drum up a negative perception for a game or company, because not only is it easy and “safe” to agree with, it has the air of being “right” because there’s no real rebuttal to it.

    But(!) when gamers (or any fan of entertainment media where there are sequals) want sequals what do they want? There is certainly a fine line to walk when you sequalize something, Stick with a story line or individualize each game? Same mechanics? If you do change mechanics do you tweak or revamp? When the game that a certain fanbase expects doesn’t show up, will the changes be agreeable? How do you know, if you did change it too much, what can you change back without being criticized its too much the same? Or would it be heralded as a return to form? What if they change very little in the main series and offer up a spin off for the “new” people crave? There really is no “easy” way out.

    It also brings up the question of how much developers should listen to their “fanbase” (or critics for that matter).

    Evolving a series (or “modernizing” it) can be extraordinarily difficult and fans (or non fans) should be cognizant of not that. I also agree with you in that probably the best way to somewhat solve this problem is to do what you said and view them in the context of it being its own game.

    It’s such a catch 22 though because even if you do that, it’s nigh impossible to not compare the game to it’s predecessors and when you do that that’s when these arguments (or at least thoughts, for the noncommentors) emerge. *sigh*

  • Sheldon Prescott

    Gamers these days need to make up their mind. Either you want innovation and new games, or you want the same old same old, remakes, remasters, etc. I think they’re the very reason why the industry will collapse in some years. Cause they don’t know what they want. No matter what happens, they’ll find something new to complain about. They’ve annoyed me so much that I don’t even consider myself a gamer anymore. I don’t wanna associate myself with them.

  • Kamille

    because change often leads to crappy games like FF13 and RE6.

  • Aiddon

    because when you change it too much the inevitable question comes up: why does this have the name of the series on it? And of course this question came up due to me realizing that “change” is merely a descriptive and not a positive and “innovation” is just a cheap buzz term for people trying to make crappy ideas seem interesting. If you don’t want to invite comparison, then don’t use something else’s name, just make something of your own.