It’s weird to think that just fourteen years ago in 2001, Microsoft released the first Halo game. Two years after that, Activision released the first Call of Duty. Since then, these two game franchises have dominated the modern gaming market. Although Halo has fallen by the way side, Call of Duty seems to be forging ahead with no planned end in sight. Although they weren’t the first major game franchises to exist (Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, and Final Fantasy to name a few), they revitalized the gaming industry and found success in long term development.
The truth of the matter, though, is that there haven’t been too many massively successful gaming series/franchise created in a while. By “a while,” I mean the past five years. In looking at a list of the best-selling video game franchises (measured by millions of copies sold), the most recently successful franchise to sell more than 50 million copies is Minecraft with about 63 million. The game has been around since 2009, so it’s had some time to gain traction. First released in 2010, Red Dead Redemption has only garnered over 15 million in sales to date. Watch Dogs is the only game franchise in recent memory (released last year, 2014) to have reached a notable number of sales at 8 million. Some might ho-hum at this, but let’s take a quick glance at recent game releases.
Say we just look at individual gaming sales over the past five years. What games have sold over 15 million copies across all platforms they are available on? Grand Theft Auto V (2013, 45 million), Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013, 19 million), Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012, 24.2 million), Diablo III (2012, 15 million), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011, 26.5 million), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011, 20 million), Battlefield 3 (2011, 20 million), Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010, 26.2 million), Kinect Adventures! (2010, 24 million), and Pokemon Black and White (2010, 15.58 Million). Notice a trend here? Except for Kinect Adventures! for the Xbox 360, every single game with major success is a sequel to an already existing, well established franchise. Hopefully, that grabs your attention.
The prior analysis should lead to a question: “What’s the problem with major gaming franchises continuing to pump out games if that’s what people want to play?” Nothing. There is no problem with that at all. If gamers want to keep playing the same game titles over and over again with minor variation, then give it to them! After all, if it isn’t broke, why fix it? However, having only a few franchises dominate the greater market can arguably lead to stagnation in creativity and imagination by both developers and gamers alike.
That’s a whole other issue entirely, one I’ve addressed before in other articles I have written. As for this article, I’m just reporting the facts as they are. But on a side note, these numbers reflect a trend or paradigm in the gaming industry that becomes all too evident: the time of the franchise game series is over. That might seem like a grandiose statement to make given the above stats, but let me explain what I mean.
Barring game franchises released before or during 2009, there have been only two gaming franchises to have sold over a million copies, Red Dead Redemption and Watch Dogs. If we include 2009, this only brings the number up four more to six successful gaming franchises in the past six years. Those other four titles are Minecraft (May 2009/November 2011, ~63 million), Just Dance (November 2009, 59 million), Trine (July 2009, 7 million), and Tomodachi Collection (June 2009, 6.32 million). Heck, I’ll even throw in Left for Dead (October 2008, 11 million) just for good measure. So since 2008, only seven successful gaming franchises have come out. Considering most of those came before 2010 and Watch Dogs is yet to be greatly developed as a franchise title, there just hasn’t been too much success in developing new franchise titles.
Granted, I know some of you might be thinking to yourself “Well, it takes time to develop a gaming franchise.” This is absolutely true. However, to think that since 2010 (a generous 4-5 years span to develop a new title series with 2 or 3 game releases already) there has hardly been any change to the status quo when it comes to game franchises, it boggles my mind.
The only explanation for such a trend is three-fold.
Given we know the money and sales generated by franchise series is there and abundant, it’s probably pretty obvious number 1 is out of the question. Clearly the interest is there to create new game franchises, just not by the companies who already have successful ones going. It is true that with time, it becomes more time consuming and resource heavy to develop new games, making it hard for new gaming companies to break into the market. There also hasn’t been enough time to see what recent releases may become long time series, although if nothing has emerged from 2011, 2012, or 2013, I think it’s fair to say games from those years won’t develop into game franchises in the future.
For now, game franchises will continue to be a major part of the gaming industry. However, this will only benefit the ones which already exist. It is unlikely we will see any new gaming franchises for a while even though there is arguably a need for new series to be created. Until then, gamers will have to settle for Call of Duty or some other standalone title to pass the time.