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Sometimes I'm wondering why sequels in games usually strive to have new features, making them more complex, taking much longer to finish and also sounds much harder to keep motivated into it.

I understand that it's needed because gamers don't want to buy the same game with just a different story. but occasionally these features seem to make the original intention of the game more complex than I think it should be.

If a developer is always with the thought to make his next game bigger than the previous, then that means that they'll become overly cluttered with tons of features that a gamer may or may never use. That sounds like a waste of effort to me.


Maybe it's just that I prefer a simple style from indie games, but when I look at the larger companies, then sometimes I've a feeling they're trying out a lot (if not too much) to sell well.

Just take a look at Mario Kart 8, Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey as example.
They're all so complex compared with what the series used to be. Now imagine how large their next game has to be in order to top that, if that's even possible.

So my question is: what leads game developers to focus on making the next game even bigger? And are there viable ways to avoid this trend?

I'm used to the phrase 'less is more', but I wonder if that also fits in this situation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Feature-rich does not necessarily equal bloated, and that is the challenge a game designer must tackle. \$\endgroup\$ – Quentin Oct 23 '17 at 10:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Second-system effect \$\endgroup\$ – Maximus Minimus Oct 23 '17 at 11:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I noticed some votes to close this question as opinion-based, but I think we can find an on-topic question about game market dynamics and design strategies here. I've edited the question to remove "do you have to" (obviously not, look at the early MegaMan games, which kept a similar scope for a long run) and the implied "should I?" which is opinion-based. Hopefully the tweaked question is more amenable to answers based on research & experience of game marketing and development trends. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Oct 23 '17 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory Thank you, I was indeed afraid that I wrote it out too opinion-based. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Oct 23 '17 at 13:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LeComteduMerde-fou I understand, and I think that's entirely sensible. The recent mod election questions have reminded me though how valuable it can be to proactively guide iffy questions back on-track, through edits or constructive comments. I think our close-first-improve-later pattern can often discourage new users and leads to a lot of questions getting abandoned rather than improved. So, I'm challenging myself to first try to fix the question if I can. (And if I can't, then as other users have reminded me, rollbacks are cheap!) ;) \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Oct 24 '17 at 2:25
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The expectation that sequels be bigger actually balances out the trade-off between making a sequel and starting a new series.

Starting a new series

Advantages

  • No expectation to one-up the last game
  • Can experiment with new core mechanics

Disadvantages

  • It is hard to tell if players will even like the core mechanics.
  • No prior marketing
  • You start with an empty code base and art collection.

Creating a sequel

Advantages

  • Can piggyback off the marketing of the previous game
  • Tried-and-true core mechanics
  • Can focus more on adjusting supporting mechanics
  • You can reuse assets from previous games.

Disadvantages

  • Must be big enough to still be novel.
  • Cannot mess too much with the core mechanics because of player expectations.

All games must have a certain level of novelty. The big difference is that the first game in a series focuses on providing that novelty through core mechanics while sequels focus on supporting mechanics. Changing the supporting mechanics is tricky, because you risk either ruining the core mechanics or not affecting it enough, resulting in unnecessary bloat instead. This means sequels usually leave in most of the supporting mechanics from the previous game to keep the core mechanics intact, while adding additional supporting mechanics to make it novel. Nearly all of the original game + more novel stuff = a bigger game.

The sequel is going to have to be bigger to set it apart from the original, but you can work to make sure the size adds value to the game by using the previous game for research. Find out what made the game fun, and focus on new ways to encourage players to keep doing that. Did players play the first game because they like to explore? In the next game, add an incentive to pay closer attention to the scenery and to visit hard-to-reach places (e.g. Breath of the Wild's photo album of memories and the Korok seeds).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was more the kind of answer I was looking for, thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Oct 25 '17 at 7:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the answer's summary of new series vs sequel, but it doesn't really answer the "why bigger" question. But I disagree with the statement, "The sequel is going to have to be bigger", as I don't think they HAVE to be bigger. It's also interesting to look at DLC addons, which aren't exactly sequels, but kind of are. The Fallout: New Vegas DLC for example is a series of side stories that can be played through in a few sessions, as opposed to the main F:NV story line. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Holt Nov 21 '17 at 17:30
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Because otherwise the programmers would need to be fired.

Ok, it's a bit extreme, and not the only reason, but it's one to think about.

A game company wants to keep their employees as much as they can, and this for several reasons. ¤

If the game company decides to not add new feature but simply release a sequel that is not "bigger", a sequel with only new content (the content produced by artists, writers, level designers and such), what will the programmers do? Yes, they can work on a new IP, but there's going to be issues with the content at some point since the content creators are busy with something else.

So instead of firing them to not waste money, it's a good idea to make them work on the sequel to improve it and give users reasons to buy it (other than "Oh well, they've expanded the story and changed the graphics.").


How can you avoid that?

Well you have first to want to avoid that. It's not a requirement; it depends on the game, it depends on the team, it depends on the studio.

For an indie developer, working alone on their game, if the first instalment of the game was story based, and what came up in the review was mostly along the lines "nice little game, great story", it would perfectly make sense to spend little time on beefing up the gameplay, and a lot of time on creating a great story for the sequel.


¤ The hiring process of game developers can be very tedious, hard and hazardous: letting go a developer to re-hire them later means more paperwork to do for the laying-off, more HR money spent on re-hiring them (even more paper work), the risk of them being hired by another company in the interval (intermediate and senior developers can be hard to find), the risk of them demanding a higher salary when re-hiring them, etc. An employee laid-off is a also some knowledge that a company loses. Replacing an employee is costly because they have to learn the processes and the tools, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I didn't have thought that there would be a scenario where the programmers would have nothing to do if the next game is very similair to the first one. (Although understandable too, because why would one write the same code twice?) Thanks a lot for taking the time. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Oct 23 '17 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a good response, but I still feel like I'm bothering with a bit. I don't think a developer team would implement sudden features (like Z-moves in Pokémon sun/moon) just to keep the programmers busy. While features like these do look cool to some, they can change the core elements of a game permanently. I understand that your answer was a bit extreme and not the only reason though. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Nov 6 '17 at 11:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Steven I haven't played the game so I can't tell. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Nov 6 '17 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's not about keeping developers busy, it's about keeping them employed. A company ramps up staff to higher levels to get a product out on time, the product is released, and suddenly the developers have nothing to do. One can either lay them off (cut back down to reasonable levels), or start a new project that utilizes them. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Holt Nov 21 '17 at 17:34
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From the point of view of the investor, when someone invests in a sequel, there is usually a larger budget and an existing fanbase. Cutting out features that were there in the first version will enrage the fanbase, so your options are to make the sequel the same, or to make it more.

From the point of the designer, there were tons of ideas and features that were tested during development of the first game, some of which the designer liked a lot, but which had to be cut for money and time constraints.

If you want to make a sequel (on the same platform) less than the original, better not to make it a sequel but start a new brand or sub-brand instead.

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I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned reusing code bases yet. When creating the first game in the series, programmers need to use large amounts of time just thinking about what the game is going to be about, the story behind it, and how to organize the game's code. At the same time, they must create a graphics engine (if they are not using a pre-made one), and code everything in the game from scratch.

However, when making the second game in the sequel, the graphics engine is already made, and several sprites and mechanics are likely to be reused. The New Super Mario Bros series is the best example of this, in my opinion (the 3-D Mario games too, but too a lesser extent).

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Spectacle creep is why games strive to be more over the top than the last installment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could make this an actual answer by going into the meaning and etymology of spectacle creep, and why it is inherent to sequels. You are answering what it is called, rather than why it is. \$\endgroup\$ – user106170 Nov 1 '17 at 14:57

protected by Josh Nov 21 '17 at 17:07

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