A few months ago, an acquaintance and I had an interesting conversation on WhatsApp over the subject of remakes. And as I played through the Grim Fandango remaster and saw the slew of once-mobile games being re-released on Steam, I couldn’t help but go back to that conversation and see not only my points validated, but the other’s as well.
Remakes & Remasters are very similar in that they take an old property and give it a fresh coat of paint and make it accessible to new generations. The major difference is a Remake can, and most likely will, change elements of the game from gameplay to plot—such as Tomb Raider Anniversary or Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary—while the Remaster will generally just upgrade visuals and audio and maybe add a new control scheme—Grim Fandango and Monkey Island Special Editions.
But both bank on nostalgia. Of these two, the target audience isn’t the new generation but the old one, those that played the game when it originally released. They will want to get the new version in hopes of recreating the feeling they had while playing it the first time—and be ultimately disappointed when that doesn’t happen.
Take the Tomb Raider reboot, a topic I’ve almost run into the ground these past few months. On release it moved over 3.4 million units—impressive, unless you’re Square Enix, in which case it’s a ‘disappointment’. How many of those 3.4 do you think were new players and how many were die-hard fans of the original Tomb Raider series? I’d be willing to bet that at least 70% of those were classic TR players.
I’m not completely against Remakes/Remasters, there are circumstances when I welcome them. Grim Fandango is an example, as it was impossible to easily purchase the game before this re-release. But if you can still buy the game and it still runs in modern computers without much issue, then the remaster/remake starts leaning towards nostalgic cash-grab.
Remakes & Remasters are easy, my acquaintance said and after careful consideration I had to concede the point. Even if you have to remake the game from scratch—by which I mean art, voice, coding, etc.—the truth is a lot of the work is already done. You already have a script, a sequence of events and a completed design that you know works, so there’s no need for reiteration.
I use the term Rehash but I mean sequels, new entries in a series and anything that is not a new IP. From Mario to Call of Duty, rehashes keep bringing you similar experiences over and over. And much like the previous two, there’s not a lot of risk involved in their release. The only way a developer will go for a sequel is if the first one sold well or at least met expectations. Based on the first title’s numbers, it’s easy to predict how much revenue the next one will generate. Thus, it’s safe from a business point of view. If the game has a particularly strong following, then it’s even safer to release a Rehash than a new property.
We can see evidence of this in the many cases of games modified to be part of a given series, because it ensured people would buy them. Devil May Cry 2 and the American Super Mario Bros.2 are two of the most famous cases. The former started out as a brand new IP before they panicked, slapped Dante on it and released what is the most reviled entry in the series. The latter released in japan as Doki Doki Panic, but since the actual Super Mario Bros. 2 released in Japan was so unforgivingly difficult, the American market got a heavily modified version of DDP, which might explain why the plot of that game made little sense!
However, depending on the franchise—or the developer in Nintendo’s case—rehashes can be a double-edged sword. While it’s true they carry significantly less risk than a new IP, the longer a series runs, the higher the expectations. Failing to meet them can lead to catastrophic results for that IP. One example is what happened to Ubisoft last year with Assassin’s Creed Unity. After Black Flag, the expectations for a new Assassin’s Creed were at their highest, so when Ubisoft released an unpolished game, the resulting outrage and backlash was so strong they had to give away DLC and even entire games for season pass holders. Nowadays developers & publishers use DLC sales to make to get as much profit out of a title as possible, so you can imagine just how much money was lost because of Unity’s failure. For me, it killed all love I had for the series. And if I’m not alone in that sentiment, it compounds the problem Ubisoft faces for its next Assassin’s Creed. A scorned fan is a scary thing in the videogame industry.
Rehashing does allow refinement of a series’ formula. It’s the reason all 3D Mario games are nearly perfect, and how Black Sails was the culmination of Assassin’s Creed’s design, or even the Call of Duty games—I’m not a fan of them but I have to admit they are very well designed, because each iteration has helped polish out the base concept and mechanics.
This is why you rarely see new IPs from major—big-budgeted—developers, because it’s too risky. It’s much easier to rehash, remake or remaster something than giving you a completely fresh idea. Even smaller studios often go this way because it’s an easy way to make money—I apologise if this comes off as a tad too cynical.
As the videogame industry and its corporations grow, we’ll see more sequels and remakes and fewer new IPs, because shareholders, board members and even just the five-man-studio will want to avoid risks as much as possible. And you can’t really blame them considering how expensive some of the latest games have been in terms of development costs. Last year I wrote an article about the insane budgets for most modern games—visuals and art being the most expensive part of any of them—and things don’t seem to be getting cheaper. Thus, it becomes paramount that there is a profit, or at least a return of investment.
The good news is that for every two developers that play it safe, there is one daredevil that takes constant risks with new ideas. Some are indie but there are many established studios out there willing to take a chance with a new IP.
And of course, there are those studios so big and so powerful they can take the risks without much issue. Blizzard Entertainment is an example, a company (in) famous for its “It’ll be done when it’s done!” attitude towards development and release. World of Warcraft, Diablo III and StarCraft II have given the company so much revenue they can take as many risks as they want. The recently announced and in development Overwatch is an example, a fresh IP in every way, including genre.
How does this affect us? Well, we need to keep an eye out for those new properties because they tend to fly under the radar of most big-name gaming sites, unless the developer is one of the big ones like the aforementioned Blizzard. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t buy remakes/remasters of a game unless A) you can’t get it anymore or B) it doesn’t run on your operating system. The likelihood of the original being a superior game is quite high.
And as for sequels I think the only thing we can do is what we already do: play them, enjoy them and then complain about the developers not coming up with new IPs. It’s what we’re used to doing anyway and if there’s one thing my acquaintance has a point on it’s, “you can’t force gamers to do anything!” And yes, I do realise what that means with regards to my previous statement on remakes!
What are your thoughts on Remakes, Remasters, Rehashes and the state of the industry?