Is David Cage Right About Gamers Being to Blame for Sequels?

David Cage, the founder and CEO of Quantic Dream, recently explained that he believes sequels kill creativity, and pointed the finger at gamers, blaming us for investing in publishers that have no interest in innovation.

While I don’t think it wise to so insult your potential customers, let’s put PR aside and evaluate whether there’s any merit to what he said. Are we really to blame for this age of sequels?

Before we tear into the heart of the issue, we need to tackle Cage’s assumption that sequels can’t be innovative, and the implication that a lack of innovation in sequels is a bad thing.

Let’s consider StarCraft 2, a game that is, for all intents and purposes, StarCraft 1 with updated graphics. Sure, there are some new units, some new mechanics, and some new conveniences, but “innovative” would not be a word anyone would use to describe SC2. Still, considering the reputation it had to live up to, SC2 was a success.

In contrast, let’s look at Diablo 3, a game that took many risks in an attempt to innovate. At its heart, D3 is still an ARPG click-fest, but it differs substantially from what we’ve previously experienced in the genre. While opinions are mixed as to whether or not those innovations were a step forward or backward, the game is largely considered a failure as a sequel. Some of the risks that Blizzard took with D3 paid off — others didn’t.

Now, what’s most curious is that both of these titles received the same criticisms: that they were too similar to SC1/D2, and that they weren’t similar enough to SC1/D2. Try to wrap your head around that. Gamers at once want more of the same, but… different. The only cogent conclusion that can be drawn is that it doesn’t really matter whether or not a game is innovative, as long as it is good.

So is it true that sequels can’t be innovative? No. Is it true that sequels should be innovative? No. When it comes to sequels, innovation isn’t always a good thing, because innovation equates to risk, and risk implies the possibility of failure. Which leads us to a single conclusion…

Risk is to blame for the current sequel-saturated market.

Publishers don’t want to risk investing money in an IP that may or may not be profitable when they can crank out a sequel that is guaranteed at least mediocre sales. Why take a gamble when you can bet on a sure thing? Why risk a flop when you can pump out another Call of Duty every year?

Similarly, mass consumers don’t want to risk spending money on a game they haven’t heard of when they can buy a sequel to a game they enjoyed. It’s why many people would rather return to a mediocre restaurant time and again rather than risk going to a new restaurant that may be worse — it’s the status quo bias.

Risk is to blame, not gamers, not even publishers. David Cage can point the finger at us all he wants — it smacks of entitlement and jealousy toward games like Black Ops 2 that consistently sell over 10 million units, while Heavy Rain, despite being critically acclaimed, “only” sold two million. It is the snobbish artist who blames his audience for not appreciating his genius.

But here’s the good news — the 2012 crowdfunding explosion in gaming is paving the way for safe innovation in the industry. Venues like Kickstarter allow developers to gauge interest in a title before investing too heavily in it and abort an idea that isn’t receiving the consumer-based funding deemed necessary to proceed. By reducing risk, developers have the freedom to be more creative and innovative. By providing funding, gamers have the ability to decide which titles see the light of day. It only took a couple of decades, but the gaming industry is finally evolving to a point where consumers can clearly and quantifiably communicate their desires to developers.

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12 Comments on Is David Cage Right About Gamers Being to Blame for Sequels?

Black Wolf

On January 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

Fanboys, including those within the industry, are to blame for the influx of sequels and lack of innovation. They demand more even from IPs that explicitly shouldn’t deliver more (cough*Mass Effect*cough) and shoot down anyone else’s judgements with cries of ‘entitled’ (cough*Mass Effect*cough) meaning that developers and publishers are actively rewarded for keeping everything the same. Even if everyone who detested Mass Effect 3′s ending or lost trust in the Call of Duty franchise after the Nuketown DLC debacle decided to boycott those respective developers and/or publishers, they’d barely make a dent in sales figures or critical consensus despite numbering in the tens upon hundreds of thousands.

Also, David Cage is far from an authority on innovation. He’s actually a key figure in industry stagnation with his meaningless, incomprehensible stories held together with manipulative interactions between barely-established characters and hiding behind a smokescreen of pretty production values and needlessly complicated control schemes. He’s a press darling because he gives the crass illusion of progression while simultaneously keeping standards the same, coupled with the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who work for mainstream games publications are career journalists with no knowledge or experience in creative writing or philosophical study, and for whom gaming is less a hobby than an obstacle to their populist editorials.

Real gamers have been complaining about the industry’s ethical and creative freefall for over a decade.

Patches

On January 23, 2013 at 10:53 am

Taking risks involve making desing decisions that can be good or bad…
In the case of Diablo 3 hey made a tons of bad decisions (Minimum map layout randomness, Online-only, RMAH, Force us to play entire story easy before playing harder, bad skill at start leading to nerf-a-thon, to name a few…)…

Some interesting ideas, like the new ability to change the skill anytime, are overshadowed by the lot of mistakes done by Jay and co…

As for Starcraft 2, it hard to really complain…
Why change something that is not broken, and hugely popular?… Beside with Starcraft 1 stuck in 640×480, it was time to have an update, or the phenomemon would have probably died, for lack of compatibility with new PCs on the market…

KiriONE

On January 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I’m going to assume he wasn’t really thinking before he spoke. Otherwise this is just a self-aggrandizing CEO from his ivory tower of Quantic Dream with a holier-than-though attitude. To be fair Heavy Rain was a good game, but please….

First, even before gaming sequels existed in all forms of media, and they existed to continue stories and sagas. Literature and Cinema have had plenty of sequels throughout time.

There’s also a difference between squeezing a sequel out of something and writing a story that’s intended to be done as a trilogy, or a duology. The Batman movies come to mind as something that was squeezing money from a franchise (Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney era), the later ones were crap but made tons of money. In games, franchise like GTA which has “sequels” in more or less name only is both a critically acclaimed success as well as a financial one.

Let’s not pretend like a company isn’t going to milk their cow. The butcher doesn’t put food on the table to feed your family, he does it to feed his. Sequels exist because they make money, I’d hardly say that game developers really “phone it in” when doing sequels. D3 was a Sisyphean task that blizzard waited too long on and again, was a financial success but considered a failure among gamers. I don’t think Blizzard’s motivation to bring that game through a full development cycle was based on gamer demand.

Game publishers are just like the music industry and their pop artists, you put out albums because that’s what your contract says.

I’d like to see him mention clear and present examples of contemporary sequels that didn’t live up to their potential creatively, I’d exclude modern day franchise shooters. But even games like MW3 and BF3 have changed aspects from their preceding installations.

Maybe one day he’ll climb down from his ivory tower and see that he’s not the only game company out there bringing fire into the cave.

Edg3

On January 24, 2013 at 7:00 am

I dont think Cage is far off with this, hes made a really good point, but its not ALL gamers, mostly its console gamers, as we on the PC play off the same thing we complain off its easier for us to make a fuss about games we dont like. Planetside 2 for example, has more players then the recent CoD or MW whatever you wanna call it, we also still have more people playing CoD MW1 then we do people playing the newest, according to stats Ive seen for game servers and stuff.

The problem is companies see a stagnant but lucrative market in the console gen, the tech is limited so pumping out constant reskinned remade games is the way forward, why invest in a soon to be dead (in a sense) generation of graphics when you can sell millions of copies of a game that was basically released 7years ago and hit its prime about 6 years ago, yet it sells because theres nothing else out there for console players who want a multiplayer game.

And proof is in the releases for PC games, that they just dont care, we get bad ports, bad res, vsync issues, bad performance and 6-7 hour games that can sometimes take longer to download (Max Payne 3).

He has a point, even though he hasnt done much for innovation himself at least he broke the mold with Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecies, while not amazing games they were different, tried something new and they succeeded in doing so.

Its easy to blame a dying generation but the fact that they’ve been milking that excuse for years now is evidence that its BS. Why invest in innovation when you can turn your console into a media centre, pushing gaming to the back while giving people Netflix and Facebook, 2 things you can get on a SMART tv or a ing PC! Your limited with technology sure but not imagination, but imagination might cause you to loose money and technology just means you can make your games look better, it doesnt make them actually better.

Goner

On January 24, 2013 at 7:09 am

To choose.
Your meal, your belief, your game,that’ s sound great.
Kickstarter maybe another big step.

Erik

On January 24, 2013 at 8:30 am

One thing we always ignore int he sequel debate is that, often, sequels are GOOD. When good writers, good artists, and good programmers can get a budget to work together on a trilogy, good things happen. I know sequels can kill creativity, but does anybody really regret that there were three Gears of War or Mass Effect games? Does anybody think they should never make another Zelda? Sure, sometimes a game gets a sequel simply because it sold well, but often those sequels get the time and money it takes to make them good precisely because the first game sold well.

What really hobbles the industry is that we want more of good things, but also want new things. So a good game comes out, and then that game succeeds and gets added to the list of games that deserve a sequel. Now there’s one more sequel to look forward to, but also more new games. As more and more new games are good and merit sequels, we get more sequels; then we complain that the people who make things we like spend all their time making sequels to things we liked.

Love Puff

On January 24, 2013 at 9:19 am

Erik – I’ll focus on one aspect of what you said.

“I know sequels can kill creativity, but does anybody really regret that there were three Gears of War or Mass Effect games?”

With regards to Mass Effect especially (Gears isn’t really renowned for being much more than a fun, mostly mindless series to begin with), nobody complained about there being two ME sequels because that’s how the series was always advertised. It was known for a long time that BioWare intended to make it a trilogy, so it’s not really fair to lump that in with the majority of sequels which are sequels to completely self-contained games that didn’t necessitate continuation. When you set out from the start to make a series, people usually respond well to that as long as they can see tangible improvements and advancements in each instalment while staying true to the path that was established at the beginning.

People DID, however, complain about the ending to ME3 being totally moronic, vague nonsense and the predictable-yet-still-sad-to-witness announcement of a Mass Effect 4. No restraint, no grand plan, just a cash cow. Whatever the original creators envisaged with the first game has now been totally disregarded in order to cater to a brand name. THAT’S what people hate – the cynical, outdated belief system that the best way to move an industry forward is to keep doing the exact same thing. It didn’t work for World Championship Wrestling with the nWo in the 90′s (in fact it killed the company) and it won’t work forever here.

Sooner or later, the ‘fans’ who adopted videogames as their trendy pass-time within the last decade or so will find another hobby and sales of regurgitated toss will finally begin to stall. EA, Activision et al are just making the most of it while they can. I guess you can’t blame them, but it feels like killing the golden goose.

Wesker1984

On January 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

David Cage is an idiot and BEEPhole.

Zyzxx

On January 26, 2013 at 12:23 am

“…blaming us for investing in publishers that have no interest in innovation.”

*Cough* Square Enix *cough*…

And it’s not all gamers, although I’m sure he was simply generalizing with a poor choice of being unspecific. It’s the fanboys who will eat up a series no matter how terrible it has become, simply because of “brand recognition”.

*Cough* Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2, XIII-3, XIII-whatever *cough*…

Tiagonal

On January 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Yep, I kinda feel responsible now for hyping Isaac Clarke’s storyline for Dead Space sequel, when all I really wanted was an unexpected turn to very different settings, new main characters, new horrors, all new and shiny but with all known mechanincs thus broadening the scope of the Dead Space universe. I feel responsible somehow for posting so many fanboysm in the long dead forums, and now I deserve a crappy Dead Space 3.

Faizan Ali

On January 30, 2013 at 10:09 pm

WTF IS HE TALKING ABOUT?
If it wasn’t for the sequels there WOULD be NO HL2, No innovation no creativity,
If it wasn’t for the sequels there WOULD be NO GTASA best open world game ever created.

Blahblahblah

On November 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

First of all David Cage’s games are not good they are really bad. Also Cage has almost no I dea about innovation as we see scenes repeated time and time again in his 3 games Indigo Prophocey, Heavy Rain, and Beyond two souls. All in all David Cage is a bad designer and has no right speaking in negative ways towards the gaming community.