In Steve’s article in favor of annualized franchises, he used Assassin’s Creed as an example to support his point. Interestingly enough, I feel that AC actually proves why games SHOULDN’T be annualized...and for a lot of the same reasons he gave to aid his argument. He said that Assassin’s Creed III wasn’t all that good. Would it have been better, perhaps, if Ubisoft hadn’t spent the previous four years making FOUR Assassin’s Creed titles? They took two years following up the first Assassin’s Creed with part 2, which by all accounts – mine included – was time extremely well spent as the game was not only universally praised as far better than its predecessor, but it still has the highest Metacritic rating in the franchise’s history (so one can make the argument that it is, in fact, the best of the AC games). Instead of taking another two years to craft a well made, highly polished follow up, they instead decided to turn Assassin’s Creed II into it’s own separate “Ezio trilogy” with two additional games in that time period. Brotherhood and Revelations weren’t bad games by any stretch, and received mostly positive praise, but most people noticed that by the third part of the sub-trilogy the quality had began to dip a bit.
Without taking a single year off, they launched right into Assassin’s Creed III the very next year, supposedly being the “true” sequel to Assassin’s Creed II, and although a good game, it was certainly not the step forward in quality that AC2 was over AC1. You can’t tell me that making so many games in such a short amount of time didn’t give them the full resources they needed to invest in AC3‘s brand new setting and gameplay alterations. Also, as Steve said, while AC3 was still fresh in our minds, Ubi was ALREADY teasing us with AC4 footage. To me, that type of thing doesn’t make the mistakes of the current game “easy to let go.” It makes me irritated that they weren’t even done giving the game that I just paid $60 for the full development time it needed, especially in those crucial final stages of polishing and refinement, before they were pushing it out the door so they could get the cash to dive into their next game to have ready for next year, and get 60 more bucks from me as soon as they could. If the other parts of the Ezio trilogy had been condensed down into just a couple of DLC packs (like GTA4 did), and they had spaced out the core sequels so that there was a couple of years each between 2, 3 and 4, they all would’ve been far better games, and there also wouldn’t have been this odd imbalance between how much time we spent in Ezio’s story and time period while only seeming to briefly check on on Altair, “Connor”, and Edward by comparison.
On the other end of the spectrum, all franchises shouldn’t necessarily take as long between installments as Final Fantasy or Half-Life, either. Having multiple teams working on various Final Fantasy games concurrently – as Activision has down to a billion-dollar-making science with Call of Duty – is certainly a good one. The problem is, the amount of manpower required to make a Final Fantasy game that is up to today’s technological and artistic standards is staggering, and only the biggest companies have the kinds of resources to devote to even ONE game of that scope. Clearly Square has already struggled in that regard in the HD era.
Beyond that, a lot of companies just like to maintain a certain authorship and level of quality control over their games. The Blizzards and Valves of the world don’t want to be publishers and contract other developers to work on their franchises in an effort to get more games out, nor should they HAVE to. Sure, the incredibly long wait between games builds up expectations that are often impossible to meet – see Diablo III‘s less than perfect reception upon finally being released after years and years of waiting. Half-Life 3 isn’t guaranteed to be a masterpiece, either. But there is a LOT of middleground between games that come out every single year and games that come out a decade apart. Franchises like Metal Gear Solid or The Legend of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto. You can generally expect to wait 3-5 years between new entries in those franchises, and I have zero problem with that. Maybe this is personal preference, but I don’t need a CONSTANT stream of new games in a series, even my most favorite ones. There are more than enough different franchises out there, on top of new IP, that there is never a lack of new games to play. In the years between one franchise’s newest installment, there are the newest installments in other franchises. That’s the way it should be. Even if it WERE possible to deliver a top-notch new Metal Gear or Zelda every single year, would we REALLY want that? There’s also something to be said for anticipation, as well as just having the time to fully enjoy the previous installment. I hate the feeling of there being this ticking clock that I only have 12 months before the next game comes out so I’d better be done with this one before then. That’s not how I like to enjoy my games. In addition to all that, we supposedly want NEW games, NEW IP, more creative gameplay experiences. Nope, sorry, they’re too busy making damn sure they get that sequel out every year or two.