The gift giving season is in the air, new consoles have launched, and the Steam winter sale is currently live. Game purchases are being made at great rates, no doubt, but before those purchases come the unavoidable evaluation of the games up for sale. Which titles deserve my money? What I find most compelling in this decision making process is the balancing act between the familiar and the new. Something new is exciting and promising, it could become my new favorite game, it could turn me on to other older games that are similar to it. A familiar game is a known quantity, it is in many ways a sort of guarantee that my money is going to get me a certain kind of experience. Usually, even “familiar” games have new content in them, new aspects that differentiate one game from the last, but these are not the selling point. As a dedicated gamer I want various things from my gaming experiences, and sometimes I just want more of something. Successful game franchises have built their names around catering to both of these desires, of wanting something new and of wanting something familiar, and I find it proves that either element makes for a compelling purchase.
Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series is a wonderful example of a franchise that changes in fundamental ways with each mainline entry. It is little wonder, therefore, that this series has generated an avid fanbase while individual titles have garnered harsh criticism. The idea of something new at every turn is exciting and holds the potential to become the next “best” Final Fantasy, one that could spin off or inspire other games down the road. But this is a gamble, and not every Final Fantasy title’s innovations have been received well. Some dramatic changes to the magic and leveling systems in Final Fantasy VIII have made that particular title a popular target, yet I do know a few people who really enjoy that game. For as unpopular as some entries in the series may be, there are still some out there who enjoy them or even find them their favorite title. The Final Fantasy fanbase is therefore very broad and full of gamers with very different tastes. A fairly unique situation, to be sure, and one that speaks both to the power of new as well as familiar experiences in games.
If one side were to be credited with having more market power, then it might sadden some to learn that the familiar is a much greater market force currently. The foremost example of the success of familiar games is undoubtedly Activision’s Call of Duty franchise which exploded to prominence after the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Since that entry in the series, subsequent games have only featured graphical improvements and iterative additions to the gameplay. While each of the campaigns in the series feature different characters set in different locales, it is a poorly kept secret that many people who buy the latest CoD do so for the online competitive multiplayer mode. The mutiplayer mode is perhaps the most iterative part of an already very familiar game series, but this aspect of familiarity appeals strongly, year over year, to a wide array of gamers. The newest entry, Call of Duty: Ghosts became the first in a while to receive some poor critical appraisal and sales of the game have reflected this downturn. However, this still puts sales of the newest entry at a level many other developers would love to be. I personally find the series compelling enough to buy the newest entry every other year, content on subsisting on the older one for the time between the next Treyarch-produced title.
Finally, I come to a more recent and specific example. Pikmin 3 was released not long ago on the WiiU and even more recently I had acquired a brand new WiiU. My first two games for the system can very safely be categorized as “familiar” experiences. Both Pikmin 3 and The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD are games I knew I wanted as well as games from which I knew what to expect. Wind Waker HD is a mostly straightforward HD port of the original GameCube game, but Pikmin 3 is an entirely new entry in the series. Although it is similar to its predecessors, I would argue that it is no more so than other Nintendo franchise entries that I have adored in the past. Mario Galaxy 2, Majora’s Mask, and all of the Fire Emblem games have all been experiences that felt comfortable and familiar. They all promised me “more”, and at times “more” is all I want out of a new game purchase. In the case of Pikmin 3, the gameplay has been tweaked and some new elements have been added, but the biggest change is probably the arrival of HD visuals. Though Wind Waker HD is a pretty good showcase of HD Nintendo software, Pikmin 3 is stunning in its art direction and the way in which it handles its HD presentation (no excessive bloom lighting here). Whenever I have more of what I want, I still enjoy what I get. Some (whoever they may be) might disagree that this is worth the full price of a new game, but I say that my enjoyment is not diminished in the face of the familiarity of Pikmin 3. Having finished the game I can certainly say I enjoyed it as much as the original, and maybe a little bit more, and with the added support of DLC missions I will continue to do so for some time.
What games or game series do you enjoy for being either fresh and new or familiar and expected? Do you have a preference for which of these experiences you want in your new game purchases? Is there a particular game you enjoyed despite it being very familiar or very different? Expound in the comments and do not forget that you can follow posts and comments to be notified of all your most favorite people (me) here at Lcom.