It is no secret that developers will re-release their games on future platforms in the hopes of making more money. If a company is able to identify an audience willing to give them money for a product, one that the company has the means to produce, and there is a significant likelihood of making a good profit from creating said product, a company will likely do so. As video game development companies are still companies looking to make a profit, this can be an easy decision for them to make. Far too frequently we witness people forgetting that developers still need to profit in order to survive and falling victim to the mentality that all of a developer’s decisions must be made strictly to appease gamers regardless of whether it has negative consequences in other realms of their existence. In a perfect world, developers and publishers would be able to create and release as many games as they wanted, never go bankrupt or cancel franchises due to poor sales, and be able to create the games exactly how they were intended. The sad reality is that for the aforementioned reason of needing to profit, this is not the case and the gaming industry is suffering due to fear.
How exactly is the industry suffering because of fear? Fear is an emotional response and industries do not have emotions as they are not people. Well, the gaming industry (or any industry for that mater) is made up of several different components, all of which are various groups of people. The groups involved with video game creation and purchasing can be broken up into the developers, publishers, and the audience (referred to as “gamers” for simplicity’s sake). Each of these groups have their own agendas and motivations for their actions but are all still influenced by human emotion as a whole.
Setting The Stage
It is the motivations behind these three groups which explains why the industry is being plagued by so many HD remakes, so let us take a closer look. Developers and publishers are both eager to profit from their endeavours, something very few people would argue is unacceptable. A development team will have an idea in mind for a game they would like to create and if they have the means to self-publish, they may choose to go this route although it does have drawbacks such as a generally lower budget for creation as well as advertising. The developer may also realize they need some assistance in funding their game and seek out help from publishers, but at this point publishers may have their own demands or visions for the game. As previously stated, publishers are looking to make a profit as well, meaning that they will generally only invest in a game if they believe the end product will be financially successful. To get an idea of what will be successful, the company may rely on experience, but it may also look at trends in the industry and sales of comparable titles.
Looking at sales of other games can be an incredibly useful tool when attempting to gauge how a new title will fare on the market, but it is also the cause of great fear on the part of developers and publishers. If they are trying to release a new IP on the Wii U but notice that third party Wii U exclusives, particularly new IPs, are not doing well, then suddenly they may be more hesitant to release the title on that system or at all. Likewise, if the publisher and developer see that HD remakes of games are selling like hotcakes, this may influence their decisions on which games to financially back or develop respectively. Even publishers have finite resources so they must be selective in which games they promote, leading to the obvious decision to choose those which stand the best chance of being profitable. If an HD remake already has slightly lower production cost because they are simply giving the graphics a boost rather than developing an entire game from scratch, it means they have to sell less copies to be profitable, an undeniable advantage when money is the goal. There will inevitably be companies willing to take risks, but it is always done with profit in mind.
The third party involved in all of this is the gamers themselves as they are the ones purchasing games and playing them. There are a number of elements which may factor into one’s decision to purchase a game including but not limited to price, genre, whether it is a new IP or part of an established franchise, the gamer’s past experience with that developer, advertising, what their friends play, purchase bonuses, availability, review scores, and possibly even the general mood of the gamer on that particular day. One of the more prominent factors is undoubtedly the cost considering that gaming can be a pricey hobby, so most people do not wish to spend $60+ on a game which turns out to be unenjoyable. For this reason, many gamers will turn to reviews to give them an idea of how good a game will be, particularly if it is a new IP. Reviews can be a useful tool for getting an idea of whether or not a title may appeal to you, but gamers as a whole are far more likely to rely on reviews when it is a new IP being examined rather than a sequel to an established franchise simply due to the unknown nature of a new franchise. Due to this train of thought, many gamers are inclined to pick up an HD remake title or bundle because it is something they already know they enjoy.
As a game series releases more titles, other gamers take note of the scores over time, possibly try the game if a friend has it, and through consistency or repeated brief experiences, these gamers may become less reluctant to purchase the next installment of that franchise because it is not as foreign or does not seem like as much of a risk. This reality helps developers who have released two or three titles in a series already, but it does not help a brand new team or IP. The consumers, gamers, are only bolstering the case for sequels and remakes in this instance due to the developers and publishers wanting to profit.
The Damage Being Done
With the motivations behind all three parties having been discussed, we can touch on how HD remakes are killing the industry. The reason we have franchises such as Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Dragon Age, Borderlands, and Fable is because people were not afraid to take chances when developing games. The developers and publishers behind them took chances on what they believed gamers would buy and they were right. Not all developers are this lucky sadly, and taking chances may lead to studio closures or abandoning a potential franchise. Games like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Too Human are prime examples of what can happen to a studio when the audience is not willing to take chances on new titles. Obviously, this is not a desirable end for any company, so releasing HD remakes is the development teams and publishers hedging their bets in order to make profit.
We are seeing waves of HD remakes finding their way into the video game market at the present and one can not help but feel the trend is only growing in popularity. Silent Hill, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, God of War, Metro 2033, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, Perfect Dark, Halo, Ocarina of Time, Street Fighter, Beyond Good and Evil, Bully, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Sky Cooper are all franchises or titles that have received HD remakes in recent years. If this list seems lengthy, that would be because it is lengthy but this is only a fraction of the games which have been remastered over the years. Some games do not receive HD remakes for 10, 15, or even 20 years, but some only have to wait a year. Is it really necessary to see a title re-released less than a year later with slightly better graphics on a new console? Absolutely not, but it is done because it will yield profits and a large number of gamers will purchase the game even though they likely possess it on the original platform as well.
It is tough to tell a business not to make money and chase profit, especially if they provide you with products you like, but let us examine this concept in a slightly different light. When you already own a game (we will use The Last of Us as an example) on the PS3 and you purchase a PS4, purchasing The Last of Us again on the PS4 is actively stating to other developers that you would rather purchase a game you already own on a perfectly functioning system at full retail than spend that money taking a chance on their game. This is the message being sent to the video game industry every time an HD remake is sold, especially in the aforementioned case.
Obviously not everyone purchasing a re-release will already own the game and it would be horribly illogical to jump to this conclusion. I myself own the Silent Hill HD Collection as well as Beyond Good and Evil HD because I had never played those titles previously when they first released. Those remakes have allowed me to experience those titles without needing to locate their original counterparts which is one of the undeniable advantages to re-releasing titles. The remake of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse has allowed an entirely new generation of gamers to experience that title, but there was certainly more than one or two years between the original release and the HD remake. Sadly, it does not matter how long gamers have waited between releases, the industry will simply view the sales of HD remakes as one large category which promises profits for generally lower production costs. Creativity, new titles, and risk-takers are all suffering within the industry because of the desire for profit and reinforcement by gamers using their money to purchase remakes or sequels over new titles. If this continues and grows, we will reach a point when it will be far more rare to see a new IP retail title than an HD remake, causing the industry to become stagnant and eventually die due to lack of innovation.
The reality is that HD remakes are becoming more popular, and more companies are opting to release them. There is only one way to effectively slow down or stop this trend, and that is to speak with your wallet. When companies stop profiting from releasing remakes, they will stop releasing them as they will no longer be a surefire way to create revenue. At that point, one of the strongest motivators behind releasing a game will have been removed and companies will be far less likely to do so. This will not guarantee that new IP’s will become more prominent in the gaming landscape, but it definitely helps nurture creativity as opposed to rewarding laziness.
Obviously I cannot force any of you to do anything with your own money as it is yours to spend how you see fit. I am simply observing what is happening within the industry and trying to warn against the future consequences of this trend if it continues. Some may feel it is an overreaction or that it is unrealistic, but when you stop to think about how many remakes we have seen released and announced in the past 5 years, it is a startling realization as the number is growing. At the end of the day, developers and publishers are in business for the money, making finance and public perception two of the very few factors they care about. The lesson from this editorial is to use your wallet and intelligence to build and influence the future of the industry you hold so dear. If you do not pay attention to what you support or how you support it, the ramifications may be more dire than you believe.
Eric is an Xbox editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.