Living in the age of mass markets and huge entertainment franchises, it seems a while since there was a decent game released that actually respected the source material and the license the studio managed to get it’s hands on. With the upcoming release of Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA’s second attempt to generate a successful Star Wars game following the lukewarm first edition, I’ve taken to compiling a small set of criteria for what made previous franchise games truly interesting and how newer attempts can be inspired to fall less into the cash-cow and more into the artisan category of entertainment.
Consider moving outside of established media
Usually the more famous a brand or franchise is, the harder it can be to appease an audience that compromises both an army of dedicated fans as well as the general public. Therefore sometimes it can be useful to develop works that have less of a public knowledge which can make for a more refreshing release despite also being a media tie-in. The Metro 2033 series, based upon the novel series by Dmitry Glukhovsky, garnered wide-spread attention upon release despite the original source material being fairly unknown in the market prior to the games’ creation. Taking full advantage of untapped resources like this not only allows for the exploration of new stories and game worlds, but also comes with the added bonus of promoting the original works, thus encouraging the creator to develop more material for possible use in future games.
Use the world, not the story
If the game is focusing on some form of story-line, it can be worth using the franchise as a vehicle for telling a unique tale rather than re-telling what has been shown before. Shadow of Mordor is an interesting example, with the main plot taking a relative backseat in order for a collection of previously unknown characters to make their own way through Middle-Earth, with all the character development that entails. A more famous example is Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, an alternate telling with the added capability of changing the existing canon itself. In other words, building a story first and fitting the franchise details around it can often be far more rewarding from a creative stand-point than simply taking what already exists and making it interactive.
No Tie-In is better than a Bad Tie-In
This may seem obvious, but with pre-ordering and DLC basically the norm at this point is does bear repeating. AAA publishers, particularly when they get hold of a famous franchise, like to pump out iterations for maximum profit without the annoyance of actual creative effort. Alas this is usually a fault on both sides of the divide, with developers and franchise owners in the same mindset. Therefore, indie and alternative developers may instead choose the route of establishing creative and innovative products through public domain or relatively cheap franchises, for example the upcoming Call of Cthulhu by Cyanide Studio which makes use of both a well-known and (mostly) publically available intellectual property. Or perhaps (gasp!) to create brand new franchises that others will want to copy from in the future.