Next month will see the GDC Online convention come to Dallas, Texas, and with it will come a variety of informational panels about game development
. One of the biggest questions slated to be asked is one I thought was worth asking in a little better detail: can a game franchise survive a reboot?
The answer, of course, is a conditional yes. Game franchises have survived reboots before on several levels. Mario gets a new one with most every system Nintendo
releases. But as is the case, every reboot faces one common problem: comparison to its predecessor. A game franchise that was well loved will face a significant backlash on its reboot, an inevitable consequence of a philosophy that suggests just what to do when discovering that something isn't actually broke.
If the reboot can offer significant and noticeable advantages over its predecessor--something beyond a shiny new coat of paint in the form of updated graphics--then it will likely be met with a much more reasoned and measured response, as well as some note of success. Relying on the love of the predecessor, however, to cover the ills of the reboot is a strategy for failure and a serious backlash as the reboot is discovered to be "unworthy" of its predecessor.
Of course, these measures don't come without a note of subjectivity. One gamer's "significant and noticeable advantages" is another gamer's "complete ruination of the series", and few things will ever change that. Still though, it makes the case; every reboot is inherently judged--harshly or kindly though it may be--against its predecessors. A good reboot is a good game. A bad reboot is a bad game.
Rebooting a franchise is a dangerous game. The desire to take the great names of the past--Link, Mario, Samus
, Solid Snake...Sonic...and so on--and put them into new settings with new situations and new gameplay mechanics is tempting. A game that's already at least partially written by sheer virtue of the main character being in play is a welcome reduction in time to development. But the desire to save time and accompanying costs must be balanced against the need to preserve the overall value of the intellectual property in question.
So can a game franchise survive a reboot. Yes. Yes it can. It can even survive a bad one. But they are inherently dangerous projects that may mean the difference between a best-seller and a property in decline.