On Friday, Activision announced that new installments of both Call of Duty and Skylanders will be releasing in 2016. Gamers around the world reacted with a collective groan, simultaneously saying “Not again”. The studio, the 5th largest in the world, has released a game in the Call of Duty series once a year since 2003. Skylanders, while beginning more recently, has also gotten the once-a-year treatment since Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure released in 2011. The as-of-now untitled Call of Duty and Skylanders releases will be the 14th and 6th titles in each franchise. This raises an important question: how much is too much? After all, two of the greatest video game franchises of all time were killed by Activision’s oversaturation.
Activision Has a Bad Habit of Repeating History
As a child, one of my favorite video games of all time was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The THPS series was partially a reason skateboarding launched into the mainstream in the early 2000’s. People like myself who were far too uncoordinated to ride an actual skateboard (and I still have the bruised tailbone to prove it) could live out their dreams, if only by use of a controller and television. For the first few years of its lifespan, each sequel brought new features, upgraded graphics, and more fun. Then the games kept coming, and kept coming, and kept coming. And fans lost interest. I lost interest. Staring down the face of dwindling sales, they attempted to reinvent the series with Tony Hawk: Ride in 2009. It featured a skateboard peripheral with motion sensors that gamers would use for their skate sessions. However, the game was a monumental flop. The skateboard was unresponsive at best and aggravating at worst. After poor sales of Ride and its 2010 sequel, Tony Hawk: Shred, Activision announced that future games in the series would be put on hold. That hold ultimately lasted five short years before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 released in late 2015. However, the game that the studio was putting its hope on to revive the series was panned by critics. The physics were laughable, the graphics were poor, and the mechanics were broken. Gamers around the world were left with a sour taste in their mouth as they played this mess of a game. Needless to say that barring a horrendous spell of delusion, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 6 won’t be happening anytime soon.
Guitar Hero is a more curious case. Whenever the original game released in 2005, it was met with critical acclaim and mainstream success. Simply put, the game was fun! It was a game that could bring friends together for great times. Its sequel was met with very similar success. Then, a lot of issues in the boardroom arose. The developers, Harmonix, were bought by MTV Games and immediately started work on their first game, the similar Rock Band. Activision, not willing to let a good brand go to waste, enrolled Neversoft (the same studio who brought the world the Tony Hawk series) to create future games in the Guitar Hero series. History would prove to repeat itself. More and more games came. Fans cared and cared less. There were two main issues that the developers simply could not overcome. The first would be the staleness of the series. You can only do so much with the same gameplay mechanic, and later entries would prove that. Consumers were basically buying the exact same game as they were the year before. The second issue was the price. While it was important to have the peripherals to play the games, they would make the price tag too high in a struggling economy. Suddenly, gamers realized they didn’t want to spend their money on new games in the series, and Activision put it on hiatus after the disappointing Warriors of Rock in 2010.
However, the economy improved, and Activision decided they wanted to revive the series for the new generation of consoles. Developer FreeStyleGames took leaps and bounds to freshen up the game by introducing a new, more realistic button layout for their guitar peripheral. Introducing a 24-hour online music video channel called Guitar Hero TV was another new step they took in livening up the game. In theory, the steps they took had succeeded. Reviews for the game, while not spectacular, were very good. The product had certainly improved. However, the game still boasted a steep $100 price tag for the game and controller, and despite many attempts to put the game on sale, sales struggled. Activision has since declared the game a commercial failure.
I’ve spoken about Activision’s history of oversaturation. In my next post, I will cover the challenges facing these two storied franchises. I also have a solution to this problem. Stay tuned!