Opinion: Every year, around this time, we get a wave of annually released titles. I embrace some, like FIFA, while scoffing at others, such as Call of Duty. I’m a hypocrite, but I think with good reason…
I’m somewhat of a hypocrite.
Every year, when the Autumn months roll around, I’m first in line to play the latest FIFA or Football Manager release, and usually the first person to praise and defend their small improvements, where others may decry them as pointless updates that add nothing to the experience.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the release calender sees Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty pop up, two titles which are now synonymous with annual releases. Instead of praising and playing these alongside my football hits, I scoff at them, bemoaning their unadventurous nature and looking dumbfounded towards those who flock to buy them again and again.
As said, I’m somewhat of a hypocrite.
The reason for this discrepancy in my attitude towards different annual releases isn’t simply a case of having a preference for a certain type of game, though. It’s not that I like FIFA and dislike Call of Duty, and therefore the former is fine to release annually and the latter the devil for doing so. It’s more to do with what can be achieved within the genres of each game, or what achievement is being prevented by releasing games on such a regular and rigid scale.
With a game like FIFA, a football simulation, there’s nothing else that that genre can hope to be. There may be slight differences between how, say, Pro Evo and FIFA play, but at their core, they are both always going to be association football: 11 people versus 11 people (and hopefully in the near future it actually will be people, with EA seeing fit to include the women’s side of the game rather than just the men’s) on a field of grass with white lines painted on it, and a goal at both ends.
The same applies to Football Manager: the annual updates to the game are really all you can do to it – there’s no scope for a massive overhaul in the management game, as again, managing a football team is all you can do in a football management game. And that’s why, despite playing essentially the same thing again and again year after year, it never feels stale, because the only choice you’ve got is to play to same thing again and again.
In contrast, there’s so many things a FPS can do that Call of Duty actively prevents them doing. By being the biggest game on the market and releasing annually, Call of Duty barely innovates, instead sticking to the formula it knows works and flogging it again and again in a different shell. That’s problematic because you don’t need to be so rigid in the FPS field: you can adopt entirely new ways of playing, and craft a unique experience in that space every single time – something that Call of Duty will never do.
It also means other games hoping to succeed in the FPS market, games which are trying to innovate and offer something different, don’t get a chance, such is the focus on Call of Duty year after year, while others simply decide the only way to succeed is to copy Activision’s shooter and provide it with direct competition. Either way, innovation is stifled, and while it may not be Activision’s responsibility, or even in their best financial interests, to support innovation in the industry, stifling it is a still the off-product of their franchise.
It can still be argued that Football Manager and FIFA don’t need the annual releases. If they took all the minor alterations and improvements that come each year, and simply borught them all out in one game every three or four years, would it make a huge difference, so long as they updated the game with new squads etc. each season? It probably wouldn’t – if only because you wouldn’t know any better.
But there’s something about the new edition that reignites your interest in the same formula – and that’s also why Call of Duty continues to sell, and why Black Ops II will once again sell mammoth amounts. It doesn’t matter that you’re bored of the old one, or that you know the new one isn’t a massive improvement – by putting a shiny new number or name on it, the marketing team will recapture your interests, and the small changes do just enough to justify you playing a brand new version of exactly the same thing.
And that’s where the root of my hypocrisy lies. A new iteration of FIFA certainly isn’t original, but nor does it choke originality within the industry. Call of Duty does – it doesn’t have the luxury of existing within such a confined genre bubble, meaning it doesn’t just harm innovation within its own franchise, but across the whole FPS board, and that can only be a bad thing for everyone.