Guest Writer: Annual Releases

Two guest pieces in two days? That’s right, I’m actually paying attention to my inbox. Today’s piece comes from regular guest writer Death_in_Flamez, otherwise known as the famous Starfleet Captain James T. Kirk, and regards annual games. It’s worth noting that this was written before EA’s UEFA Euro 2012 DLC released, and before the minor uproar it caused.

It is not so often now that I read a news article related to publishers and a sense of joy fills my heart. I only have to think back to last year and the arrival of the infamous “Pay-for-Online Codes” as just one example in a sea of evil.

What is interesting is that each developer seems to have its own little niche; EA and its money, Activision and its innovation (or lack of it as the case may be), Codemasters and its poor loading screens. Regardless of what the case may be, the relationship between consumer and publisher is arguably at an all-time low.

[drop]One issue very much on the borderline of crossing into pure extortion and still in debate to this day is the concept of the annual game, the earliest example of which traces back to 1988 when EA released the first ever NFL game; John Madden Football. You could suggest that F1 games have gone even further back, although there hasn’t been the annual release of a game by the same publisher from start to present. The closest competitors come in the form of FIFA and PES, starting with annual releases in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

This year, however, EA is actually doing something which I am in absolute agreement with. Instead of dedicating an entire game to the upcoming 2012 European Championship, EA will release the content as an expansion to FIFA 12. Now I’m no regular to the FIFA series (my only purchase being FIFA 2004), but I feel this tactic could reel in so many more customers and big time.

Taking Codemasters’ recent efforts with the F1 franchise, many of you did not buy 2011 due to not feeling there was enough of a different game to justify the full game tag. Some aspects of it were even worse than 2010, and to be honest I’d completely agree with you.

Something tells me this was the case for a number of potential buyers, so using EA’s tactic with the ‘Euros’, this year could publishers actually increase sales of the annual releases? Could you even further exploit games like the F1 series and release DLC from the past? Personally I’d love to go round Abu Dhabi in Schumacher’s Benetton from 1995.

This generation has seen countless revolutions to the way games work. These past few years especially have seen the introduction of things like Kinect and the aforementioned online codes. Freemium is also in a renewed spotlight, and coming into its prime as TSA has covered recently.

Why not try something different when you’ve got a game that isn’t broken? It’s good to get a full game update once in a while, but common sense must surely be a factor now for publishers. People don’t want half a game every year for £40.

[drop2]However, the sad truth is that we only have to look to Call of Duty to find why this will never become the case. I have never seen a subject have so many people say they will never delve into it again only to end up doing so because their mates have bought it.

I myself fell afoul of that issue last year in buying Modern Warfare 3, and paid for it heavily with a game that was good but nowhere near as good as I felt it should be. This is the problem that is spread across the board and will never be cured simply because there are rarely two truly awful games in row.

It’s like an odd love story in some ways with us the consumer constantly returning to the one in control, the publisher, even though we sometimes hate what they have done and wonder; what have we done to deserve this treatment?



  1. I find that all games lose a little bit more charm and as the sequels roll on, and i mean ALL!

    Even Uncharted, Assassins Creed and other game franchises I am very fond of.
    I think we need to ask ourselves why. It could be that we take all the good things for granted and simply let ourselves think “Seen this s**t before” without allowing ourselves to truly admire the work that has gone into it. As humans we may tend to pick at any small issue and overlook the greatness right infront of us.

    We also need to think that gaming is as much a business as anything else and while there is passion in those studios, there are always going to be budgets, timescales in order to pump out a profit.

    The old adage “If it aint broke, dont fix it” is just what some franchises are like. They see we liked it and they give us more and more. Can we blame them for that?

  2. Ignoring the fact that the Euro 2012 DLC turned out to be a disappointment, I was already upset that we wouldn’t see a retail release.

    No, the annual release should definitely stay the annual release.
    And I was VERY annoyed that Euro 2012 didn’t see a retail release.
    First of all, it meant it was only going to come to the big three- PS3, 360 and PC. I don’t think the Wii got it, Vita definitely didn’t. 3DS, PSP and PS2 (both still alive to the point that FIFA 12 came out on them) got nothing either (DS wasn’t included on my list because I don’t think FIFA 12 came out on it).
    Even ignoring that the lack of a box on the high street means less sales, the ignorance of such a wide area of formats, including all the portable consoles (I’d been planning on the Vita version with me to the European Championships) and the biggest selling console (two biggest if you include the PS2 as well as Wii) makes no sense to me.

    The big tournament games are always fantastic, and are always better than the normal version of FIFA. There’s less to focus on, but that just means the teams and players that ARE in it get much more care and attention, and feel much more like their real counterparts.
    In fact, World Cup 2010 might just be the most realistic game in any genre on PS3 because of this. I have traded in two main FIFA games since I bought this (FIFA 11 & FIFA 12 were both excellent games, but don’t match the gameplay), but World Cup 2010 still gets playtime from in my PS3.

    Also, I was especially looking forward to this game, as Ireland have actually qualified for the Euros for the first time since 1988, and a major tournament for the first time since 2002.

    So yeah, as I said, I was always annoyed that this wouldn’t get a retail release from the start.
    I hope EA keep releasing a new FIFA every year, and charge me the full price for them, because, simply put, they’re worth every last cent and more. Millions enjoy them, and play them to death. Hopefully EA won’t make the mistake they made this year, and release a full World Cup 2014 game when it comes around. And hopefully Ireland will be in it. Sadly, I won’t be able to bring it with me, seeing as Poland is a bit easier to get to than Brazil.

    Anyway, great read, but I was never going to agree with you, even if the DLC turned out to be a 10/10 release.

    • I concur, I feel an annual release is a nice thing to have and that DLC can only be accessed through the internet, people like my Dad, who loves and buys FIFA annually like me, who doesn’t have internet access, would miss out, which would be truly unfair.

      Also, that was a very large comment!

      • What about expansions that are released at retail as well as digitally like Rockstar’s GTAIV & Red Dead Revolver stuff?

      • They were excellent pieces of DLC which were also made available at retail (eventually).

        However, they’re not annual releases like FIFA, COD or Assassin’s Creed either. The only one of the three I’m guaranteed to buy is FIFA, well worth it.
        I don’t tend to replay shooters over and over though (I’m not very good at them), and I didn’t like the first Assassin’s Creed.
        Simply put, if people like them, then give it to them. I don’t see the need to criticise developers for making a great game which millions of people love by not taking risks.

        And as much as the Rockstar expansions were great, a sequel which upgrades the gameplay even only slightly would surely be better than an expansion? What did they add that couldn’t have been done purely by changing the script of RDR or GTdlc AIV? All they were was different stories, just like Euro 2012 was different teams and tournament. It’s just that there’s easier ways to dress up a lack of gameplay announcements with more story-driven games than FIFA.

  3. Very good article, was talking to a few friends about this. Always have wished that FIFA would let you, for a small price, download new kits/squads for new seasons instead of buying a whole new game if you didnt want to spend £40 for a few extra features.

    I have also wished they released historical cars on F1 games, however I think the license to make the game is very restricted as to what content they are allowed to release and is often limited to current teams/cars.

  4. I’m happy for FIFA to be an annual release because since 08 every game has enuinely seemed like a step up and have never had a problem paying £25-£40 for. The idea to make Euro 2012 dlc was a great idea because the license shouldn’t be a £40 disc release however it is an absolute shambles.

    Not every team is licensed to play from the qualifiers you have to do it online, I hate playing FIFA online it’s best either vs AI or multiplayer on the same system. Also you can’t select you want in the squad or change kit numbers, I think Rooney is number 24 or something and I feel like I’ve been mugged of £15.

  5. I think annual releases are getting of hand, hence why I’ve never owned a Call of Duty game hardly ever.

    • Missed out on a great game in BlOps then

      • Well you say that but I have friends who are like the hardcore CoD gamers and theres me where I’m more the average gamer. I buy the games I like every 6 months or more. However I do still want to catchup on games I’ve been meaning to buy.

  6. Its not just games but films as well that churn out more and more each year. Creating games and films for a mainstream audience is no longer craftsmanship or art, its just a tool used by a studio to make money.

    • True, games nowadays are devoid of achievement or purpose.

  7. I agree there’s a problem, but the principle examples used should be different.
    Call Of Duty essentially has a biannual release, with MW1, 2 & 3 alternated with [email protected], BlOps & BlOps2. beyond both sets being an FPS they are very different games, with IMO Treyarch peeing all over IW releases which have barely changed since MW1 all those years ago, whereas [email protected] and BlOps are massively different & BlOps2 from the previews keeps up that pace of change

    FIFA’s are frequently different but some releases seem quite a cut & paste job, FIFA07 was a leap ahead of what went before, but yes FIFA08 was relatively similar, but FIFA09 was again a generational leap 10 & 11 were both remarkably similar (I thought reviewers were extremely generous in largely overlooking this) and it was 12 that brought in a another generational leap.

    The recent Euro12 DLC for FIFA shows why it would be an awful idea to release updates this way, the experience has been shrunk down to match DLC pricepoint, but in doing so it still feels vastly overpriced and it’s been a real miss not to see any gameplay innovations that normally feature in these releases.

    An example I would use is Assassin’s Creed, I’m alone in spending a considerable amount of time with AC1 but not really feeling AC2 and then the cash-ins of ACB & ACR really could have just been expansions mission expansions.

    How far do we go down this route though, could God Of War Ascension just be a few prequal story missions along with the multiplayer expansion for GoW3, Mass Effect 3? the list could go on & on…

    Did Rockstar get it right with GTAIV & RDR with Lost & the Damned, Ballad of Gay Tony (both of these offering far better value than Assassin’s Creed Revelations for example) and of course the Undead Nightmare for RDR… Is digital expansion/retail standalone the path forward rather than all the sequels which offer nothing but for some story expansion, I think so.

  8. Article was going well until you mentioned COD. The Call of Duty franchise is annual, the Call of Duty games are not.

    Modern Warfare 3 had a two year development cycle, as does every Call of Duty game. You do know that more than one studio works on COD, right? The Modern Warfare series were released two years apart. World at Word, Blops and Blops2 are also all two years apart.

    Finally, “Activision and its innovation (or lack of it as the case may be),”.

    That may be your opinion (and I respect that) but Skylanders? The use of NFC? Innovative. Tony Hawk Ride, despite not working as a concept in my opinion and the subject of a lot of derision, it was still innovative. Activision tried something new. It didn’t work, but at least they tried it.

    It’s a shame, as you touched upon a good topic – DLC reinvigorating the annual game cycle – I just don’t know why COD had to rear its head once again.

    The concept of “the annual game” is a hot topic as most gamers are concerned they’re not getting enough in such a short development cycle. That’s not the case when you have games on two year development periods. You could argue that two years is not even enough. That would be another (and good!) debate.

    • World at War even. World at Word is the Words With Friends clone I’m working on :)

      • Unfortunately though I think COD really outshines most of my examples in the sense that its formula (if you will) has remained exactly the same since MW. The Call of Duty name encompasses all titles and although given every year its a different studio making it, it is the same game and you cannot escape that.

        A hell of a lot of people like this and they are perfectly entitled to that opinion. However by your argument it just makes this situation worse! Two years for a barely better game than before. Just does not make sense. I hope you can understand my point of view a bit better :)

  9. I’ve continued to purchase video games franchises annually even if they’d become to rot like the Tony Hawk’s series, often they come with good gameplay and a satisfactory amount of entertainment that lasts months. Used to enjoy the Dragonball games but they’ve been awful recently. Ultimate Tenkaichi was a total shitbomb on the fanbase and even the legacy of DBZ: Tenkaichi, which the developers failed to replicate on the PS3 and Xbox. They’ve made a fighting game that is well..different from others in the same genre but releasing the same thing killed it.

    To me Annual releases are cancerous at times however I don’t mind them… its just if they’ve ruined something or not even bother to do new stuff with added bugs or even not bothering to fix bugs from the previous games it’ll be a bad thing. Sports games but are the worst, F1 2012 won’t be worth much to me if its the same thing with 2011 and Fifa 13 will frustrate if the formations haven’t been revamped to be much more fluid and quick. I don’t tend to get along with the menus that EA design.

  10. Really good read mate and to a point i agree, annual releases somewhat water down the games BUT we buy them, one after one, which means we must want to. In all honestly call of duty kind of annoys me, but i enjoy them, in fact i have really enjoyed the bit of competition between treyarch and infinity ward (obvs over now). As much as i may say “Ita same thing year after year” i always enjoy the story and the game itself, so i know if one year i hear “No cod this year” i would miss it.

    Although this may not be true of black ops 2 as i dont like the look of it (ill bet it wins me over in the end but i like a moan) but i feel this maybe as i LOVED the cold war espionage type story.
    I’m not a huge multiplayer gamer as i move from game to game quite fast, so that side of the argument is irrelavant to me, they could change fuck all to do with the online and i would probably still enjoy the odd game with mates.

    As for the sports titles, things change so much in a year in football etc that i feel just for it to feel ‘upto date’ they are needed and the fans love them.

    To be honest i’d love to see other franchises get more games, such as marvel ultimate alliance (as im currently replaying the first again) could do well from yearly interations, they would sell as there is always a few marvel films a year, and with how much a year changes the comic universe theres no end of changes to be made.

    Im not arguing with your article my original reply was, “I agree completely” until i really thought about it.

Comments are now closed for this post.