So the latest thing the internet is losing its mind over is the newest SimCity game. Reddit is calling it a disaster! Communicating their outrage the only way they know how, half-assed memes. Game review site, Polygon, lowered their review score down to a 4 out of 10, and SimCity is just the latest in a string of massive DRM failures. Before that we had the infamous error 37 caused by Diablo 3 require an internet connection for an ostensibly single player game, and Ubisofts’ ill fated insistence on always on DRM. And once again, the internet is letting the world know how enraged it is over these terrible injustices.
But wait a minute, why are we angry again? No really. It really wasn’t a big secret that SimCity was going to have always on DRM. Reddit was certainly well aware of the DRM when the Maxis developers were doing an interview on the popular /r/IAmA subforum, where they were attacked over the DRM decision. Likewise, we knew in advance that Diablo 3 was going require a constant internet connection. Yet the game easily sold millions of copies. Diablo 3 already showed us why always on DRM is problematic, and before that we saw the same issues from Ubisoft. So by this point. With all our advance warning, shouldn’t we all be laughing at the poor suckers who actually bought the game, rather than angrily flocking to our blogs to complain?
You see, as a society, we have a problem – and I firmly believe this – we have a problem with sequels. I mean, did we really need 13 goddamn Land Before Time films? No. The answer is no, we did not need 13 goddamn Land Before Time films. Do kids these day even remember the original Land Before Time? Are kids today clamoring for the continuation of a story that started a quarter of a century ago? I doubt it. For some reason, we’re just obsessed with sequels and it’s getting to the point where it has become destructive. Why did they make Bioshock 2? I don’t remember the original Bioshock leaving a lot of loose threads. And, yeah, sure Bioshock 3 actually looks pretty cool, but why is it a Bioshock game again? Bioshock 3 doesn’t take place in the same setting as the other Bioshock games, or star the same characters, or continue the story of the previous games, so what makes it a sequel? Why is it a Bioshock game? Ken Levine, Creative Director of the new Bioshock, says it’s a sequel because:
“It is set in a place that is both completely strange and fantastical but also strangely grounded and strangely familiar, believable.”
That’s bullshit. That quote could apply to all kinds of games, or movies or books. Off the top of my head? Dishonoured is a game I’ve played in the 24 hours that fits that mold. Bioshock 3 is sequel because you, the audience, are a lot more likely to give them money if the word “Bioshock” happens to be on the box.
Let me backpedal here just a little bit, and say, I get it. I really do. I understand the appeal of sequels. I mean, let’s say, just as an example, you really like the first Back to the Future movie. You like the characters, you like story, you like actors, the Delorean is super awesome and the writing and direction are great too. It’s only natural you’d want more, and it’s only natural that you’d go out and enjoy the second and third movies. And to that I say, “great”. That’s wonderful. Especially since they left it at a tidy 3 movies, since the actors, the characters, the story, the writers and the director all returned, I couldn’t fault you for that at all. However, there’s another side to this. Do me a favour, go check out that SimCity AMA on reddit I mentioned earlier. It has a handy little list at top of the who worked on the game and is answering questions. Tell if you notice anything missing. Spoilers: It’s Will Wright. Will Wright, the guy who created SimCity, and The Sims, the reason you’ve heard of SimCity before, had nothing to do with the new SimCity game. He left Maxis 3 years ago. So, I gotta ask. Why is this a sequel? Is this a continuation of the SimCity story? A return of your favourite SimCity characters? The game no longer has anything to do with its creator. You’re paying for the name. You’re putting up with the crappy DRM because of the name. Those 13 Land Before Time movies I mentioned before? Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg, the creative forces behind The Land Before Time had nothing to do with the 12 sequels . Ken Levine, creator of Bioshock did not work on Bioshock 2. Sequels like these are not the Back to the Future trilogy. They are not the continuation of the of the creative energy of their founders. They are products, and you are being sold a brand name. If Cities XL had a shitty launch caused by poorly implemented DRM, somehow I doubt the internet would have lost its collective mind over it. We probably would have just not bought the game. So, why, if the new SimCity isn’t even made by the same person who created the series, why do you care about SimCity, at all? Why are you angry about the DRM? You care because of the stupid name the box.
Far Cry has to be the most ridiculous example I’ve ever seen. The Far Cry games have nothing to do with each other. The running theme is that they take place on Island. Not the same island. Not even islands located in vaguely similar locations. They just all take a place on a chunk of land surrounded by water. That’s the thing that ties the games together. The games weren’t even made by the same people, or run on the same engine. The original Far Cry was created by a German Company, Crytek, and was essentially a tech demo of their CryEngine. After Crytek shifted camps from Ubisoft over to EA, and took their CryEngine with them (going on to make the Crysis games), Ubisoft said, fine, we’ll just make a sequel anyways. So they built a whole new game, with a whole new development team, on a new engine, and with brand new characters, and called it a sequel. Sure, they turned out to be pretty good games. Great. That’s wonderful. But people pre-ordered this stuff. Far Cry 2 offered you bonus missions with “hours of gameplay” if you pre-ordered. So, great! You effectively know nothing about this game you just bought, but if turns out to be shit, at least you’ve got more of it! And apparently the sales were good enough on these pre-orders that the developers included exploding monkeys as a pre-order bonus for the third game. Perfect for a sequel to game about civil strife in war torn Africa.
Look, the thing is, we have a stagnation problem. We all know this. Everybody and their mother complains about the state of movies. Nothing’s original. Everything is a remake, or a reboot, or a sequel, or based on a comic book. These same people will then talk about the new Iron Man trailer like it’s breaking news. How many people hated the prequel Star Wars movies, but saw each one on opening week? or pre-ordered that new Aliens game, or Diablo 3, or Smash Bros. Brawl and then whined and whined about it not living up to their expectations. This cycle of abuse ends with you. The more you continue to buy sequels blindly, the more of this we’re gonna see. The more you buy sequels preferentially, the less incentivized developers are to try new things, to take risks and give us new and interesting ideas. Maybe Ken Levine has really amazing period piece drama in him, or a super fun abstract puzzle game. We’ll probably never know because there are literally millions of dollars on-the-line the over whether or not he can justify writing Bioshock on the box.
To be clear here, I’m not asking you to never buy another sequel ever again. Some sequels are really good! What I’m asking that you wait a week. Just one week, that’s all I ask. Wait for the post-release reviews, wait for a general consensus to form. Spend two minutes on Wikipedia and find out if it’s actually made by the same people, or just released under the same brand name. And if it’s crap, if it’s just a cash-in sequel, if they’re shoehorning more plot to a complete story, or if it has horrible DRM you wouldn’t feel comfortable supporting, don’t buy it. Just don’t buy it. Because we should be more skeptical of sequels, not less skeptical. Everyone, myself included, has been burned by a shitty sequel, and every time that happens you’re not just getting a shitty product, you’re also voting for it to happen again. The urge for something safe and familiar, is normal, it’s human, but it’s also a vice. It’s a crutch that prevents you from finding new and interesting thing, from expanding your worldview. It’s something you should fight, in the same way you would fight gluttony or jealousy. So I implore you, every now and again, just once in awhile, go out and get something new. Something you’ve never heard of before. Look up reviews and find something well reviewed or something that has an enthusiastic fan-base, something that you haven’t tried, and give it a chance. Yeah, sure, maybe you’ll still hate it. Maybe it’ll be shit, but The Phantom Menace was shit, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was shit. At least it’ll be new shit.