At time of writing, Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild just came out a few weeks ago, and I have been playing it as much as I can (which is admittedly not that much). And while I still haven’t finished it – it is a VERY big game- the whole experience has gotten me thinking a lot about a subject that I am very interested in – Game (or in this case, series) Management. Without spoiling anything, I think that Breath of the Wild (and the Legend of Zelda series as a whole) has taken a very interesting approach to Game/Series management. But before we talk about that, I want to introduce a little bit about the broader topic of Game/Series management as a whole.
Game/Series management is a term that I use to refer to how a long-running game or series changes over time. When making a new game in a series, or an expansion for an old game, there are a lot more requirements than there are when making an entirely new game. In this article I hope to introduce this topic, and explain some of the unique challenges of managing a game as opposed to designing a new game. The topic of Game/Series Management is pretty broad, so it will probably take me a few weeks to go through all of it. Also note that I have never personally been in charge of managing a long running game or series (although I do have a lot of hope for the game I am currently designing – fingers crossed!), so these observations are just things that I have noticed from my own experience as a gamer, not as a designer. That being said, lets jump in!
- It should be different from what has come before
If you are making a sequel or an expansion then the original game must have at least been reasonably popular, and players enjoyed what you did. That being said, gamers rarely want to pay twice for the exact same thing. While managing your game or series, you need to make sure that your new game, expansion or DLC download has something worthwhile for your players that they couldn’t get before. If it doesn’t, then what is the point? They might as well just replay the original again. This doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul, and can be as simple as updating the graphics or adding a new roster to the latest sports game, or can be as extreme as moving from a 2D perspective to 3D.
2. It should feel like it belongs with what has come before
Because the series or game is popular enough that more content is being made for it, there must be certain things about it that the players enjoy. Although you don’t want to make a carbon copy of something that has come before, when expanding on a game or series it is important to understand what the players enjoyed about the original. To steal an architecture metaphor, it is important to know which elements of the design of the previous game are the “bearing walls”, and which are not. In this situation, it is not as important how much stays the same, as much as which things stay the same. Sometimes small changes can make the game feel completely foreign if the changes are to the things that the players love, whereas other times you can drastically change major elements of the game, but it still feels like it belongs because the core things that matter are still there. Beware: what is a “bearing wall” and what is not is not always obvious, so before you start designing it is important to look at what has come before and critically examine every element, to determine how important it really is.
3. It has to be good on its own
This one is more obvious, but still worth stating. It is very possible to get too focused on the restrictions of making a follow-up that the product suffers on it’s own. While making a good sequel or expansion is important, making sure that your game works on it’s own is equally important. Often a game series can get so bogged down in lore, story and baggage from previous entries that a beginner entering for the first time will have no idea what is going on. A good rule of thumb is to realize that any individual entry or expansion could be a player’s first. Like every rule, this one has exceptions. For example, if you are designing DLC for a game it is completely okay to expect the players to have played the original first. In addition, many popular board games or party games have expansions that are only focused on people who have already bought the original. While this can work, I personally would not recommend it because it limits the audience for the expansion.
In the interest of keeping these blog posts to a reasonable length, I am going to save the rest for the coming weeks (you did see the Part 1 in the title right?). Next week I am going to take a look at these different properties of successful sequels and expansions, and give some examples of how different games over time have succeeded or failed in these areas. Then, if I have space I hope to go through how Legend of Zelda, and Breath of the Wild in particular has tackled this issue. And as always, I am very open to any questions or comments that you might have, so please leave your thoughts! See you next week!