The annual release trend and subsequent burnout is a potential issue that even our most popular franchises need to be cautious of. While there are a handful of series which adhere to this model successfully, one only has to glance back at the history of Guitar Hero to know that sometimes too much can be worse than not enough.
It’s for this reason that Ubisoft’s announcement of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag has me somewhat apprehensive. The Assassin’s Creed series has released annual iterations for many years now and pre-order records from last year certainly signify that interest is anything but low. But when do such intense development cycles cease? If the answer is when it stops being profitable, I would argue that taking a break from a regular IP could be profitable too. Of course not immediately, but it’s that mindset of short-term pain for long-term gain that can be applied to many business models and not just those in games.
You might ask why I’ve singled out Assassin’s Creed when there are other franchises that churn out annual instalments to similar success. To be honest, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the series (I’ve played and completely each game bar Liberation), yet for whatever reason, I feel I need some time away from it. It’s really as simple as that.
Time is funny in the way it can influence one’s emotional output. Think of those moments when you fire up an old favourite and rediscover treasured gaming memories you thought you had forgotten. It’s like meeting a good friend you haven’t seen in years and it makes you wonder how you ever drifted apart. Every now and again developers manage to encapsulate these feelings with new releases, and we’re seeing it right now.
Take for example the reboots of Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider, which both released this year to glowing reviews. Both these franchises have taken time away from the spotlight and have benefited significantly in doing so. That’s not to say the developers haven’t done a good job themselves, but shelving a project indefinitely means that you can give it time to feel new again.
No doubt there are a myriad of other factors to consider when managing an annual IP; I’m certainly no financial analyst and won’t attempt to predict the future of Ubisoft’s biggest asset. However, you might find it interesting that Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia franchise was revealed to be on hold after fans began to query the Prince’s notable absence since 2010. If anything, this demonstrates that taking a break doesn’t necessarily equate to disinterest among fans. In fact, I feel like I could play a new Prince of Persia title right now.