Remakes and ports are a polarising talking point within the gaming community. Often bookended with throwaway comments about lazy development and dead franchises, conversations about these games consistently miss the point and overlook the facts surrounding the issue.
One side disagrees with revisiting old games, citing the resource usage that could be diverted to making new, innovative titles rather than “milking” old successes. The other crowd religiously comes to the defense of remakes and ports, arguing that we should preserve iconic games and keep them current. Whether it’s nostalgia talking or not, one thing is for certain – money talks, and the stats make for very interesting reading.
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (2014) turned in unit sales of over 14 million, which is just shy of the original Ruby & Sapphire (2002)’s 16 million. Over their lifespans, the Resident Evil Remake sold nearly as many units as the original game. The DOOM reboot of 2016 is believed to have well surpassed the unit sales of original in 1993 in less than half the time (though details are a mite fuzzy due to the nature of DOOM’s original release). These were all true remakes however, games rebuilt from the ground up with new visuals, audio and features so it’s to be expected that they would perform well, effectively being “new games” with a nostalgia factor. Surely though in the case of basic remasters and ports, just pumping out the same old game over and over wouldn’t be worth it?
Wrong. In the 13 years since Resident Evil 4’s release, the numerous ports and remasters (and not always the best remastering jobs ever) have actually sold 10% more units than the original game did with its original release on GameCube AND subsequently that year PS2. Granted, it has taken a long time to replicate that success, but age has not wearied the title with the latest port to XBO/PS4 in 2016 almost matching the original sales on GameCube.
Of TES V: Skyrim’s 30 million unit sales reported by the end of 2016, 10 million of those were achieved in the 3 years prior, during which the game was ported to XBO & PS4. Since that time the game has enjoyed a further 2 years of success and almost a year of release on the Nintendo Switch, so the figure has almost certainly jumped up even more.
All these mind-numbing figures are well and good, but they simply illustrate the demand for these games to return to our screens again and again. What they don’t show is the impact they have on the development of new games and content, a point the opposition consistently cite when discussing these re-releases. In the case of both Pokémon and Resident Evil, once the developers began to explore ports and remakes, the frequency of new title releases decreased. This could be owed simply to spreading out the releases so as not to overdo it and cause their fans fatigue. In most cases however, it’s more likely a symptom of resources being diverted/spread between two projects, conveniently paired with the aforementioned release spreading.
Of course, it’s widely known and constantly explained by developers that as a studio grows and begins more projects (such as a new title and a remake), the pull on resources is counteracted by studio growth and new hires. Why then wouldn’t they invest this growth in even more new content instead, people ask? Money – plain and simple.
Not that money is a bad thing. Despite all the negative connotations associated with the word, the fact is that studios exist to create games and make money. Poor sales can make for lower production values and resources in the future, which impacts the next title, which impacts the next, and the next, leading to the eventual death of the studio and its franchise. If Pokémon had a new title every year, the franchise would be long dead and the audience would have moved on. As it is, in its current state of releasing a new title every 2-3 years with remakes between, people still often complain there are too many new Pokémon (we’re at over 800 different ‘mons now!) and not enough gameplay changes to keep it interesting.
By revisiting old titles, a game that feels brand new like Omega Ruby can be an enormous success for the studio with far less resources invested due to the groundwork already done 12 years prior. The remakes also buy the studio additional time to nail the next new entry without the fanbase getting impatient, nor overwhelmed from an overload of new content.
Assassin’s Creed is an excellent case in point. Ubisoft is one of the most resourceful and multi-national developers in the world, with over 10 subsidiaries having contributed to main-series AC titles since 2007. With all these teams available to work on the series, Assassin’s Creed fans grew to expect a new game every year – and it worked for over 5 years…. until it didn’t.
Many fans look to 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Unity as the tipping point that caused the series’ infamous slump in recent years. A combination of factors led to a game that was plagued with bugs, weak on plot and uninspiring in design. Ultimately, it became the AC game that the fans didn’t want to play, and most of the reason wasn’t even the issues already mentioned – players were simply bored of the series, and this lackluster entry was simply unable to revitalise that fanbase.
Ubisoft tried one more time to rescue that yearly release schedule in 2015 with Syndicate which, despite being markedly better than Unity, still had nothing groundbreaking to offer. It was clear something had to change and the next main game, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, didn’t arrive for 2 years – a break unseen since the very first game. (It’s worth noting that this break included the release of the Ezio Collection, a remastering of AC II, Brotherhood and Revelations.)
Thankfully, Origins was a roaring success. Gameplay was fresh, engaging and challenging, the setting was a marvel to explore and the whole experience had an unfamiliar but welcomed aura of polish and quality. The additional time and resources had paid off and fans were not only passionate about the series again but the break had left them hungry for more without becoming impatient.
It will be an interesting journey to follow as the series returns to a yearly release this year with Odyssey, and as much as nobody wants it to be the case, history doesn’t predict the brightest outlook for the series.
What this story shows us is the somewhat obscure reality that remakes/remasters are an absolute necessity for the industry to continue to grow and thrive. The evidence tells us that there is significant demand for these re-releases, and that they are ultimately good for their franchises in the long run.
In my own humble opinion, even disregarding the above points, re-releases are still vitally important. Video gaming has a wealth of history that would honestly be an enormous shame to leave behind gathering dust. Just as new games break records every year, so did the games of years gone by, and they shouldn’t be forgotten. It breaks my heart to think that a young adult in 2020 might never experience Halo: Combat Evolved, Jak & Daxter or Silent Hill, simply for not having the right platform.
Please, don’t let the past die. Embrace our history, share your experiences with others and try to understand how important it is to our future.
(I just want to be able to play Resident Evil 4 from a retirement home in 2080…)