Comment & Opinion

In the Games-as-a-Service market, is there any place for a sequel?

In the Games-as-a-Service market, is there any place for a sequel?

A.J. Yeakel is COO of mobile advertising platform GrowMobile, which is part of the NASDAQ-floated software company Perion.

In an attempt to revive the flagging fortunes of its key mobile gaming series, Rovio has lauched a sequel to its main Angry Birds game.

As you might expect, it's imaginatively titled Angry Birds 2.

Is it a good idea to launch a free-to-play game mobile sequel though?

Some new, something borrowed

Evergreen titles like Clash of Clans suggest that the games-as-a-service should have replaced the sequel as a device.

Are sequels therefore an excellent way of continuing a successful mobile hit, or are they simply a developer admitting they’ve failed to adapt to the free-to-play model?

We decided to explore the pros and cons of fresh entries in a game series to find out.

 


Click here to view the list »
  • Pro #1: A clear offering to fans

    Angry Birds 2 features Angry Birds gameplay and Angry Birds tropes. Players will be landing in the world where birds fight pigs to save eggs (with the help of catapults, of course) that they’ve inhabited since as far back as 2009.

    That, for most players, is a good thing. The drying up of original triple-A IP on consoles in favor of yearly titles based on popular series such as Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty show that mass market players like their games familiar.

    Angry Birds 2 - Tried and tested gameplay

    And a sequel is the clearest way to indicate that more of that gameplay is on the way. Despite featuring the flavor of the Angry Birds universe, indirect spin-offs such as kart racer Angry Birds Go! and RPG Angry Birds Epic failed to connect with fans.

    Sequels offer more of the same, but it’s often what fans want.

  • Pro #2: An opportunity to refresh and evolve

    And yet, successful sequels also differ from their predecessors. Rather than taking the template of the first title and hoping players buy it again, quality sequels will take ideas from elsewhere, use feedback from fans and utilize new technology to produce a fresh experience.

    It’s no different in the world of free-to-play mobile game sequels.

    From a production perspective, King’s Candy Crush Soda Saga launched in 2014 with an updated look and an orchestral score to give the tired Candy Crush Saga gameplay a lick of paint.

    The game has also been able to draw upon the greater experience amongst its developers to regularly offer players 15 new levels every two weeks to keep things fresh.

    The addition of Soda was enough to refresh the Candy Crush Saga franchise

    Though it is a sequel, Candy Crush Soda Saga has done enough differently from a design and mechanical perspective to maintain and increase player interest over three years after Candy Crush Saga’s launch.

  • Pro #3: A sequel is the perfect time to change business model

    Real Racing 3 is one of EA’s strongest performing games-as-a-service title nearly two years after its release. The strong gameplay experience, excellent graphics and regular content updates has kept players engaged for months at a time.

    The opportunity to move from paid to F2P

    And it has only been able to succeed from a F2P business perspective precisely because it is a sequel.

    Real Racing and Real Racing 2 were paid titles with limited content when EA acquired the licence, so they used Real Racing 3 as a way to introduce the new business model and bring players over to the new way of play.

    Despite initial consumer backlash, it worked and it worked better than most would have expected. A sequel isn’t therefore just a vehicle for continuity gameplay with improved graphics; it offers a mobile company the chance to rewrite the business rulebook.

  • Con #1: Successful F2P titles don't do sequels

    Real Racing 3 may have been a great example for why a sequel can suggest a change of direction in model. But it’s also an excellent example of why sequels might not be the best idea on mobile.

    There is no Clash of Clans 2

    Its success, as with titles such as Clash of Clans and Game of War, has continued for a number of years now. The games-as-a-service model should work in such a way that titles which have proper fan interest, a large user base and regular content updates shouldn’t need a sequel.

    Releasing a sequel in the mobile free-to-play space is, therefore, an admittance of failure. And while failure is not a bad thing, it does raise the question of why a company abandoned updating its title in favor of wiping the slate clean.

  • Con #2: Spin-offs can be more effective

    Sequels are easy for consumers to understand, but in the context of gaming, a sequel to a game has a subtext other industries don’t have. While in film or television a sequel always means the next part of something, in gaming it often means “the newest, most definitive” part.

    Sequels in gaming can easily suggest to a user that what has come before it is therefore not worth playing. A spin-off, on the other hand, can use ideas from one game and give it a different frame of reference to create a complementary experience.

    Boom Beach is a great example of this. Taking the criticism of Clash of Clans’ lack of engaging single-player missions and the inability to order troops on the map, Boom Beachh created a counterpart to Clash of Clans that met consumer concerns and still gave the first title a reason to exist.

    Boom Beach is Clash of Clans' orthogonal sequel

    Spin-offs for mobile games can retain the spirit of a sequel, without eating into the potential user base - provided they’re properly explained.

  • Con #3: Sequels can reduce diversification

    King’s success with Candy Crush Soda Saga came as a relief to the company and to its shareholders. But it has also come with another price – the need to maintain a service for a game that is similar to the biggest hit it already has.

    That, to many people, isn’t a problem. Though both it and Candy Crush Saga are similar, maintaining two money-making properties is a problem that most free-to-play developers would kill to experience.

    But let’s consider what happened with Rovio and Angry Birds when consumer tastes changed and the business model went with it. They were stuck with a reliance on a title that looked a golden goose one year and then suddenly was the black swan of the mobile gaming family the next year.

    King, even with its portfolio of games and thousands of employees, is now strongly reliant on match-3 across its business for revenue performance. Without new titles, spin-offs or fresh ideas to support themselves, sequels can potentially lead a developer into a tricky-to-escape business model dead end.


  • Conclusion

    So is there a role for sequels in the free-to-play mobile game space? Yes, but with caveats.

    Games that have aged badly or that are in need of new business models are prime candidates for a sequel, meaning that Rovio’s decision to launch a sequel to the 2009 Angry Birds game is strongly justified.

    But while sequels are an excellent mechanism for reviving properties in the mobile gaming space, companies are better placed to invest in titles which have the longevity to be games as services and to bolster them with spin-off titles as part of a portfolio strategy.

    Sequels, in general, work a lot better within the confines of the old fashioned “here’s a new product for you to pay for and consume” model. In the service space, a sequel should be seen more as an opportunity to press reset on proceedings.


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