How Soon is Too Soon in Video Games?

By  |  Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 3:25 pm

left4deadboxNot everyone is happy that Valve is making a sequel to its hit zombie apocalypse shooter Left 4 Dead.

A growing number of gamers are boycotting Left 4 Dead 2, not because it portrays zombies in a stereotypical fashion or anything, but because the game’s holiday release date comes only one year after the original game. “The release of Left 4 Dead 2 as a stand-alone sequel will split the communities and decrease the quality of multiplayer gaming,” says the protest’s Web page, arguing that the additional content should be released as part of the first game.

Similar issues have come up before, but in opposite circumstances. When Capcom announced a separate, $5 versus mode for the blockbuster Resident Evil 5, it felt like a cheap attempt to wring more money out of players. Increasingly, publishers announce paid downloadable content before or just after the game itself is released, leading players to wonder why the material wasn’t included to begin with.

To my knowledge, this is the first time an entire retail game stands accused of coming too soon.

Indeed, one year isn’t a lot of time between iterations of a franchise, especially for a game with virtually no plot and fairly homogeneous challenges (“don’t get killed” is the overarching goal). But how much distance does a game developer need before building a sequel, and how different must the game be to justify it in the first place?

The answer — despite players with a wide range of needs and expectations — is “not much” and “not very.” Personally, I’d be happy with a 10-year hiatus for played-out properties such as Mario, Zelda and Halo, but for the overwhelming majority, sequels couldn’t come fast enough.

That’s why Valve will never give in to this Left 4 Dead 2 boycott. The 20,000-plus protesters may seem like a threat, but the original game has sold well over 2.5 million copies at retail alone, not including online sales through Steam, Valve’s PC download channel. The market decides how soon is too soon in video games, and I get the feeling Valve knows exactly what it’s doing.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Level1Alt Says:

    if the game has a story and i like the game, i would want a sequel within a year. i usually don’t care for gameplay as long as i like the story enough.

  2. JustCallMeBen Says:

    I’m a huge L4D fan, and I ahte the sequel, for the following reasons:

    -Valve promised several times there would come free additional content (new campaigns etc): We haven’t seen anything yet, and now they announce a sequel that, from the looks of the in-game footage they released, uses the very same engine, and adds no better quality at all, apart from some minor tweaks (dynamic weather is about the only new thing). So this ‘sequel’ is just the very same game with new content… Content that was promised to be free!
    -If it’s a different game, the online com minty will split: you want to play and old map? start L4D 1, but you’ll only find half the amount of open games as you would find now (because let’s face it: L4D2 won’t open up the game to a whole new audience…).
    When one of your friends invites you to play on a new map, you’ll have to quit L4D1 and boot L4D2.
    Such scenarios make it take WAY longer to quickly join in with friends or switch maps.

    While discussing the sequel on the L4D forums, this is an interesting observation: the anti-sequel side almost exclusively exists out of PC gamers, while the enthusiast side consists of almost nothing but XBox-gamers.

    This reminded me of the reaction of the small DLC that was released earlier this year (it consisted of 1 extra map…) the Xbox-community was thrilled with the fact that small update was free, while PC-gamers complained about how small the update was, considering how long it took Valve to release it.

    This shows the vast difference between the mature PC-audience, and the relatively young console-audience: PCgamers, used to lots of free updates (in games like Team Fortress 2) just wouldn’t take it that developers would charge them for updates and extra content, while console-gamers think it’s normal to pay $10 to a buggy game.

    I think that very reaction on the small free DLC, made valve decide to not release to new content for free (as promised!) but to just make it a ‘new game’ and charge 50$ for it… After all, half of their costumers wouldn’t complain about them breaking their promise…

  3. Stilgar Says:

    Uh, I thought Valve said Left4Dead 2 is going to be console only? If that’s accurate than splitting the community is a non-issue. While there have been a few games that allow on-line competition between console and PC, I don’t think any of them have been a huge success in this regard. Also consider that most PC owners are also console owners. I do not think Valve will stop supporting the original Left4Dead on PC. They’re still delivering new/free content for Team Fortress 2 and that game is approaching two years old.

  4. JustCallMeBen Says:

    @Stilgar: I never heard it would be PC-only :s You have any link to such a statement?

    and anyway: the comparison to TF2 is the whole reason the community is upset: Since the release of L4D, TF2 received 2 major updates, L4D received none, or 1 according to whether o not you consider that one map a real update, that while l4D costs more then TF2 did at the release, and is newer than TF2.

  5. JustCallMeBen Says:

    @Stilgar: I just looked up some gameplay footage of L4D2, and all of the videos were made on a PC-version, o I seriously doubt L4D2 would be console-only :/

  6. Backlin Says:

    I don’t mind the amount of time between sequels, I just care about the content within the sequel. Left 4 Dead 2, for me, isn’t a compelling upgrade. The graphics look nearly the same, and I highly doubt the gameplay changed (there may be a little variance or small addition in tactics). What would tick me off is the community splitting in a significant way; and I’m worried this will happen, since people my age (20) and younger always seem to jump on sequels without giving them a second thought. Then again, maybe that would be a good thing. It will filter off all of those spoiled brats that shout obscenities into their headsets.