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I love the Sims. I am hopelessly addicted to the nutty little people that live in their own world on my computer. I am so hooked to this virtual crank that each time EA kicks out another goofy expansion pack for it, I bite and grab myself a few new locales or items for my little demented Sims to play with. The Sims is a completely genius game while at the same time, a totally evil one. It is a game that is groundbreaking in a multitude of ways, but for me, one specific trait stands out: The Sims franchise, for better or worse, made expansion packs and add-ons a norm of gaming. Sure, there were games before that did it and had success but no game boasts the breadth of expansion-y goodness that the Sims has on the market.

Enough of the Sims, I am here today to talk about expansion packs. Everyone these days has an expansion for something. This article may have an expansion pack. Are they a good thing? Are they the root of all that is soulless and evil? It really comes down to what side of the fence you are on. I have spent numerous hours thinking about this topic; I even have written out the Pros and Cons of a medium that is obsessed with adding to the old without creating something new.

First, since there are fewer of them, let’s talk about the warm fuzzy aspects of expansion packs. If you like a game, like I like the Sims, and if you have the cash, expansion packs are a sweet deal. Anytime you get new content for a game you love, that is a good thing. It keeps the game from getting stale and hopefully it challenges you in ways that the original title wasn’t able to. I still look back fondly on the Tie Fighter expansions. The addition of the Tie Interceptor made my day when I was in junior high.

Game developers and marketing execs also have much to benefit from releasing expansions to old games. If you are a developer and were forced to adhere to a draconian EA release calendar, there are probably many things that you simply did not have time to put into the original game. Expansions allow you to rectify this, making the game more robust and closer to your original concept before middle management hacked your timetable in half and you were forced to ditch a third of the game.

Expansions also generate a lot of money for less effort than it takes to make a whole new game. Executives have to love them because if it is a winning franchise like World of Warcraft or Half Life, there is an already made base of fanatics who will gobble up anything you toss at them and they give you money. Win-win.

It is at this juncture where add-ons start to turn into half-assed goblins that I think will end up plaguing the game industry. It is my firm opinion that expansion packs have all but killed creativity in the gaming industry. Once your company has two or three good games that they can add on to in their stable, there is not the impetus to create something new. The gaming industry is in a phase where it is common practice to make a good game and ride it into the ground.

It is happening to the Sims right now. There are many people in the Sim community that, like me, are starting to get jaded and asking questions like, “Is it ever a good thing when the fresh install of a game and all of its expansions takes almost two hours?” Hell no, but if you have all of the Sims 2 expansions and Stuff packs then a fresh install does indeed take a little more than two hours, for me anyways. That is ridiculous but mostly due to the changing of discs and entering of serial keys. If there were one or two DVDs with all of the info on them, that would be one thing but I am into the double digits with Sims discs.

The other thing that can happen with expansions is that a company releases a completely horrendous title with the idea that they will patch it up later with expansions packs. It is like Dan Brown’s novels, you release one book, great, it’s a piece of shit but at least it is only one piece of shit. Then, you release two or three more books that are basically the same book with a fresh coat of paint and that makes readers like me want to re-enact the Crucifixion. I can deal with one chunk of crap but keep adding to that one turd and pretty soon you have a mess.

Game sequels have gone from solid releases that add to a franchise like, Fallout 2, Day of the Tentacle, Half Life 2, Super Mario 2, New Super Mario Bros., Super Metroid, etc, to Madden 2000-whatever or Tony Hawk’s Geriatric Downhill Jam, complete with bedpan bobsledding. I am sick of sequels that do nothing but capitalize on a franchise’s name. Looking at the recent flood of praise for Bioshock, I will guarandamntee that they have a sequel or something out for that game before they have all of the bugs, crashes, widescreen issues, and lord-knows-what else worked out of the original.

The upcoming Halo 3, looks excellent but do we need a Halo 4? Imagine what would happen if Bungie decided to take a break and make something new instead of being a development house that has really only made one game for the past five years. What would happen if Square-Enix got off their asses and did something other than a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Quest?

Speaking of Square-Enix, they are on my shovel list at the moment because not only will they not stop making FF games, now they are going back and remaking all of their old ones. STOP! All of the old Final Fantasy titles are just fine the way they are, you do not need to add cute graphics, new soundtracks, and cut scenes to them. I stopped playing the Final Fantasy games when Square started to work more on the cut scenes than on the games themselves. Stop expanding old ideas and start creating something new!

Fortunately, there are some people who are doing just that. Take Hideo Kojima for example; he has pretty much said that Metal Gear Solid 4 will be the last of the series. Thank goodness; he is a very talented guy. He is not going to be a one trick pony and he is going to try something new, good for him, especially since he has been making Metal Gear games since I was in elementary school. Another guy that is very dear to my heart is Will Wright. Talk about a guy who doesn’t stop trying to create new things; first, Simcity, then the Sims, and now…someday…Spore. Sure, all of Wright’s games have a similar mechanic but they are all very fresh takes on that gimmick.

Here is my challenge:

To the fanboys of various titles, be it Halo or Final Fantasy: let go. You don’t need any more of these games. It is time to let your game developers move on and try something new. I hereby impose a law that says no more than two sequels can be made of any one original title. That means no Halo 4, no GTA 5, and no Final Fantasy 14. This is getting ridiculous people and I don’t care if the sequels are good, I just want a steady flow of totally new media. Regardless of whether or not you like a particular series, this market is stagnating.

To the game developers: make new games. If you have to make expansions to existing games, make them quality expansions and make sure that your original game doesn’t suck before you add on to it. For the people working on the 500 EA Sports titles, I have an idea for you as well. I know that each sport sees new players on a yearly basis and I know that older players don’t always stay with the same teams.

Why not create a system in which player status and new players and teams can be added to the core game without necessitating a new release every single friggin’ year? Since the dawn of Xbox Live, would it not be possible to refresh the Madden and MLB rosters simply by making the updates available online for a small fee? I know this will never happen because you want people to keep buying the same game every year but could this not at least be an option?

If the Wii has taught us anything, it is that gamers want and are willing to try something new. Keep giving us new stuff, keep the market fresh, and please don’t make me have to choose from a pile of games that is mostly dominated by sequels, expansions, or remakes of older games. I completely understand that not all of the games that may come out will be good but at least they will be something different and new.

2 Comments

  1. christian said on August 23, 2007:

    I have so many things to reply about in this article. That means it is really good!

    For me, the difference with old expansions was that you got your money’s worth, and the additions were worthwhile. An old expansion for an RTS would come chock full of maps and some crucial new units. Content wise they would often dwarf the original game because no new engine had to be written. Nowadays a pack can cost almost as much as the game, and for much less content. The Battlefield expansions are downright shameful if you ask me.

    With sequels, it is one thing to have a ton (Final Fantasy). What really makes it blatant is when you have the Tony Hawk/Madden syndrome where each year brings a new game. In the case of skateboarding, there’s absolutely no need for that.

    Square does need to stop with the remakes, and realize most of the old games have not aged well (especially FF1 and 2). Sadly, people do buy them, and as long as they have such strong emotional attachments to Cid and Chocobos they won’t stop. To be fair to Dragon Quest, only recently have they gotten remake crazy, and the games are rather slow to be released.

    The shameful thing about Madden is that EA could actually do less work each year with just roster updates, and charge $50 for them – its essentially the only thing you’re paying for now, considering how much they’re still trying (and failing) to get the game up to snuff on next gen consoles. But the Madden tradition seems so entrenched that none of the zombies on either the consumer or producer side seems to think of change.

    The most attrocious thing about EA Sports was an anecdote I heard about how NHL 95 AI code could still be found in a post 2000 hockey game. They really are just amazingly lazy.

    And I can’t stand full price sequels that should have been expansion packs. Waste of my time.

  2. GJ said on August 28, 2007:

    It’s such a fine line for me between capitalizing on a franchises’ brand to actually building the franchise, if that makes sense. Sports games in particular have started to almost run out of new content, because they’ve refined the core game so much. With online roster downloading, even that reason to buy the new game becomes obsolete. On the other hand, look at Civilization– that’s an excellent franchise that has for the most part delivered solid expansions and the generational increases of the game have been awesome. You can’t blame developers for wanting to make a buck and play it “safe.” to a certain extent. Combine that with the fact developers are typically only really good at one or two types of games. Look at the catastrophe Blizzard ran into trying to make SC: Ghost, a game completely out of their standard genre (which I would call RTS/RPG)– it was Shooter/RPG/Strategy, and a disaster.

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