I’ve been thinking about game reboots, because they’re a thing, particularly at the moment it seems.
This year alone we’ve had Dante’s teenage makeover, Lara Croft’s young “Lost”-style adventure, and now the recent DRM debacle that is the SimCity reboot. I haven’t got around to playing any of these games yet, I won’t lie. But I couldn’t help but wonder – what’s going on? We’re seeing more and more of these things! Why? Is this a good thing?
Rebooting as a concept is hardly a new thing. Anyone who’s seen Once Upon a Time or Beauty and the Beast (which I find surprisingly enjoyable to watch!) has seen how fairytales are being rebooted on our TV screens. And movie reboots have been around for years (Dark Knight anyone?).
In many of these reboots you are taken back to when the protagonists were younger and then are given their back-story: see the recent Spider Man reboot, Star Trek, Star Wars, and of course Dante and Lara Croft (gee, wouldn’t it be sweet if those two kids got together?). This is all presumably to target a new, younger audience and to get their attention, or so I thought.
The audience paradox
Are some of these game reboots really even suitable for younger audiences? The reboot of Syndicate was banned in Australia because of its mature content, and the new DmC’s f-bombs and gory bosses that I’ve seen aren’t exactly PG-rated. The recently rumoured (and likely paused) reboot of Prince of Persia (dubbed Osiris) has been described as “… another hyped up violent game, filled with generic rage and inappropriate amounts of gore”. This article at GamingLives mentions:
“… to make a reboot these days you need to slap probably at least a 18 rated sticker on it to make it ‘cool’, which in turn defeats the point of even making the protagonist younger to suit the younger gaming demographic”.
This made me think. Who are publishers targeting? Considering the mature content, is it possible that they’re trying to target older audiences, hoping that it will trigger some sort of nostalgic reaction? I’m just about young enough to have been playing DMC2 in my mid teens, so I figure that it’s possible. Also, not all reboots are based around the rebooting of a protagonist into a younger form. So are fans the target?
Fans certainly do encourage these reboots to happen, even if not all of us want them. There’s a lot of excitement about reboot possibilities when they’re mentioned. When reboots cropped up in the recent Gamers with Jobs PAX panel (at about 48:20), you could hear the applause and agreement from the crowd when reboot possibilities were mentioned. The Elite Kickstarter has raised over one million dollars, as has the recently announced reboot of Ultima. The idea of a Resident Evil reboot is met with more caution (see the comments to this post about a possible Resident Evil reboot), but there are still those who feel it would be a good idea (including the creator of the post).
Ultimately I think that existing fans are the main target, with a not-so-slight reliance on nostalgia. Creating new fans is just a side bonus.
Is reliance on nostalgia a good thing?
A lot of fans are flocking to this rebooting idea like moths to a flame. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I can’t help but feel that they could get burned, with much-loved franchises being reborn as Frankenstein’s monsters, not at all like the games that they remember.
Memory is a funny thing. Nostalgia can cloud your judgment, and the objectivity of your memories, particularly with games. Just recently I found myself re-playing Shenmue, a much-loved game from my childhood. I would have said that a reboot of this series was worth doing. But do you know what I noticed? Ryo (the main character) has about as much appeal as a cardboard box – he shows too little emotion for the level of drama people expect from modern cinematic games. I still like him, but I can see how people wouldn’t get him. No sane marketing team would leave him as he was. So his personality would need a total do-over (Dante level), and then it wouldn’t feel like my game anymore – ruined because of my nostalgia about the original.
Thus, by doing what’s necessary to make the series feel modern, the developers would most likely alienate me, and potentially their target demographic.
Reboots are a potentially sensitive area for fans, and there’s danger in the long-term as I suspect developers may start to see reboots (along with sequels) as a bit of a life raft that they can use to stay afloat, especially as recent reboot attempts have been successful for the most part.
We’ve seen it in film before now. Reboots are appealing as they can be a way to avoid making original creative decisions – like the process of creating a new franchise or having to come up with new main characters, for example. But they still make money. To quote Variety:
“With Hollywood’s studios relaunching established film franchises to keep them afloat, game developers find themselves in a similar situation of having to come up with new ways to keep aging brands alive or lose control of a major source of revenue.”
This could easily lead to publishers getting careless and creating lazy reboots to make a quick buck. The likelihood that fans could get hurt then increases as well. Keeping things independent (like with Kickstarters) should help to guard against that, though I worry about AAA titles. Thief is already running into problems due to creative confusion about the direction in which to take the reboot.
I’m going to be cautious with these game reboots. I think I’m good with my games being in the past, for the most part. New IPs like Dishonored, and the recently announced Transistor get me excited. I do ache for the days of Shenmue and I really miss how Final Fantasy (and JRPGs in general) used to be, but I think I can accept that they’re never coming back.
A question for you!
I’m just going to do the stereotypical thing at this point and ask, do you like reboots and if so what reboots would you like to see? Do you think they would live up to your expectations?