A successful product warrants revisiting.
As a businessman or businesswoman, what do you do when your toy, appliance, car, or smart phone nets you a boatload of profit? Leave it in the dust to die? Of course not! You capitalize on that success, creating sequels, tie-in products, merchandise and reboots to reap more rewards from the initial product. You would be foolish not to – it’s leaving money on the table. Following up a product is one of the smartest financial moves a business can make – and none more so than in the entertainment industry.
For as long as there has been entertainment, there have been follow-ups. You could look as far back as ancient Greece, with Homer continuing the story of his epic Odyssey with the Iliad, or more recently with movies like The Godfather II, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight, or even more recently with TV show follow-ups like Better Call Saul. But perhaps the medium that pushes out the most sequels is video games.
Take one look at the Final Fantasy or Mega Man series, and it’s easy to see that video game publishers thrive off their sequels. Gamers tend to latch on to a favorite series and devote themselves to that franchise through its highs and lows no matter what. Grand Theft Auto only continues to grow in sales with each iteration, as with The Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, and Call of Duty series. Of course, the only reason that people keep coming back to these series is because each iteration improves upon the ideas of the previous entry. But equally as important as the development of a sequel’s gameplay is its title.
The Pick-up Line
A title is a game’s pick-up line. Everything about the setting, characters, and tone can be conveyed through its title. For example, the name Half-Life gives a scientific vibe that reflects the game’s futuristic tone. The Legend of Zelda sounds like a grand adventure through a story-book fantasy. Burnout sounds exactly like it should: a high-octane racing game with lots of screeching and crashes. From the get-go, if you have an awesome, appropriate title for your game, then you’ll snag people’s attention.
But arguably, it’s what a developer names its sequel that’s even more important.
Let’s play a game: imagine you’re a video game developer. You’ve just released an incredibly successful game, and you’re ready to make a sequel. What do you call it? Well, there’s a couple routes you could take:
Crunch the Numbers
The first is the easiest: Just add the number 2 at the end, and you’re finished! There’s nothing as straightforward as releasing a series in the order of its number count – it’s a simple and effective way to organize a franchise. Numbered entries have been around since Super Mario Bros, and in the movie industry long, long before that. Trouble is, the general audience might get confused on which entry is which; ask a non-hardcore Final Fantasy fan what the difference between FF9 and 10 is, and they’ll probably have no clue. The lack of a subtitle or distinct name leaves the game’s unique properties a bit ambiguous, which might make this next naming scheme a bit more appealing.
Insert Subtitle Here
Alternatively, you could give your spankin’ new sequel a fancy subtitle, like with the Zelda or Castlevania series. Instead of an ugly-sounding “The Legend of Zelda 17,” it’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. Instead of a chunky “Castlevania 7,” it’s Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. How beautiful are those titles? And that’s how the rest of the games in those series are too: Twilight Princess, Symphony of the Night, A Link to The Past, Circle of the Moon. These dynamic subtitles not only make the games easier to market but render them far more memorable decades later.
But let’s say that instead of creating an immediate sequel to your recent game, you’d like to continue the lineage of an older masterpiece – a reboot. What do you call it then? Again, follow the example of some previous publishers, and you can see there are a few different routes:
Continuing the Story
For one, you could simply continue the previous numbered order. Take the Fallout series, for example: when Interplay first created the brand, they made two top-down, turn-based post-nuclear CRPG’s that were titled Fallout 1 & 2. But when Bethesda bought the rights to the IP in 2007, they completely changed the genre to open-world action RPG. Did they reboot the naming scheme or call it something like “Fallout: New Beginnings”? Not at all! They simply continued the series legacy and named it Fallout 3, followed by 4. Similarly, there’s Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. When most gamers think of GTA, usually the original two games aren’t the first to come to mind. But nonetheless, despite being top-down, they both set the stage for the earth-shattering 3D open-world GTA3 and its incredibly successful sequels.
A Single Modifier
But you don’t have to continue the same number-line. Sometimes, developers put a defining word on the end of a reboot’s title to signify its differences. Look at Japanese game developer Hideo Kojima – while working at Konami, he lead the charge on Metal Gear, a stealth game for MSX and later ported to NES. It sold alright, but over time, Metal Gear and its sequel haven’t aged too well. Lo and behold, more than a decade later Kojima returned to the franchise, and instead of calling it the third in the series, he just slapped a name on the end. And thus, Metal Gear Solid was born, one of the most critically-rated games in history. Other examples of reboots like this are Metroid Prime, Mega Man X, and Final Fantasy Tactics.
A Line in the Sand
Sometimes, a new developer will just keep the name of the original, officially “remaking” the first game and confusing everyone who tries to talk about either game. For example, there’s Id Software and Bethesda’s most recent DOOM, which took the theme and genre of the 1993 masterpiece and brought it into the 21st century. In hindsight, Id sometimes questions if naming the 2016 revamp simply DOOM was smart – as executive producer Marty Stratton said in an interview with IGN, “We go back and forth on whether it was a mistake to call it DOOM. I still don’t think it was a mistake, because we really were kind of drawing a new line in the sand.” Perhaps that’s what an identically-named reboot like DOOM, Square Enix’s Tomb Raider, or Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat are: a line in the sand, a statement. It says “we respect the legacy of this game, and we want to modernize it to continue that legacy.” It’s bold, albeit a bit confusing.
So when you set out to make your metaphorical video game sequel or reboot, remember the title. You, and all the other game developers and publishers out there, have a reputation and legacy to uphold. Think long and hard about how your game relates to the others in the series, and name it appropriately.
Just don’t name it Infinite or Eternal or Forever. That’s getting old.