When I started writing this article, I fully intended on it being a review of Magic 2014, the latest release of the Magic: the Gathering self-contained video game (which, thankfully, drops both the ‘the Gathering‘ and the ‘Duels of the Plainswalkers‘ suffixes). I really did. And it’s still going to be, at least in part. However, as I opened up the game itself to give myself a mental refresher on it, as it has been out for a few months or so at this point, I realized that the feeling I was having when I started to play the game again was something that really should prompt a bit of consideration. I found that not only was I really not in the mood to play it, I couldn’t really imagine a time when I would want to grind through even the short, predictable matches that would unlock entire decks worth of cards, one card at a time, all over again.
And in that moment, I finally understood why someone would spring for paying a buck or two in order to unlock content that is available to the player through gameplay progression.
Now, let me get something out there, right up front. I’m not one of those people that claims that annual releases are the death of the game industry. In a lot of cases, I understand why they exist. In franchise games such at the NFL, NBA, WWE, and indeed in Magic itself, the yearly releases bring roster updates that keep the games in line with their real-world equivalents. More than that, it gives the developers the opportunity to refine and improve upon the game engines and add new features, even when the underlying rules of the games themselves don’t change. The rules for Magic, for example, are the same now as they ever were, just like the rules of basketball or football can’t ever change. And I can tell you that the new features in Magic 2014 are pretty intriguing; in particular, the inclusion of a Sealed Play mode definitely brings the game in line with the Friday Night Magic tournaments that are heavily advertised in it. Also, it doesn’t really matter how much or how little difference there is between Assassin’s Creed IV and the previous entries in the series, I have every intention of buying it, playing it, and definitely reviewing it.
So what is my point here, exactly? Well, basically, that I opened up Magic 2014, took a look at it, and said ‘Nope, I’ve got other things to play’.
See, I have a whole lot less time these days than I used to, and a whole lot more things that I like to do than just play video games the whole time. And, with a few exceptions (See: Assassin’s Creed), I don’t want to spend that time doing the same thing over and over. That’s why I rarely stick with an MMO for very long. Sure, I come back to Guild Wars 2 every couple months or so, and still generally enjoy it, but if I ever see a World of Warcraft window, I just get this feeling of ‘NOPE’ bubbling up inside of me from my very depths. To me, no matter how much new content they add or how much they change the game, I’ve done everything I care to do in that world. I’ve grown up and moved on.
In some cases, I think that a lot of other people are feeling the same way, too. I mean, okay, people who are not fans of Call of Duty have been lampooning the similarity in its annual releases for years. However, this year, with the release of CoD: Ghosts, I’ve seen reviews from actual legitimate journalists (not me, in other words) saying that Ghosts signifies a dedication to doing the bare minimum required for a sequel. But then, what makes that any different from the Assassin’s Creed games? I mean, the people who play each franchise obviously get what they want out of it. When I play a new Creed game, I get a new historical setting to run, jump, and murder people in. When people pick up a new CoD game, they’re getting an at least somewhat competent single-player campaign and a bunch of updates to the multiplayer mode that has always been the series’ main draw.
I guess what I’m saying is, apparently it only matters to me if it’s a game I’m just passably interested in. I’d get tired of playing a new update to Magic every year, but there are series I still follow no matter what the frequency of releases are. Do I think annual releases are the death of creativity? Well, within their particular series’, maybe. Within the industry as a whole? I don’t think so. I have plenty of original games on my stack that I have played or am looking forward to playing. I just think that in some cases, the perceived obligation to keep up with a series every year can make a person weary as the years go by. And that maybe, just maybe, taking a year off of putting out a CoD game might do more to revive the series than any innovations within the games themselves.