For the nearly $100 billion gamers spend on new hardware, software, and downloadable content annually, we deserve the best of what the industry has to offer. Unfortunately, game publishers and developers often churn out the same franchises, year after year, with few improvements, and even major glitches in the gameplay experience aren’t enough to turn off the devoted fans who purchase every release from their favorite franchises.
Economically speaking, this is good for the game companies. When gamers flock to a new title, even a crappy one, it puts more money into manufacturers’ coffers and bankrolls their next big releases. But when release schedules grow crowded and final products get sloppy, unquestioning loyalty to a franchise — any franchise — does no favors for the gaming industry as a whole.
Ever since Pong first appeared 45 years ago, the modern video game industry has strived to find a balance between innovating mechanics and recreating what works. Today, however, perennial games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty are swimming in the tepid waters of mainstream mediocrity while interesting, beloved franchises gather dust in the “Where Are They Now?” file.
Look, I get it. No one wants to take a risk, especially with billions of dollars potentially on the line, and so long as those perennial titles continue to rake in the dough, no one’s at risk of losing money except the players who purchase them. I’d like to think that the games industry could be fairer to gamers than that, but capitalism, amirite?
Let’s take a look at what your local Best Buy or GameStop could look like if publishers and developers dropped their boring fallbacks and revived some great IPs.
15 Let It Die: Five Nights At Freddy’s
In the 25 months after indie developer Scott Cawthon released Five Nights at Freddy’s on PC and mobile, the jumpscare-ridden, Chuck E. Cheese-inspired nightmare fuel spawned a tie-in novel, a movie deal, and five additional titles, including three numbered titles and two spin-offs. Cawthon might have been giving gamers what they wanted at first, but his release schedule quickly spiraled out of control. Ratings steadily dropped from the all-time high of the first game, and then plummeted with the release of the RPG spin-off FNaF World: a pile of garbage with a “Freddy’s” label on it.
Although he later apologized for releasing a nigh-unplayable, half-baked title, and promised players he would rectify the situation, Cawthon hasn’t put out a main series installment since FNaF World launched in early 2016. Is this the end of Freddy and crew? We can only hope.
14 Let It Die: Sonic The Hedgehog
Oh, Sonic. Once upon a time, it was a joy to zip around your fanciful jungles and sewers, collecting rings and Chaos Emeralds, and saving small critters from Dr. Robotnik’s clutches. But now, you’re suffering from franchise bloat, and it would be in everyone’s best interests if we just let you go now, before any further damage is done.
With roughly two new titles sprinting out of Sega every year, Sonic has become today what Star Wars was in the 1990s and early 2000s. To be fair, most of these blue-streak releases pull in reviews of around 70 percent — not too shabby for the sheer number of titles Sega’s dealing in. But, like Star Wars of yesteryear, Sonic is speeding toward a cliff. Eventually, the release schedule will catch up to him, and he’ll drive himself into the ground. Best to press pause now, while there’s still time.
13 Bring It Back: Knights Of The Old Republic
Speaking of Star Wars, when do we get Knights of the Old Republic back? BioWare’s Xbox-exclusive RPG series got only two releases before it was put on hold. And in spite of unshakable rumors that the Mass Effect developer is working on a new installment — which are complicated by the fact that BioWare Austin has been put in charge of developing a new Star Wars game — it seems unlikely that we’ll get our mitts on KOTOR 3 anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get a third Knights of the Old Republic game, however. In fact, KOTOR would mean big bucks for BioWare, Disney, and whoever else is responsible for the project. The next Star Wars console RPG to bear the KOTOR brand will draw in a boatload of cash from gamers who grew up playing the first two titles.
12 Let It Die: Annual Sports Titles
Ugh, why do these games even exist? I can understand the desire to play an on-the-ground version of fantasy football with your buddies, but wouldn’t a single release, updated with DLC as rosters change, make a lot more sense than dropping $60 on a new game every year? Of course not.
Sports franchises like Madden, FIFA, and 2K make huge profits every year as gamers pre-order and purchase their most up-to-date versions. Madden alone is a $4 billion franchise, but all of these annual sports series would make considerably less money if they increased their titles’ longevity. And unlike many of the other titles on this list, sports games aren’t putting out products that are unplayable — they just lack innovation. Although EA Sport’s NCAA Football shuttered in the early Aughts, it looks like the other annual sports titles are, unfortunately, here to stay.
11 Let It Die: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a great game when it launched on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 back in 2011, winning Game of the Year nods in the way that most Elder Scrolls titles do. But in the years since, Bethesda has seemed keen to keep churning out more Skyrim-branded content in lieu of releasing The Elder Scrolls VI. Nearly five years after it debuted, Skyrim received a next-gen re-release, and will soon come to the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation VR.
The awful thing about all of this is that, so long as Skyrim sells, Bethesda has little to no incentive to put out a non-Skyrim Elder Scrolls game. They can keep playing in the Skyrim snow, re-releasing the game into infinity, and raking in the cash from fantasy-loving gamers. Skyrim doesn’t need to die because it’s bad, but because Bethesda is better than this.
10 Bring It Back: Dead Space
Looking back on it, Visceral Games and EA’s decision to release three Dead Space games in five years was probably not the best course of action for the survival-horror series. At the time, the schedule didn’t feel rushed at all, but the gameplay quality and sales numbers began to slip nonetheless. With the co-op-centered Dead Space 3, the franchise lost its frightening edge, and any follow-up games were put on indefinite hold.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Dead Space 3 had just opened up Isaac Clarke’s messed-up world to reveal that markers and necromorphs had spread throughout the galaxy, meaning future games could be set in any location the creators wanted. If that doesn’t scream “PRIMED FOR A REBOOT,” then I don’t know what does.
Fortunately, Visceral Games has expressed interest in returning to the Dead Space IP, so maybe we’ll see a revival sooner rather than later.
9 Let It Die: Dragon Ball Z
Since 1986, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z-themed games have graced store shelves, delivering fighting and role-playing fun to anime fans of all ages. Today, more than 20 years after the final episodes of Dragon Ball Z were first broadcast, I’m here to say that it’s time to put the Saiyans out to pasture.
For all the time and money that Bandai Namco puts into producing new DBZ video games, we could be getting new video games from creator Akira Toriyama himself. I’ve seen all I care to see of Toriyama’s alien-fighter heroes, from pixels to cel shading and everything in between. I want new Toriyama creations, or at least a return to the world of Blue Dragon. Is that really too much to ask?
8 Let It Die: Metal Gear
Depending on how you feel about recent developments over at Konami, you either saw this one coming from a mile away or are completely shocked at the suggestion of killing off the Metal Gear franchise. But after nearly three decades of solid releases, it’s time for Snake, Raiden, and the rest to disappear for a while.
To be clear, even if series creator Hideo Kojima were still involved with its development, recent news about where Metal Gear is headed would have me throwing in the towel. Time travel didn’t really work for Final Fantasy, and I find it difficult to believe that it will work in Konami’s much more grounded, visceral world.
Writing a conclusion to the sprawling Metal Gear story will be tough, but that’s exactly what the franchise needs right now.
7 Bring It Back: Earthworm Jim
Recent years have seen a number of old-school side-scrollers revamped for the current generation of video-game consoles, including Earthworm Jim, which received an HD remaster in 2010. Shiny Entertainment’s run-and-gun Genesis series was beloved by ‘90s kids, but the luster disappeared after the underwhelming third installment emerged from a long development period. A fourth Earthworm Jim game has been glinting on the horizon since 2008, but it seems to have fallen into Development Hell at the time of this writing.
Still, Earthworm Jim conjures up a whole lot of nostalgia for Millennial and Gen-Xer gamers alike. Much like KOTOR above, a well-done series installment would be sure to generate plenty of attention and revenue from fans. When that game might arrive, however, is anyone’s guess.
6 Let It Die: Borderlands
Borderlands is a prime example of what happens when a good, kooky game gets too big for its britches. Six years after the first installment appeared on consoles, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection brought Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Why? Because the franchise has devolved into a money-grab of episodic gaming, mobile spin-offs, and unimpressive DLCs.
Look, I loved the irreverent humor and original concept behind the first Borderlands game, but enough is enough. Borderlands used to be a fun, cel-shaded game that didn’t move far beyond shooting and looting. Now it’s become a cash-cow brand that can be whipped out and stamped on just about anything to make it sell. Given the extent of Borderlands’ newfound soullessness, it seems highly unlikely that the franchise can return to its offbeat roots without taking a long break from publishing.
5 Let It Die: Final Fantasy
I say this as a JRPG fan of the highest order: Final Fantasy needs to die. Square Enix caught the sequel bug with Final Fantasy X-2, and that illness has spread to include Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, the Final Fantasy VII compilation, and Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy.
(I could also gripe about the publisher’s penchant for re-releasing classic Final Fantasy games on new consoles, but that’s been going on for so long now that it seems pointless to complain.)
The problem, largely, is that Square Enix has been churning out so many Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy titles that it’s begun to feel like the future of the entire Final Fantasy franchise exists within this one world. For $60 a pop, we should not be trapped in the same sandbox, time and again.
4 Bring It Back: Chrono
If we’re going to put Final Fantasy on the back burner, maybe Square Enix could focus on the return of one of its most beloved franchises instead. There hasn’t been a new game in the Chrono series since Chrono Cross launched in Japan in 1999. A trademark for a presumed sequel, Chrono Break, lapsed in 2003, and the only Chrono releases since that time have been ports of the original Chrono Trigger.
In many ways, those ports are the problem. Many gamers own more than one copy of Chrono Trigger, thanks to Square’s dedication to re-releasing one of the greatest games it has ever made. Clearly, we aren’t all going to spring for the next edition of the game when we can play any of the multiple versions we already own, but that hasn't stopped Square from using flagging sales as an excuse not to produce Chrono Break.
3 Let It Die: Call Of Duty
Another perennial game franchise, and one that recently swapped to a three-year development cycle, Call of Duty should probably start drawing its pension checks. The series has been producing more of the same for the last two decades, and it seems that the only thing keeping it alive today is peer pressure. Because come on, do you want to be the only loser who doesn’t have the latest COD to play?
Call of Duty managed to be innovative with the addition of the now-iconic Zombies game mode in Call of Duty: World at War, but the franchise has been coasting ever since. The three studios behind the series are more than capable of making fresh shooters to compete without the COD label, but it will take a huge wrench in the guts of the Call of Duty machine to make that happen.
2 Let It Die: Assassin’s Creed
Assassin’s Creed has taken us all across the globe and throughout history to re-enact moments from the epic war between Assassins and Templars, but it’s time for the former to hang up their hidden blades. Assassin’s Creed III received some of the franchise’s lowest reviews ever, and the spin-off installments that have followed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag have been nothing but mediocre.
Truth be told, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have to disappear entirely in order to reclaim its former glory. Dropping interquels and lengthening the series’ development cycle would go a long way toward improving the quality of future Assassin’s Creed titles. However, given that the Ubisoft franchise has always been a perennial one, it’s far more likely that Assassin’s Creed will burn itself out into obscurity before it pumps the brakes.
1 Bring It Back: Jade Empire
Can you really call it a franchise if it only had one installment? Probably not, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do here, because Jade Empire deserved a lineup of sequels, even if it never received them. The kung-fu RPG received rave reviews when it launched on the Xbox in 2007, but if BioWare had any plans to develop a sequel at that time, they were squashed by EA, which acquired the studio shortly after Jade Empire’s release. Now, a decade later, it’s high time that the developer gave its wuxia IP some attention, and many within the studio would relish the chance to return to that particular IP, but between Mass Effect and Dragon Age, it seems that BioWare doesn’t have much room on its plate.