There’s a lot about the video game industry that sets it apart from just about any other form of entertainment. The interactivity of gaming alone separates it from most other forms of leisure on the market today, and books or movies don’t let you blow up your friends for fun.
One of the biggest differentiating factors, however, is the fact that franchises absolutely dominate the industry. True, there are plenty of film franchises and book series out there, but few can hold a candle to the longevity of gaming’s biggest franchises – much less the number of actual games that come out.
Not every video game franchise becomes a massive success, but there are plenty that have become seemingly unstoppable juggernauts. These are the franchises that, for one reason or another, will never go away: be it money, nostalgia or some combination of the two, these are 15 Video Game Franchises That Will Never Be Allowed To Die.
15. Call of Duty
Hardcore gamers are no stranger to annual video game releases, and there’s no better example of said formula than Call of Duty. Ever since Call of Duty 2 hit the Xbox 360 back in 2005, gamers have been playing some form of Activision’s first-person shooter on a yearly basis.
Of course, there’s a reason why Call of Duty has been a yearly tradition for the past decade, and it’s called Modern Warfare. Back in 2007, Infinity Ward released its modernized take on the franchise, and the game single-handedly changed the video game industry. A game that was expected to be a moderate success suddenly became the biggest title in the industry, revolutionizing online multiplayer and dominating sales charts for months at a time.
Even with the more recent entries failing to pull in the same sort of sales numbers, Call of Duty still stands as one of the biggest brands in the industry. It’s basically guaranteed that each new game will sell millions upon millions of copies – and, as long as that keeps happening year after year, Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Remember when Pokemon wasn’t an all-encompassing, seemingly unstoppable worldwide phenomenon? No, because that’s never been the case.
It’s one thing for Pokemon to have become the global sensation that it is, it’s another thing entirely for a franchise to stay so incredibly popular for such a long time. After 20 years, Nintendo’s adorable monster-hunting simulator is somehow just as popular now as it was back when Pokemon games were still presented in black-and-white.
What’s even crazier is that, in all actuality, Pokemon is even more popular now than it was back in the ‘90s. Between Pokemon GO draining smartphone batteries everywhere and the new Sun & Moon games revamping the series’ decades-old formula, it should come as no surprise that Pikachu and his friends are pulling in more new fans than ever.
13. Grand Theft Auto
Does Grand Theft Auto need an introduction at this point? It’s been making news for the past few decades or so, even when the games themselves take six years each to make. Each new title sells millions upon million of copies – to the point where Grand Theft Auto V sold more units than most entire franchises.
And, really, those ridiculous sales numbers are well-deserved: each new Grand Theft Auto game is bigger and better than the last, with huge technical and narrative improvements serving as a jumping-off point for the rest of the industry. To be fair, not every entry has held up particularly well (was Grand Theft Auto IV always so brown?), but that hardly matters when each new entry in the series paves the way for such a huge part of the gaming industry.
12. Final Fantasy
Most games, if forced to suffer through a decade-long development cycle, would probably never make it to store shelves. Not only did Final Fantasy XV somehow survive ten long years in development, but the finished product was actually worth playing.
What’s even more amazing is that roadblocks like that are basically par for the course for Final Fantasy.
When Square Enix produced the bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, many predicted that the games would suffer – they didn’t. When Final Fantasy XIV was a broken, boring mess at launch, many assumed that the game was dead on arrival – it wasn’t. When Final Fantasy XIII became a trilogy of misguided, bland action/adventure games, most fans thought the series was done for – it wasn’t.
It’s almost as if the universe is determined to prove that Final Fantasy will never live up to its namesake. The debate as to whether or not the games deserve the praise they receive will never end…which is a good thing, because it doesn’t look like the franchise will, either.
Say what you will about 343 Industries, but there’s no denying that Halo is just as popular now as it was when the series was still under Bungie’s supervision.
What’s funny is that, when Halo: Combat Evolved hit the original Xbox, no one thought it was going to be anything more than another mediocre launch title. Looking back, it’s crazy to think that anyone but the Master Chief would become the mascot for Microsoft’s console – even now, more than fifteen years later, Halo still dominates most peoples’ minds when they think of the Xbox.
Of course, between solid sales numbers and the fact that Master Chief is so closely tied to the Xbox brand, it’s no secret that Halo will be sticking around for the foreseeable future. At the very least, Microsoft understands that cranking out sequels once a year isn’t the best strategy (unlike some other entries on this list), but that doesn’t change the fact that, for as long as there’s an Xbox, there will always be Halo.
If Microsoft has Halo, then Sony has Uncharted.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think that Naughty Dog was once known for games starring a cartoon bandicoot. The Uncharted games, while not perfect, have pushed the limits of video game storytelling and performance capture for the past decade. Though fans will argue over which of the games is the best of the lot, each one manages to be one of the best releases of their respective years. And, in all honesty, the games are all just really fun to play.
So, with such a blockbuster success planted firmly in the PlayStation’s corner, there’s a good chance that fans will be playing through more Uncharted adventures as the years go by. Yes, Naughty Dog said that the fourth game was the finale of Nathan Drake’s story, but that doesn’t mean that another character (or studio) couldn’t take the reigns. The games simply make too much money for Sony to shelf the series, and let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want to play through another Uncharted adventure?
9. Resident Evil
If there’s any series on this list that deserved to die already, it’s Resident Evil.
Let’s start at the beginning: the original Resident Evil essentially created the modern survival horror genre, and its sequels served as worthy successors to its throne. The series then re-invented the action/adventure genre with Resident Evil 4 – which is still considered by many to be one of the greatest games ever released.
Sadly, after that, the series took a serious nosedive. Resident Evil 5 was about as misguided as a sequel can be, while Resident Evil 6 felt more like a direct-to-Netflix B-movie than anything else. The Revelations spin-offs were a step in the right direction, but for a long time, Resident Evil basically became the industry laughing stock.
And yet, somehow, the series continued on. Thankfully, Resident Evil VII looks fantastic, so at least fans won’t be stuck with a bunch of garbage sequels for long…but even so, it’s hard to imagine a world without Resident Evil, regardless of how terrible the games get.
Back when LEGO Star Wars was first released, the idea of playing a video game made of virtual LEGO blocks seemed like a novelty. As it turns out, LEGO Star Wars was one of the best licensed games in recent memory, and its sequel was even better.
Of course, as with anything that makes a boatload of money, Warner Bros. Interactive made more LEGO games. And then a few more…and a few more after that. Before long, consoles were swimming in LEGO games – though fans and critics alike started to notice that the differences between them largely came down to what license was plastered on the box art.
At this point, the LEGO gaming community has lost a lot of its momentum, simply because of how many there are. It feels like there’s a LEGO game for just about every family-friendly pop culture property out there – and, let’s be honest, that’s precisely why the games continue to sell so well. Simply put, as long as people keep buying the games, WB Interactive will keep making them.
7. Angry Birds
Speaking of franchises that never seem to change, Angry Birds has been one of the biggest mobile game sensations in the history of the medium. When the original game launched in 2009, it seemed like everyone with a smartphone was launching emotionally dysfunctional birds into tiny pig fortresses. The game helped coin the term ‘casual gamer’, along with solidifying the reputation that most mobile titles are simply re-branded Flash games that everyone played on their browsers back in high school.
Of course, more Angry Birds games were on the way: everything from holiday variants to Star Wars-themed levels made their way onto the App Store, and each time, fans ate them up. The series became so successful that it was even adapted into a major motion picture, and a relatively well-received one at that.
Angry Birds may not see the same download numbers as it used to, and the mobile gaming market is a volatile one indeed – but that hasn’t stopped a new game (or two) from debuting on a yearly basis for the past seven years.
6. Dynasty Warriors
Speaking of even more franchises that never seem to change, Dynasty Warriors is easily one of the most stubbornly-designed series in the industry. For the most part, the hack-and-slash gameplay of the original is still being used today, almost twenty years later. Sure, new gameplay mechanics have made their way into each entry, and players now have a ridiculous library of different characters to choose from, but each game is largely dominated by running into an army of low-level soldiers and mashing the Square Button.
And, much like Angry Birds, the biggest differences seem to come from whatever license Koei Tecmo has acquired. It really doesn’t matter if players are riding atop horseback or strapped into the cockpit of a Gundam, the gameplay is all about hacking and slashing. To be fair, some of these licensed games are great (and the upcoming Berserk adaptation may be the best use of the series’ formula yet), but there’s no denying that they’re all largely the same.
5. Madden NFL
Speaking of yet another franchise that never seems to change…alright, we’ll stop.
In all honesty, though, it’s hard for anyone but the most hardcore fans to pick out the differences between the last several Madden NFL games. That’s not to say that EA never updates the games, it’s just that said changes are hard to find unless you’re the sort of person that plays Madden NFL every year.
And, to be fair, there are plenty of people who do exactly that: for a lot of gamers, Madden NFL is the only must-buy game of the year. The changes might be subtle, sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that the franchise is the only real football simulation on the market today. That’s mostly thanks to EA’s exclusivity contract with the NFL, and it’s hard to deny that their strategy worked: when was the last time you played a football game that didn’t feature the NFL branding somewhere on the box?
4. The Sims
There was a short time in which it seemed like EA was really trying to change. Throughout 2008 and a few subsequent years, the mega-publisher genuinely seemed like it was trying to fix its reputation: fantastic new IPs like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space made their debut, and less than a year later, The Sims 3 hit store shelves. The game was widely considered to be one of the best games in the series, and fans were hopeful about the future of the franchise.
If only things had stayed the same. Countless cash-ins began flooding consoles and mobile phones, while free-to-play browser versions soured the series’ reputation with hardcore gamers. Then, when EA finally decided to release another full-fledged Sims game, The Sims 4 launched with fewer features than its predecessor – and EA had the gall to ask players to pay for features that used to be free.
3. World of Warcraft
It’s strange to think of a single game as its own franchise, but there’s really no denying that Blizzard’s unbelievably successful MMORPG is its own behemoth at this point. Technically speaking, World of Warcraft was originally released in late 2004, but the current product is so vastly different from what launched over a decade ago that it’s hard to call it the same game.
Blizzard doesn’t seem like it’ll be setting World of Warcraft aside any time soon, either: the game’s sixth expansion, Legion, recently revitalized the community while simultaneously pulling in new fans. There are few franchises in the industry with that kind of pull, much less a single, twelve-year-old game.
While it’s true that some fans may wish for the days of Warcraft’s real-time strategy roots, it’s easy to assume that far more are perfectly fine with how Blizzard is handling World of Warcraft. The game is an absolute powerhouse within the gaming industry, with influence unlike anything else on the market – as long as that’s the case, expect to see more of World of Warcraft.
2. Assassin’s Creed
Let this sink in: Assassin’s Creed launched in 2007. There are now a grand total of thirteen different console games and a handful of mobile spin-offs – that’s roughly two games every year. Not only that, but the series is set to make the transition to the big screen later this week.
As one might expect, the relentless deluge of sequels eventually led to some serious issues. Instead of feeling like a genuinely new experience, each Assassin’s Creed game felt like some sort of half-baked expansion…that cost $60 each. Though sales remained solid enough, critical reception started to tank, and the series’ previously-solid reputation began to fall apart.
At the very least, Ubisoft realized this: 2016 was the first time in years that the studio didn’t release a new, fully-featured Assassin’s Creed game. Hopefully, the franchise’s short sabbatical will re-inject the series with a bit more personality and innovation – but, either way, fans should expect to see a lot from Assassin’s Creed moving forward.
1. Classic 16-Bit Series
Let’s be honest: in today’s gaming industry, nostalgia is its own marketing tool.
With downloadable games becoming so prevalent, nostalgia for 8- and 16-bit games isn’t just a love letter to gaming’s past, it’s a way for companies to sell the same product twice. Just look at the NES Classic: yes, it’s a fun way to play a bunch of classic games, but gamers can find the exact same software on the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS e-Shop.
There’s also the fact that, whenever a new Mario or Zelda game hits store shelves, gamers eat them up. True, some gamers may complain about the quality of these titles, but the sales figures don’t like: games like Mario, Zelda and even Sonic still sell well.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with the fact that these franchises have been around for three decades, or the fact that their respective companies are still making new games. Even the fact that gamers are being targeted by nostalgia is perfectly alright, as long as the products are still worth purchasing. That being said, if these games are still making money after such a ridiculously long period of time, it’s impossible to deny that publishers aren’t going to let their franchises die off anytime soon.
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