Creating a video game sequel can be a daunting challenge for developers. There’s several ways to approach it, and each approach has its own advantages and drawbacks. The main purpose of a video game sequel is generally to capture the success of the original title, while expanding on it.
This article is written from a developer’s point of view, but gamers can gain insight into how decisions are made regarding the development of video game sequels, expansions, and DLC.
What makes a video game sequel?
Aside from continuing plots, sequels usually follow the formula of taking the original gameplay, and polishing it with new features. For example, the popular browser game Short Life (play here on Crazy Games) is a side-scrolling platformer. It is quite devoid of plot (which doesn’t make it any less fun). The objective is quite simple – avoid obstacles that will kill your character in horribly graphic ways. The sequel, Short Ride, follows this exact same gameplay formula – except your character now rides a bicycle.
In that example, the developer simply took his existing game, added a new feature, and released it as a sequel. It sounds simple, but it’s brilliant – and we see this formula work all the time in AAA titles. Every new iteration of Call of Duty is nearly the exact same game, with new features. New guns, new maps, a new storyline – but the basic Call of Duty gameplay remains exactly the same.
When you take that approach to developing a sequel, it becomes a lot less stressful. You’re polishing an already popular concept, and it’s quite difficult to go wrong. You can gain inspiration from player feedback – features that were “missing” from the original title, whether due to time constraint or lack of budget, can be implemented in the sequel. In this way, you’re treating video game sequel development as an opportunity to flesh out what already exists.
When sequels reinvent the game
The other approach to video game sequel development is starting over from scratch. You might build on the original gameplay, but add so many new elements, the “sequel” becomes almost a new game itself. Look at the Grand Theft Auto series, for example. GTA 1 & 2 were top-down, sprite-based games. The emphasis was much more on free-roaming and general mayhem. It wasn’t until Grand Theft Auto III that the series introduced 3D graphics, a main character, and cinematic cutscenes.
The Fallout series is another example of a “brand new” approach to sequel development. The original Fallout and Fallout 2 were isometric, point-and-click RPGs. Fallout 3 introduced a 3D engine and first-person shooter elements. Fallout 4 expanded on the gameplay with custom settlement building, which was greatly received by players. More examples can be found in “Game sequels that were nothing like the original”.
When should you do DLC vs a sequel?
Whichever approach you take for developing a game sequel needs consideration. If your game already has a great engine, and just needs additional features, you might not even consider a sequel at all – you can achieve a lot with add-ons / DLCs. If a game is less than a year old and has a pretty good fanbase, add-on content is likely the way to go. DLC is perfect for adding new content to an existing game, or exploring storyline elements from alternative character viewpoints, for example.
A true sequel should only be released once all avenues of a game have been exhausted. It should offer a completely new storyline, or expand on lore built in the first game. For example, Resident Evil 1 took place entirely inside a mansion, where a virus escaped a secret laboratory underneath the residence. Resident Evil 2 brought the gameplay to the nearby city – RE2 played nearly exactly the same as RE1, but the storyline was significantly updated, and the game took place in a brand new location.
So when you choose the type of video game sequel to develop, you should consider how much you’re changing or updating from the original game. If you’re adding some new content and polishing a few things, an expansion is likely the best bet. If you’re taking the game in a new direction such as a new engine, storyline, and new gameplay features, a true sequel is more appropriate.