Pedigree and the Importance of Developers

I love to see innovation, polish, refinement, and new gameplay experiences in gaming.  But it's hard to find games that do these things well.  One of the things I always take into consideration while looking at new games is the game's pedigree.  Which is to say that I pay attention to the developer of the game.

Halo 3 developed by Bungie

When I look at the developer of a new game that hasn't been released, a lot of the time I can tell if it's going to be good based on previous games the developer has made.  Take my post the other day on Halo Reach.  I'm debating whether I'm going to buy it, but I can guarantee that it will be a highly polished and well executed game.  I know this because I've played all the other Halo games that Bungie has made and they're all examples of high quality games.  Bungie has proven themselves to me.

World of Warcraft developed by Blizzard Entertainment

I know a lot of other developers that I can count on to make great games too.  Blizzard Entertainment is the biggest one that comes to mind.  I know I'll buy any Blizzard game that's released because they demand the absolute highest quality and polish from their games before they're ever released to the public.  Just look at World of Warcraft or StarCraft 2 for examples of incredibly designed games.  I know that Ubisoft is usually up for releasing a good 3D platformer because I've played Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed, and the Prince of Persia series.  Epic games can make a mean shooter like Gears of War or Unreal Tournament.  Nintendo will always provide some carefree entertainment with Mario Kart or a new Mario platformer.  Turbine knows how to launch a free to play MMO better than anyone else.  Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) makes the best Japanese RPG's on the market.  I could go on and on.

Assassin's Creed 2 developed by Ubisoft

Once a company proves itself to me, I give their games much more attention.  It doesn't even take multiple games, sometimes one game just blows me away and ingrains the developer in my mind.  Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games I've ever played, but before playing it I had no idea who Rocksteady Studios was.  I already know I'll buy the next game in the series because they're developing it.

 Batman: Arkham Asylum developed by Rocksteady Studios

The interesting thing is that pedigree isn't the same thing as making a good sequel.  All of the developers I've mentioned above would grab my attention if they announced a brand new intellectual property because they have a good track record of making great games.  The industry loves it's sequels lately, but it's more about the developer and less about the actual game.

One of the most interesting examples of pedigree at work is the Call of Duty series.  The original Call of Duty was groundbreaking when it was released.  This was before the days of a million generic World War II shooters.  Call of Duty 2 pushed the bounds on a realistic war scenario and made the player feel like they were in the moment.  But then, Call of Duty 3 was completely lackluster.  It was suddenly a boring, generic, run-of-the-mill game.  If you get past that and look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare you get a game that throws you into the action and makes you feel immersed in the game world.  Then Call of Duty: World at War was released and the series was once again boring.  So, what's really happening here?

 Call of Duty 2 developed by Infinity Ward

Well, the publishing company doesn't want people to realize this, but the Call of Duty series is actually made by two different developers: Treyarch and Infinity Ward.  I bet you can guess from my descriptions above that one developer innovates and one developer copies what's already been done.  Infinity Ward is the original developer and they're responsible for all the good games in the series.  Treyarch created all of the not-so-great entries.  Taking a quick glance at the CoD wikipedia page makes the development cycle clear.  Activision (the publisher) realized that people would buy a game as long as the Call of Duty name was on it, so they found a random developer (Treyarch) to make more CoD games so that they could cash in twice as often.

 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare developed by Infinity Ward

I hated every Treyarch Call of Duty and loved every one made by Infinity Ward.  That's why I bought Modern Warfare 2 with no hesitation but there's no way I'm going to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops because it's made by the bad developer.

The story is even more interesting because a ton of the talent that made up Infinity Ward just left the developer because Activision pissed them off.  They've gone on to create a new developer called Respawn Entertainment and now Infinity Ward is a skeleton of it's former glory.  Because of that I'm done buying Call of Duty games now, but I know that as soon as Respawn Entertainment announces a game I'll be all over it.

If you haven't realized by now, I think a game's pedigree is extremely important.  Support the developers that are giving us new gameplay experiences.  Do a little research and figure out who's responsible for making your favorite games.  In the long run it'll help you make better decisions when you buy games.


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