Can Games Developers Successfully Chase Trends?

Treyarch released their latest instalment in the Call of Duty franchise with Black Ops 4 this month. With the series in decline, the Black Ops team have opted to jump on the latest trends with a battle royale mode.

Chasing hugely successful pioneers Player Unknowns Battlegrounds and Fortnite. Treyarch are so confident in the mode they have redubbed ‘Blackout’ that the latest instalment in the first to offer no single player campaign.

Call of Duty has an established fan base that they hope will help them succeed where so many others have failed. With games requiring such long development schedules, a trend has often become dominated or tired before any new releases.

This often leads to a flood of hastily produced copycats or games that are too late to the party. If a player is already happy with their game other developers need to offer something unique to draw them away with a similar gameplay model. So can any developer ever have success when chasing a trend? And with so many failed projects why do companies continue to try?

Victims of the Battle Royale

Boss Key Productions attempted to cover the failure of chasing trends by jumping on the battle royale craze. The studio created LawBreakers an admittedly underrated team-based shooter that was dwarfed by the success of OverWatch.

The woeful sales led the company towards financial strife that they attempted to counter with Radical Heights. A battle royale game with an 80’s gameshow aesthetic, but that wasn’t enough to set it aside from the competition.

Like LawBreakers, the game simply didn’t attract enough players making it unplayable. Servers have already shut down for Radical Heights and the closure of Boss Key Productions wasn’t far behind.

Chasing trends was also the excuse for the sorry state of The Culling 2. The first entry in the series was a huge success, another game show setting that pitted 16 players against each other. An open map and environmental hazards made it a sort of cross between survival and PVP gameplay.

As the battle royale craze took off Xaviant decided to capitalise on their own similar series by quickly releasing a sequel. Losing a lot of the charm from the original title Xaviant opted to copy PUBG with their new model.

It proved a monumental failure, losing players within days of its release and was eventually pulled from sale completely. Xaviant announced they would go back to the drawing board and attempt to reboot The Culling.

Major Studios & Late Comers

Of course, a battle royale mode isn’t the first trend in gaming and there have been plenty of major studios who’ve failed to chase trends in the past. Dial it back a few years and open world survival games were all the rage.

The success of titles like ARK: Survival Evolved led to similar clones like Conan Exiles. One of the major studios swept up in this was Konami who faced the already difficult task of continuing the Metal Gear series without Hideo Kojima.

What resulted was Metal Gear Survive. A game that had nothing but the engine in common with its predecessor. A bland survival game that arrived way too late in the trends lifecycle to enjoy any residual success. It was met with mid to low critical scores across the board and poor sales figures.

Selling just 5% of the copies Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain sold in its first week. The exact sales figures were never released by Konami but this was telling in itself as the series was normally a central discussion point in their annual earnings report.

Some critics have raised questions over the upcoming Fallout 76 with similar concerns. Given the time Bethesda put into their projects, it’s entirely possible that development began whilst open-world survival games were popular.

Whilst not too many are drawing comparisons yet it remains to be seen if Fallout 76 will have the draw for new players. Bethesda is relying on their loyal fan base to produce hype and so far it looks good. Perhaps they have got lucky and enough time has passed, Metal Gear Survive did launch just nine months ago though.

Can You Chase the Trends?

Early signs for Black Ops 4 are good too, the game made $500 million in its opening weekend. Its already one of the highest grossing games of the year but those figures are below series highlights like Black Ops 2.

The true test of Black Ops 4 will be its staying power, rather than its initial sales. Baring in mind Fortnite and PUBG are now both free to play the near £50 list price will surely inhibit a lot of players.

The run-up to Christmas will be crucial for Treyarch in seeing how their game performs and if it can continue to grow like Fortnite. They also have other AAA releases to contend with like Red Dead Redemption 2 that will surely hurt sales.

Only time will tell and Black Ops 4 will certainly have plenty of obstacles to overcome if it is to chip Fortnite’s crown. To date, there are precious few examples of games that successful chased the trends. But Black Ops 4 could prove that it’s possible.

 

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