Remember "Project SETSUNA" from Square Enix's E3 2015 presentation? It got a line in our log, and another line in our total E3 2015 recap. It's being developed by Square's new subsidiary, Tokyo RPG Factory. And we know nothing about it.
Anyway, Yosuke Matsuda, president of Square Enix, was referencing this "Project SETSUNA" when he said (according to Kotaku's translation):
"I believe that it is very difficult to immediately build up a big IP. Looking retrospectively at the gaming industry, many games take off or get their big break at their third title. [...] I call this my “Law of Third Titles” That’s why for the first and second games, you experiment to a degree where you can still be flexible, and if the series has grown enough to be able to expect a big hit for the third game, you expand the scale. If the third title is successful then all is well."Now, it's impossible to make one rule that fits everything in the videogame industry, but this IS something that I've noticed in the past.
|How the hell did this happen if not for the Law of Third Titles?|
A lot of the time, the first, second, and third games in a series have some oddball things going on. They're not all alike and have some substantial differences. You have The Legend of Zelda, an overhead adventure game. Then it suddenly turns into a sidescroller with Adventure of Link, and then they figured out that no one liked that and went back to an expanded-scale version of the NES game with A Link to the Past. After that, Nintendo knew they had a huge hit on their hands! And most Zelda games since were based off the storyline and gameplay structure model that A Link to the Past established.
Other examples of quirky beginnings and then success by the third game include the Metroid series and the Super Mario Bros. series. Oh, and I guess Fire Emblem. That had a weird second game, didn't it?
Of course, some titles don't even make it to a third game and it's unclear why, after such amazing success. Look no further than Square's own Chrono Trigger, which was quite successful but only spawned one sequel, Chrono Cross. ...And we don't really talk about Chrono Cross, so maybe that's why there wasn't a third title.
Then there is the MOTHER series, which only HAD three games. ...Is the reason there isn't an official fourth one because they figured at number three it wouldn't be a successful IP? (Or maybe they just figured they already told the story they wished to tell.) I hear MOTHER 3 was great, so I wouldn't say that ruined the series. For an example of a third game that probably killed any chance of a franchise's future despite the first two being great, look at Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.
|It was probably this that did it. ...Nah, it was the game being pretty mediocre.|
Don't forget about games that peaked at their third game and never reached the same level since, like the Wild ARMS series.
I feel like, with all of the data and experience that developers have now, this whole "history says that" thing is an outdated notion, right? The videogame industry just isn't like what it was in the 1980s where developers take a new IP and just radically experiment with it. Now people plan out sequels already while the first game is being devised. It sometimes gets to the point where games within a series are so similar that I have no idea what the differences are between games, or that they are even different games. Looking at you, Batman: Arkham franchise! That was planned inorganically from the start.
Basically, Matsuda is saying that "Project SETSUNA" needs to have at least three games under its belt to judge it. He's really saying that to Square's finance department more than anyone else. There just happens to be some examples that correspond to what he's saying. I guess if he's doing the "I'm planning three games in this new series" inorganic method that's done now and not back then, then he can't really call upon the past where game studios lived or died depending on the first game in the IP's success. (Besides Mega Man, which got many great sequels despite the first game being awful.)
"If people don't like the first game, then we're still entitled to make two sequels!" Guess that means "Project SETSUNA"'s first game might be pretty bad with those expectations, eh?
You're highly encouraged to offer examples, counter-examples, or quirky situations to go along with what Yosuka Matsuda says. There are hundreds of these out there, so share what comes to your mind in the comments section!
See Ludwig's "Sequelization!" article for how sequels are pretty good.
Ludwig name-dropped Arkham as a segue to this guest-posted review of Batman: Arkham Origins!