Since about 1993, with the release of Super Mario Bros, cinema and video games have shared an inexplicable mutual fascination with each other. With games attempting to become more cinematic and Hollywood attempting to bank on the ever-growing popularity of video games, it seems that comparisons between the two mediums are inevitable. Thus, our expectations of the two also diverge. While we expect the same from either medium, the results, especially when it comes to serialisation, could not be more different. The bottom line: while film sequels generally make less money and are critically panned, video game sequels tend to not only be relatively more commercially successful but are often viewed more favourably through time than their film counterparts.
To say that all film sequels are lesser is clearly an inapt generalisation. The most famous exception is The Empire Strikes Back, often cited by fans as the best in the Star Wars franchise. Additionally, with book adaptations like Harry Potter, each iteration of the series grosses more in box office revenue than its predecessor, and arguably increases in quality, at the very least from a special effects standpoint. However as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and these exceptions do not make the rule.
These are the movies that were sold to studios before they ever had a script and the rights are unsurprisingly sold to studio executives and businessmen first
The generalisation of substandard sequels points toward films like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Grease 2, and any Home Alone that didn’t star Macaulay Culkin. These are the movies that were sold to studios before they ever had a script and the rights are unsurprisingly sold to studio executives and businessmen first, rather than artists. Writers will be hired to make a movie that is similar enough to the original, so it will make money, but not different enough to warrant its existence in the first place. This results in movies that more than deserve its rotten tomato.
What is it about video games as a medium that makes its sequels successful? You’d be lying to yourself if you thought game studios were not in it for the money just as much as film studios are. But where games and movies differ is that video games, at their core, are just that: games.
Just as France will compete in the 2022 World Cup, despite having won this year’s cup, the player will replay a game even if the gameplay is the same, if only for a few minor narrative differences in where it takes place or who the main characters are. People play games because they have fun playing them. Furthermore, the increasing focus on narrative in popular gaming might even be an asset to the success of game sequels than a hindrance, because it provides enough of a barrier to prevent endless replay but also entices the player enough to buy the sequel. Players want to continue the story, but still enjoy the game mechanics that motivated them to play the original.
In many cases, it is simply more convenient for a consumer to play a sequel
It’s also worth noting that the success of a video game sequel is in part dictated by hardware constraints and aided by the rising popularity of video games among consumers. In many cases, it is simply more convenient for a consumer to play a sequel. If a player in the current day with current hardware wants to jump into a franchise, it makes more sense from both a financial and logistical point to buy the most recent game in the series than to find a console from two generations ago to play the first game in the series. Even if they were to do so, the quality of graphics in games have increased exponentially in the last couple of years, never-mind the 40+ years of video game history. This differs from film where film dating back to the Silent Era is easily accessible and, depending on which film student you ask, is of arguably higher quality.
To put it simply, video game technology has progressed to the point where playing the original is not only not worth playing for a general audience, but oftentimes the sequel is frankly a better gameplay experience. It is only the serious payers that will find it worth playing an older game whether it be for professional or enthusiastic reasons.