The Batman Arkham Series and The Yearly Franchise Model
Nearly a full five years ago, the world was introduced to Batman: Arkham Asylum, the titular hero’s return to fame in video games. It was heralded by many critics at the time as the greatest super hero game ever made, which to be honest, isn’t a magnificent feat considering the track record of most super hero games. Arkham Asylum garnered a metacritic rating of 91/100 and has sold roughly 4 million units as of today. For Rocksteady Studios, a developer whose only previous game included Urban Chaos: Riot Suspense in 2006, it was a massive success and their first true foray into video game stardom.
Anyone that completed Batman: Arkham Asylum knew of the cliff-hanger ending and for them, the inevitable sequel became a waiting game. Batman: Arkham City released two years later to even higher critical acclaim, reaching a lofty 96 metascore and selling even more, though I can’t find recent accurate sales figures. So far so good, right? Unfortunately, Rocksteady seems to have painted themselves into a corner with the Batman Arkham franchise. Making only one other game before moving onto Batman means they’re only known as “those guys that make Batman”.
Five years later and Rocksteady is still working on the Batman Arkham series with Batman: Arkham Knight set for a 2015 release after being delayed from its initial 2014 date. Batman: Arkham Origins was released this past fall, though not being developed by Rocksteady, it is unanimously considered the weakest entry.
There is no denying the quality of the series and the impact it has left on the industry. With games like Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, The Amazing Spiderman, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor borrowing from the free flow combat of Arkham, it’s easy to see why the it has become so prolific. Unfortunately though, I fear publishers may get in the way of the genius and push for more games than we need. Had Arkham Knight not been delayed, we would have had four games in the same series in a span of just five years, which is dangerously close to the yearly franchise model seen with Call of Duty.
Nowadays, Call of Duty is working on a rotation of three developers. Surely, it is better than having one developer make a new game every year, allowing more time to make a game. However, that does not undermine the reason for this strategy: Money. Activision wants money and so they have three developers releasing a new Call of Duty every three years. Unfortunately, Call of Duty grew stale long ago and the Batman Arkham franchise might meet a similar fate. We’ve already seen the publisher, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, experiment with this by making Warner Bros. Games Montreal take the helm for Arkham Origins with its Rocksteady successor originally expected to be released the following year.
I hope the release of Batman: Arkham Knight will signal the end of the franchise so the publisher and the developer can focus on new things. A series like this can only go on for so long without reaching fatigue and its inching ever closer to that. Sometimes, money hungry developers and publishers need to learn when enough is enough or they may end up making Batman Arkham into the next Madden of gaming. After all, do we as gamers want to support this if it ends up being stretched as widely as Assassin’s Creed? Can’t we let a lying dog rest and move forward?