What's common between Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Medal of Honor: Warfighter and XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Apart from the fact that most of these games have been released in the recent past, you may have also noticed that none of these are original IPs. What you have here are three consecutive releases we've covered that are reboots.
What's at the root of this reboot epidemic, you ask? Well, you can blame it on the big two's reluctance to dump their current generation of consoles for the next breed of powerful gaming hardware. The lack of new consoles has a profound effect on game development. This is especially true for AAA franchises that cost anywhere from $20-100 million per game. This magnitude of investment is carefully planned around a console's life cycle, with most of them taking shape as trilogies spaced out from the launch of the hardware platform to the eventual phase out. Gears of War on the Xbox 360 and PS3's equivalent Uncharted are the best examples of this practice.
A textbook example of a bad reboot
There's a good reason why video game publishers are reluctant to launch large franchises far out into a console's life cycle. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the mentality of gamers is vastly different when they have just switched over to a brand new console platform. Gamers are more open to experiment with new IPs, due to the simple fact that they crave launch titles to go along with their brand new hardware. This eagerness of buyers to gamble with new video game franchises makes it easier for new IPs to establish a foothold and garner new fans.
This is especially difficult to pull off with a mature hardware platform as gamers will have already seen a lot of quality content. Factors such as an elevated benchmark of excellence and the absence of the initial 'ooh shiny!' effect associated with new hardware make achieving commercial success a very difficult proposition. The overall tolerance for mediocrity tends to be low, because gamers are well aware of a mature platform's capabilities. Impressing gamers, therefore, at the end of a console's life cycle is a herculean challenge—something that the publishers aren't too chuffed about when it comes to commissioning the next multi-million dollar magnum opus.
Criterion's Most Wanted reboot succeeds because it knows what to keep and what to do away with
In simple terms, the risk involved with launching a big-budget franchise goes up significantly at the fag end of the console's life, whereas the chances of success are reduced considerably. This is definitely not the most favourable proposition for the investor, which is why original IPs have virtually dried out. There may be some exceptions such as Dishonoured, but the fact is that all major publishers have been sitting on new IPs, while some of them like EA and Ubisoft, for example, have been vocal about it as well.
With Microsoft having pumped a lot of money into the Kinect, and Sony having learnt the bitter side of hardware extravagance with the PS3, I don't see them being too eager about releasing next-gen consoles post haste. While Nintendo is still playing catch up with the Wii U, the two major players seem pretty content piggybacking on the status quo. That's just bad news for developers as well as gamers.