What’s the secret to making a successful sequel?

How do you take a beloved game and create an at least equally successful sequel? This was the question touched upon by several speakers at last week’s RovioCon 2017.

Margaret Robertson of Dots was wrestling with this question when she was working on creating Dots & Co. One of her key insights was that you “have to know what parts are sacred and can not be messed with”, (likening those to Keanu Reeves in the Speed movies). These are things that players love and recognise about the game, and there will be a big backlash if you mess with them.

Her second insight was that in order for existing players to want to try the new title, Dots couldn’t create a “new” game, but would have to develop a “nearly new” title. This is where the power of an existing fan base helps you, if you can get the balance of new to old just right.

Similar insights were shared by Måns Wide from Rovio’s Stockholm studio, who is product manager of Angry Birds 2. He described how the team came to realise that they could basically add any feature to the game (like a totally unrelated match-3 mechanic), as long as whatever they did played to the core, i.e. in this case the characters (which would be the ‘keanus” from Robertsons’ presentation).

Wide further used a few analogies from long running TV shows: Many people will praise a show to their friends, but then interject that the friends should only jump in at say season 3. Similarly games, when treated under the oft-quoted “games as a service” model of free-to-play, are often completely different experiences for a first-time player when they’ve been live for a year that they are at launch.

The page Wide urged game developers to take out of the TV showrunner’s playbook is how shamelessly many evolve their productions. The Simpsons look very different today than in their first season, and even the main protagonist has changed from Bart to Homer. This is something a lot of creative professionals can learn from.

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