Love them or hate them, remasters look like they’re here to stay. But are they really such a blight on the games industry?
It seems like almost every week, there’s a new remastered, remade, or simply re-released game being announced. This year alone, we’ve seen Resident Evil, Saints Row IV, DmC: Devil May Cry, Grim Fandango, Might & Magic III, Final Fantasy Type-0, and plenty of other games re-releases with various degrees of touching up. God of War III, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy X-2 are all on the cards for PS4 releases in the coming months. There are rumours of an Uncharted Remastered trilogy, the evidence for which is admittedly sketchy, but the idea itself seems more than a little plausible. There will no doubt be more remastering announcements throughout the rest of this year.
These re-releases seem to be increasingly getting met with disdain. “Why don’t the developers focus on making new games?” people ask. “I’ve already played this, why would I buy it again?” they say. At best, there’s a mild sense of frustration at the frequency of re-released games; at worst, outrage.
But the thing is, remasters are nothing new. And more to the point, not only are they not the problem people make them out to be, they’re actually good for the industry and the gaming community.
There was almost no backlash against the announcement of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, because here was a game that had previously never been available outside Japan. Through this re-release, people who couldn’t or didn’t want to import the game and play it in a language they may not understand got a chance to experience it.
The thing is, the remasters that annoy people - Sleeping Dogs, DmC, Tomb Raider, and so on - are doing exactly the same thing, only not on the same scale. Not everyone had a PlayStation 3 and/or Xbox 360; for a lot of people, their PlayStation 4 or Xbox One will be their first console. Remasters like these are an opportunity to bring those great games from the previous generation to an audience who wouldn’t have had a chance to play it before.
Is this even more true for platform-exclusive games, like Halo or The Last of Us. If someone had an Xbox 360 for the previous generation, then jumped to PlayStation 4, a game like The Last of Us Remastered gives them a chance to play something that they missed out on. Likewise for people going from PlayStation 3 to Xbox One, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
There’s an argument to be made here about backwards compatibility in new consoles, and that’s something I support greatly. But, at the same time, backwards compatibility isn’t just a case of flicking a switch and turning it on. There are a lot of technical aspects to consider that can make adding backwards compatibility to a console a costly and time-consuming process.
Among the many criticisms of remasters is that they’re a “lazy cash grab”. I’d be more inclined to call them smart business decisions.
Obviously, the cost of producing a remaster is far less than making a whole new game from scratch, and they can be turned around in a quicker time. But that certainly doesn’t make them “lazy”; a lot of work goes into remastering a game, even when that doesn’t include creating all-new content. They’re require less time and financial investment, but that doesn’t equate to less effort.
This reduced cost makes remasters a great source of revenue for publishers. There’s a lot of anger directed at the big publishers in particular, and much of that is valid. But, fundamentally, publishers are responsible for providing the ever-increasing budgets for AAA game development. Sure, they’re businesses out to make a profit, but those profits come from the games they invest in.
Despite AAA budgets getting bigger and bigger, the average price of games hasn’t gone up - if anything, it’s dropped. A brand new, full-priced game has cost roughly $120 in New Zealand for as long as I can remember. This was as true in the PlayStation era as it is now, and competition between retailers means that, in most cases, we’re getting new games for far less than the RRP - often around $80 to $100. So, with development costs going up, and prices staying the same, something’s got to give.
Remasters can be a source of revenue for those big publishers to fund new games. Yes, they’ll be lining the coffers of investors too, but their whole business model is built on producing games. A lot of that money is going back into development, and without it (and other revenue streams, like DLC) the price of games would likely be going up.
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