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Are too many sequels killing video gaming?

"Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" is just one of many new games that looks a lot like a previous version.
"Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" is just one of many new games that looks a lot like a previous version.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many of 2010's new video games look very similar to last year's editions
  • Popular series are being serialized, or all-but copied wholesale with a few minor tweaks
  • High costs, shrinking shelf space lead game publishers to be more risk-averse
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Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. The creator and host of online video series Game Theory, he frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.

(CNN) -- Notice anything familiar about 2010's wish list of most anticipated video games? Apart from a higher number or a snappier catchphrase in the title, many look disturbingly similar to games from last year or the year before.

Credit video game publishers' growing reliance on sequels, spin-offs and series retreads, which draws disturbing parallels to what's happening on radio and at the movies.

On the bright side, ardent gaming fans will see more innovation and experimentation within the field than ever before. Thank the rise of indie game offerings, digital downloads, social games and free-to-play online outings, whose lack of constraints leave designers room for ample experimentation and creative expression.

From thought-provoking parodies like "Cow Clicker" to pioneering works of fiction including "Blue Lacuna" or gonzo outings such as psychedelic fighter "Zeno Clash," developers' imaginations continue to run rampant.

Still, you'd be hard-pressed to tell after previewing the games that will be lining store shelves this holiday season. From "Call of Duty: Black Ops" to "NBA Elite 11" and "Rock Band 3," many of late-2010's biggest debuts appear disturbingly formulaic.

The good news is that first impressions can sometimes be deceiving. New historical settings, revamped play systems and numerous game additions often hide behind a simple change in a name's digits or subtitle.

Familiarity isn't always a bad thing either, as long as you're getting more of what you know and love. Being well into the third or even 10th installment of a popular series often gives developers an edge in terms of polishing and refining features to a glistening shine.

But there's also the pressing concern that, more frequently than not, popular series are simply being serialized, or all-but copied wholesale with a few minor tweaks, and repackaged at an unjustifiably high price.

"World of Warcraft: Cataclysm" may greatly expand the popular online fantasy universe's virtual confines and "Halo: Reach" tacks on tons of fresh multiplayer options. Yet who's to say "Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock" isn't singing the same old tune, "Tony Hawk: Shred" simply regurgitating the usual grind or "Dead Rising 2" merely a rehashed monster mash with bloodier visuals?

Are surprise remakes such as "Splatterhouse" and "James Bond: GoldenEye 007" loving tributes to the originals or simple excuses to exploit fans' nostalgia? Nor do a variety of curious franchise spin-offs ("Crafting Mama"), re-imaginings ("Front Mission: Evolved") and expansions ("Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood") help alleviate suspicions.

In fairness, many sequels attempt to take familiar series in bold new directions. Others do justice to the spirit of the originals while adding modern-day twists. But all come with tremendous baggage. Because every gaming fan has been burned at least once by crappy sequels, few of these games inspire confidence in the developers' altruistic motives.

Things wouldn't seem so bad if the system weren't blatantly stacked against fresh ideas and original franchises. But high production costs, shrinking shelf space and budget-savvy shoppers' unwillingness to take chances on new titles are leading game publishers, like record labels and movie studios, to be more risk-averse.

Because of this, the task of raising the bar has quickly fallen to smaller, independent studios and games. Sadly, these outfits typically lack the resources to invade Fry's or Wal-Mart, and are increasingly turning to digital distribution services like Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network instead.

Meanwhile, an endless, seemingly interchangeable supply of carbon copies and ripoffs continues to infest GameStop.

Think "Medal of Honor" bears more than a passing resemblance to "Modern Warfare 2"? You might just be onto something.

Can the cycle be broken? That remains to be determined. But there's a good way to start.

Rather than endlessly debate whether "Madden NFL 11" is just a quick cash-in or "DJ Hero 2" more than a glorified remix, instead consider the merits of shopping online and out of the mainstream.

Hundreds of wildly innovative and original games exist on services like Steam and WiiWare, platforms such as your Web browser and Facebook. A little digging is all it takes to unearth solid gold.

Besides, from "WWE Smackdown vs. RAW" to "The Sims," your old favorites will always be waiting.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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