Why do RPG expansions never work?

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Every fantasy role playing game that boasts the potential to grow as more and more add-ons (expansions) are produced and introduced, never come through. Maybe I'm overlooking one (or several), but I think back to the days of Alternate Reality on my Apple IIe, and remember the excitement when they offered a bunch (half of a dozen, I believe) new realms that would be developed and available for interchangable use with the original game. Baldur's Gate offers the same excitement now with the promise of expansions, which is going well as they've already released one, but will that trend continue? I would hate for my Baldur's Gate characters to be useless after I have completed all the quests it (and TotSC) has to offer. The entire idea behind role playing games is to build your character indefinately.

Unfortunately, no game has lasted beyond the first game and perhaps an expansion or two. It seems the designers lose interest, or the money just isn't available to accomplish these goals. The RPG title that has come the closest to this idea of building a character indefinately, albeit badly, is the Quest for Glory series. They allow you to advance your character until the end of the game where you can export him to be used with the up and coming Quest for Glory games. Nice games, but poor excuse for character development if you ask me.

My point is (and I appologize for the long tedious post), with the Planescape campaign setting as the backdrop, Planescape: Torment has, in my humble opinion, more potential than any game in history to become THE MOST expandable, indefinately playable fantasy role playing game ever. Think about how many worlds there are to explore, the number of layers in each plane, the number of realms and powers on each layer, etc. The Planescape setting is the glue to the Dungeons and Dragons existance. All the ideas and theories behind this fantasy world created so long ago, have finally come together in one cohesive, playable model, which lends itself perfectly to interpretation. What more could you ask for?

In Conclusion (I feel like I've written an essay), Planescape: Torment has the ability to change my feelings on RPG expansions. I want to find a game that I will play forever, and if Torment cannot pull through, all hope is lost.

Sorry again for the long post.

-- brass (peasant@peasanthero.com), September 15, 1999


The answer lies in the real world of economics. Do you take your money that you've been given by your publisher to create an expansion or do you create a brand new game?

Now, remember you can only spend that money on one objective; you either make a kick-ass expansion or a kick-ass new game. Black Isle or Bioware are both perfectionists who know that dividing the money up will have the result of an "okay" expansion and perhaps a new game that ends up taking 5 years to complete. They're too professional to do that.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that developers are limited by money and time. If the studio is part of a larger entity, then maybe a third party will do the expansion, leaving the primary studio to concentrate on a new game (i.e., Sierra made the Hellfire expansion to Diablo, which was made by Blizzard).

-- Kraal (msgboard@otaking.org), September 16, 1999.

I'd like to thank Scott Warner for taking the time out to visit our humble message board here and to contribute such detailed answers. It helps to know the insider's view of things.

I think the only way for game companies to make money and also keep gamers happy with the continuation of so-called sequels is to do it in the vein of Final Fantasy or Zelda. Of course, these are only for singleplayer; you can't have more than one Zelda.

I'd like to see sequels to games I like, certainly for Planescape, as that universe is so rich, and there are so many stories to tell. Perhaps with the debut of Neverwinter Nights, we will see a new era of MP roleplaying that's not just stats-building, hackfests and dungeon crawling, but a return to the golden days of Ultima. Perhaps the true form of the sequels/expansions brass would like to see isn't in the form of expansions as we know them, but in ongoing worlds like EverQuest, Acheron's Call, and other MP roleplaying games. It would solve the problems of gamers wanting to keep their beloved characters, and also the companies' goal of making money.

-- Kraal (msgboard@otaking.org), September 23, 1999.

I'd certainly like to see us do more with the Planescape multiverse, as I'm sure you all know how fascinating much of it is. It all boils down to economics, however, and if our game is successful, then we'll be talking about it I'll bet.

As for expansion packs, there's only so much you can do a limited time to capitalize on a particular product, in today's market, before it's old news. One option would be to set aside a team that would just keeping cranking out Baldur's expansion packs, but then that would obviously sacrifice the quality and integrity of a well-loved title. At the same time, you can't really expect the original development team to want to make expansion packs for a year or so when they've already spent two-three years on the parent title. They, like most creatively driven people, want to move on and try something new.

I think the bottom line, really, is that if a game is relatively successful, you can generally expect one expansion pack of some sort before it's time to move on (unless we're talking about Links or something.) :)

I'm glad somebody brought up Alternate Reality too... there was DEFINITELY a lot of excitement over the possibilities of that one until people realized they'd never come to fruitation. Very disappointing.

-- Scott Warner (swarner@interplay.com), September 16, 1999.

If this is the case, that no RPG 'product' can last more than one expansion in this world and marketplace, then something is -really- wrong with things. Look at the SSI AD&D gold box games. They had, in succession, at least six different -series- of games, with a - minimum- of each series of 2 games apiece. Not expansions, but full - games-. They held the liscence and marketplace for a good number of years before they started putting out subpar products. I know there had to have been other series where there was carryover from game to game other than the fact that it's Name of Game VII or whatever.

Maybe I'm just a jaded gamer, but I think it'd be better in my opinion for a studio to work on a game, then a followup or two or more to that game / concept, than for everyone to be going onto the next big thing. Considering the -last- time everyone did that, it was FPS and RTS mania, two genres which I'm thoroughly sick of because most of the newer ones bring nothing new to the table. (I know, I'm bleeding over into different things here, but)

Maybe it's time for game companies to re-evaluate the concepts that they're putting across? I mean, there are hordes of games that've come out over the past five years that have been not worth the CDs they're printed upon. We all know them, they're the games that end up on sale for 20 bucks 2 weeks after they're out. Maybe an answer is for the game companies to listen to the players, or truly find out what they want. Listen to the complaints, find out what players want, and give it to them.

Granted, unfortunately, no matter what gamers -say-, the fact that the overswamped genres (FPS and RTS, right now) do sell, and sell well enough for everyone involved to think, "Why not make another? They'll buy it!" And that's another thing I find sad. To be honest, though, I'd rather see lower variety of game types, and higher value and quality in the games I do see.

-- Jason Ballew (jballew@tampabay.rr.com), September 18, 1999.

Although i would love to see continous RPG games, i personally belive that is in the realm of the massive online multiplayer games. one of the main reasons i play single player games is for the story with sorly lacking on online games. Torment from what i have heard will be a very story driven game, which will make add-on packs rather diffulct to make, to make a good add-on you have to track everything the player can do and make sure it fits in the new expansion. that can be very hard to do. My personal view on torment is that the ending will tie up the story and will rap up the game, with all problems sovled. I would like to see sequals with the same character in a brand new story, or brand new characters in a brand new story and for a story driven game but not an add-on pack. That might work for BG where the story is not extensively developed, but not for games that are very story intensive such as the final fantasy series, the fallout series, etc. Which from what i have seen and heard is exactly what torment is going to be. wow i really went on and on didn't? well sorry aboout a long post. Miao

-- Miao (lei-ming@email.msn.com), September 18, 1999.

>If this is the case, that no RPG 'product' can last more than one >expansion in this world and marketplace, then something is -really- >wrong with things. Look at the SSI AD&D gold box games. They had, in >succession, at least six different -series- of games, with a - >minimum- of each series of 2 games apiece. Not expansions, but full - >games-. They held the liscence and marketplace for a good number of >years before they started putting out subpar products.

Well, that was different era of computer gaming as well, when companies weren't as large, technology wasn't moving as fast, and RPGs were the first and last choice in what the average person would purchase. I think gamers often role play a little TOO much and assume that the companies making their games live in fantasy worlds as well, when the bottom line is that we have to make money. It is a business, and decisions that get made unfortunately sometimes dictate over the quality or integrity of a title. However, you can continue to moan about the current state of affairs, OR, you can work within that system and devise games that challenge the boundries of what companies are willing to finance. I think my division, Black Isle, has delivered that in spades and will continue to do so. I can't think of another company out there that would have greenlighted a game like Planescape, and I'm proud to be involved with such a unique game.

As for moving on to the "next big thing..." Obviously you're going to see more Balduresque material from BI in the near future, so I wouldn't really worry about that. Also, you're assuming "moving on" means to something completely different, rather than say, moving on to a sequel for the title. I'm just saying that the original title has a lifespan of X amount of time, and really you can only hope to develop (historically) one expansion pack (of high quality) before it's time to move on to the next title, or start thinking of ways to improve on the original title for a follow up.

BLAH, I hate talking about the BUSINESS side of gaming. NEXT TOPIC! haha

Just a little personal opinion here on the SSI Gold Box series... didn't dig 'em. AT ALL. I think that, as you mentioned back there, they WERE cranked out quite a bit, and in that sense Pool of Radiance is probably the only one that I remember with any sort of fondness.

It's the Ultima series that I, as a role player, look back on and have great memories. While the SSI series and others like them were stat, goodie, kill big beast fests, Ultimas were worlds and stories. I think the personal introspection you have to do in order to properly play IV-VI are early incarnations of the sort of thing Black Isle likes to do with their internal games (allow the player to create someone he/she feels is represenative of who they are or who they really want to be.) Of course, with our games, we allow you to be outright bastard as well, rather than just a variant of goodness.

WELL, back to work. Ya want this game out before the new year, don'tcha? :P


-- Scott Warner (swarner@interplay.com), September 19, 1999.

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