Sequels are inevitable in today's commercial industry, but so are long-legged products with multiple online updates and a sustainable design model.
For a game like 2K and Gearbox's Borderlands, whose quest-based design, randomly-generated items and multiple expansion packs give it an unusually long lifespan with players, how does the development team know when it's the right time to create a new title in the series, and what's the process like?
Producer Matt Charles told Gamasutra that it's a surprisingly complicated decision with multiple components, dependent on resources, design ideas and on the business environment. After a period of assigning smaller teams to downloadable content -- "which we loved," Charles caveats -- it felt like the time to tackle a bigger beast. Currently, Borderlands 2 is slated for a September 2012 launch, nearly three years after the original released.
"One of the first things we did was a critical review analysis -- it included not just published reviews, but also fan feedback that we'd get through official channels, like Gearbox forums. We also merged that with our own feelings about the game... and collated and collected that information into, 'here are the areas that keep coming up, in both a positive and a negative way.'"
The team also had its own internal wishes; for example, having gotten attached to some of their characters, they wanted to invest more time and energy in developing them, Charles says. There were also decisions to be made about whether or not to branch off from the existing cast and story: "At the end of the first game, we felt like we could do anything -- that was both exciting and nerve-wracking."
Keeping a close eye on players that continued to be devoted to the existing game was also an inspiration, says Charles. "We were receiving feelings from our fans... we made a game people still enjoy playing months after the first release, so that became important to us as well: To make sure Borderlands 2 would also be a game that had depth and longevity.
Shifting from a small-team DLC approach back into a full production structure actually helped, since there was "a really high sense of momentum," Charles says. "When you have that many people focused on a goal for any length of time, you can feel the energy throughout the team, and we carried that momentum pretty steadily."
"It was at about that point we felt we'd created what we wanted to create with the DLCs," he adds. "If you're trying to force something into an existing infrastructure, you should actually invest that effort into a full sequel, where you have the freedom to change things much more easily."