Are yearly updates really worth it?

We can just about understand the way things used to be. When games came on cartridges, the only way you could play a sports game with the correct player names was to either type them all in yourself (which took hours), or buy the newest licensed version. But things have changed.

The advent of DLC has meant that all games could, in theory, be updated via a patch downloaded from the internet. This could either be for free (like many elements of the vastly expanded Burnout Paradise), or paid for (like Pain). This could even help the game manufacturers make better games, as they could spend two years making each proper new version, tiding over their loyal fans with a simple update in the meantime.

But alas, we still get full-price yearly updates with very little truly new content, to the point of nausea. So let's cut through the PR hype and take a look at the kind of updates we're getting right now and whether yearly updates are worth the effort - and the cash.


Madden NFL

Let's put this into perspective. The original John Madden console game came out on Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990. So we're talking about 20 years of yearly sequels. And people were starting to complain that the game wasn't changing much each time as early as 1994. So that's about 16 years of dubious incremental updates then. Houston Texans, we have a problem.

We're not saying the long-running series hasn't made genuine progress. Battery back-up let you save your games after a couple of years, which evolved into hard-drive saves and transferable data via memory cards. Team rosters went from fictional to real to international minor leagues. 3D graphics shook things up around 1996 and then got better each time, bit by bit, just like the rest of the game, if the Metacritic averages are to be believed.


But that was 14 years ago now. Let's see what we really got for our money in the latest version.

Biggest changes over last year

- Pro-Tak animation system (allows for more control during tackles)
- New online franchise career
- 9-man gang tackles
- Button-mashing 'Fight for the Fumble' system

The biggest genuine improvement here is online, where Madden NFL 10's franchise season is just superb. With an iPhone app that lets you tweak your books and rosters while you're away from your machine, you may as well be head coach of your favourite team, Blackberry in hand.

But if you're not online? We'd wager that mashing buttons to recover a fumble probably won't become a series staple. And gang tackles where one man can overcome all nine opponents with the right button presses? Hmmm…

Is it worth the upgrade? For online players – yes. Offline players? No.


Guitar Hero

Oh God, where are we with this one? Guitar Hero 6? 7? 67? OK, well let's put aside the 'Smash Hits' re-release and look at the differences between the last two major iterations, Guitar Hero: World Tour and Guitar Hero 5.

Biggest changes over last year:

- Party mode
- Play with multiples of the same instrument
- Play set list straight off without unlocking songs

The most welcome feature is Party mode. You can drop in and out without failing the song for everyone else, leaving the game to play music in the background when nobody's at the controls.

But how, exactly, was any of this impossible to do with a patch via DLC? And a party mode is nothing compared to the old days where we got genuine progress like in Guitar Hero III where we got breast physics for Judy Nails:

Overall, the series has come a long way since its revolutionary debut on PS2 in 2005. We've seen cover artists dropped in favour of master recordings (and special re-recordings by some artists like the Sex Pistols), the addition of custom soundtracks, online play and 'me-too' addition of drums and vocals. That's about as far as you can take the genre on current tech. Now we've got it, all we need is DLC. Thank you very much.

Worth the upgrade? What, to Guitar Hero Smash Hits? Where you get to pay full price to play old songs you already have? No way.

On the next page: Call of Duty...

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • Spybreak8 - January 15, 2010 5:59 a.m.

    Oh I forgot to mention, release the new game franchise in between your other succesful franchises in order to keep things fresh. We see this with Valve, Blizzard (bad example?), and Rockstar.
  • Spybreak8 - January 15, 2010 5:57 a.m.

    @nik41507 "The devs should take time on their games think about it our favorite developing studios are the ones who take time, and want to make a good game over profit And for anyone who played the original C&C games, I'm talking about Westwood" Amen brother, man I just have a sour taste in my mouth with EA's C&C games. On one hand I love C&C but on the other hand EA programmers and game design decision makers are sooo lazy! That's probably why I buy most of the C&C products for my PC, let the modding community fix it like they always do! Felt I should read this article because I just got done playing COD: WaW and NFS: Shift today and find both games enjoyable (helped I got em fairly good price as well). With the fact that all the other good games keep coming out I still haven't picked up FIFA10. I do have an old PES 360 game though.
  • GR_JustinTowell - January 14, 2010 9:31 a.m.

    @michaelmcc827: OK, just for you, replace it with: But alas, we still feel the pang of a most vexing yearning, causing us to perambulate with haste to the nearest vendor in order to procure the proceeding annual installment in a vicious, confounding and spiralling circle of monetary expenditure. Ad infinitum! Better?
  • kor2disturbed - January 14, 2010 5:39 a.m.

    I was done with the madden series by 07! 10 is my second favorite but nothing has topped 07. Also need for speed does not need updates. Hot pursuit 2 is and always will be my favorite. Shift was an interesting change but will never be as good as the classic. SHIFT can go fuck itself!
  • michaelmcc827 - January 14, 2010 4:16 a.m.

    Kind of irritating to have the vocabulary dumbed down for "us gamers", ie saying "to the point of nausea"...good article though. Where was Tony Hawk btw?
  • xenon - January 13, 2010 9:09 p.m.

    You should distinguish between actual yearly updates (Madden) and more of the same (COD). The second has much more of a right to exist, IMO. No one says there should be one football game, one basketball game etc for each console generation... Just go the Fight Night route and release a game when it's ready and when it's interesting, not when it's November.
  • garnsr - January 13, 2010 4:24 p.m.

    At what point do you decide that it's time to revamp a game, rather than just update rosters with DLC? Several people said every other year, but is that long enough? Could they get by for three or four years just updating the roster, then release a new game? That seems like a long time, only one or two games per generation (which would bring them in line with most other franchises, though.)
  • rxb - January 13, 2010 1:39 p.m.

    I love NFS Carbon, I thought it was a great NFS game.
  • Seabread - January 13, 2010 9:45 a.m.

    I've taken a stand in recent years and stopped buying annual iterations based (mostly) on the same 'facts' you've laid out here - FIFA being the main culprit. ok, EA have added some nice new things this year but i'd much rather have just had a live season update to keep my squads up to date. and even if this is available i couldn't use it properly 'cos they've shut down servers and i can't seem to play any of my friends online anymore. i'd even go as far as to update the squads myself (which i have done on more than one occasion) but it messes up the game eg. a suspended player in be-a-pro mode won't be available for selection again until the NEXT season. what gives?
  • Cwf2008 - January 13, 2010 5:02 a.m.

    @crumbdunky: No. And are yearly updates worth it? Well in the case of every game on this list, no. Not even MW2. Why? BECAUSE SPEC OPS SUCKED. If it had Nazi Zombies it would be a definite buy. As of now all those damn glitches are making it unbearable to play. But i do love running around with an RPG and noobtube so i play it...and its fun still
  • mentalityljs - January 13, 2010 4:35 a.m.

    Oh, and to answer the question in my opinion, no, yearly updates are DEFINATELY not worth it!
  • mentalityljs - January 13, 2010 4:28 a.m.

    With the constant and rapid advances in technology, i could understand how devs would want to push out games and sequels annually just to be on top of everything, graphically. Cuz let's face it, part of the reason we buy certain games is based off the way they look, and they know that. And unless there's a demo, or an unbiased website or mag that can cut past all the bullshit and give an honest review of the game, we'll never know how shitty it is until we buy it. With that said, i feel that if a particular game sells well (ie CoD4, MW2, L4D, HL2) and makes a hefty profit, then it should be the developers AND publishers duty to work together and agree that, instead of spending millions of dollars on new projects that could potentially flop, to work on more DLC, therfor keeping their customer base happy, THERfor ensuring future profits. But they MUST listen to the readers, they MUST listen to the reviews, or they'll end up like 3D Reals!
  • GrotesqueBurlesque - January 13, 2010 3:39 a.m.

    While the constant stream of new yearly updates being pushed out, we as a consumer have to remember that products such as those listed amongst many other will CONTINUE to be pushed out as long as we keep buying into them. So, the simple resolution, quit buying subpar sequels and developers will catch on.
  • Silvermech - January 13, 2010 2:07 a.m.

    Not enought people are hetting their ideas through. We need developers to have an open script week. Anybody with ideas, i recommend copywriting, can come and try to get them published.
  • Defguru7777 - January 13, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    What do you mean Halo's sequels are "pseudo-ish." It's only had two outside the main series, with one in development. And ODST was (despite your opinions on the price) an expansion pack. You have to wonder how much of the problem is the developers and how much responsibility lies on the publishers. I'm looking at you Activision (Call of Duty and Guitar Hero).
  • Lurkero - January 13, 2010 12:48 a.m.

    The least amount of time between sequels should be 2 years. At that point I have confidence that there will be significant quality and features put into the newer game. Anything more and I experience franchise fatigue.
  • nik41507 - January 13, 2010 12:22 a.m.

    The devs should take time on their games think about it our favorite developing studios are the ones who take time, and want to make a good game over profit And for anyone who played the original C&C games, I'm talking about Westwood
  • JackSkellingtonsSkin - January 12, 2010 11:13 p.m.

    If anyone played Ratchet & Clank this year they'll know that the game did nothing more than move the story forward. You'd think that Insomniac might improve the gameplay a bit, invest in an original idea, make the game a bit longer and realise that no one wants to play the game without Clank (additionaly no one really likes to play as Clank, although it did work in the first game.)
  • CARLINNIT - January 12, 2010 10:47 p.m.

    The good thing about FIFA recently is it's actually improved in terms of gameplay. It's not just team updates and new kits etc... it's a brand new game!
  • NinjaJamez - January 12, 2010 9:32 p.m.

    one every 2 years would be acceptable.... with some dlc obviously