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Settlers V and the costs of franchising

February 21st, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

The Settlers: Heritage of Kings has just been released. Since it is a Settlers game, you can count on it selling millions copies no matter what, right?

Well, maybe not. This is the most realistic looking Settlers yet, and that may not be a good thing. Whatever limited charm the early games had, a lot of it was rooted in the idea that you were building a sim-Smurf village. Your denizens were cartoonish and your city would develop around them as they went about their work. Most veteran Settlers players won’t even recognize it.

As I download the demo and look at the screenshots and unit descriptions it becomes evident that this is not your older brother’s Settlers. They’ve tacked on a sort of plot, included hero units and added buildings straight out of a fantasy setting.

None of this is to say that Heritage of Kings will be a bad game. Like many people on this side of the pond, I never got the appeal of the original games all that much. This might actually be an improvement. But is it Settlers?

In an industry that has become increasingly reliant on franchises and series, it’s kind of disheartening to see a popular franchise title hijacked to buttress the prospects of what is, by all appearances, a completely different city-building game. There seems to be a lot more emphasis on the combat and conquest stuff (always important, but understated) plus the inclusion of magic and heroes on a much larger scale.

So, you have to ask yourself how the Settlers name even got attached to this project. Even when there was a legal battle over who owned the rights to the name Civilization, the games involved all looked like Civilization. (Well, not Advanced Civilization, oddly enough.) Calling this a Settlers game is like making a new Monkey’s Island game that didn’t have any pirates or jokes in it.

The thing is, most of the designers and developers have a history at Blue Byte Software and are familiar with (or even worked on) the Settlers games. Still, they decided to go a completely different route – one not lined with cartoon characters toddling along but one with realistic avatars and dark magics.

It’s their franchise, of course, and they have every right to take it in whatever direction they choose. But you have to wonder what the value of a franchise name is if it just gets attached to a game with only a passing resemblance to what went on before. Settlers is cartoony; that’s what it always has been and always will be for me. Heritage of Kings looks to be another game altogether.


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