It's time to stop making Assassin's Creed. Not for any dry or corporate reason, like slipping sales figures, or because the last one wasn't very good. It's simply done. It's finished. For the sake of taste and restraint and all those decent things that Big Gaming consistently lacks, it's time to stop Assassin's Creed.
It's not entirely fair to single out Assassin's Creed here – there are plenty of series that have continued far and beyond when they ought to have ended, like Halo, Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid. But Assassin's Creed seems so determined to spread into every facet of media, from console games to handheld games, to books, to films, to web-series, that I can't help but think it emblematic of a ridiculous trend in today's popular culture, whereby if something is successful it is re-purposed over and over and over again.
Whilst browsing the internet just now I caught the headline 'Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood in talks for Agents of SHIELD spin-off.' Agents of SHIELD, the TV series, is already a spin-off from the Marvel movie franchise. Now the spin-off is getting a spin-off of its own. And it's this kind of Russian-dolling of culture that I see in Assassin's Creed, which, as of this week, as well as novels, comics, action figures and a film, will encompass a brand new trilogy of videogames.
This is by no means a new phenomenon. The entertainment industry, like any industry, has a history of deriving its products as far as they will go. And similarly, who can blame them? If something is making money, consistently, there's not a business brain in the world that's going to pull it from the shelves.
'GTA 5 professes to be punkish, rebellious and attacking of "the system" but ultimately attacks women, gay people and people of colour, kickING down at people whom society has already made vulnerable.'
Read Ed Smith's take on GTA here.
But that's the point. Entertainment is an industry and even the most ground-breaking work of art is only considered a success, at least by the people who paid for it, if it makes a profit. But all this spinning-off and repackaging and franchising just seems to me such a bad, ugly signal.
There was a point, circa the second game in 2009, where Assassin's Creed was an example of how artistry can still penetrate the mainstream and make money. Of how, if not exactly first priority, creative merit and originality were still on the list of must-bes. Now it's simply, foremost and entirely a product.
People still buy it, apparently, but Assassin's Creed and videogames of its ilk feel less now like bona fide creative works and more like yearly updates to your iPhone. It's just Assassin's Creed: Another One. Call of Duty: Another One. Halo: Another One. And the further these franchises ooze into other media, the less convinced I am that the creators have anything left to say.
We're not all dunces
Again, I know this is hardly an Earth-shattering revelation – it's like writing an article saying "hey, did you know what goes into sausages?" But what hasn't ever been said is just how patronising this kind of naked profiteering is towards audiences.
We're not all dunces. Repeat: we are not all dunces. Smart games, new games, brave games sell as well. Red Dead Redemption did well, so did LA Noire, Deus Ex, Portal and Portal 2. Even the biggest franchises have to come from at least one original idea.
When the first Assassin's Creed launched in 2007, it was a sandbox melee combat game set in the 12th century Holy Land. Nobody had seen anything like it, and yet still, it gained traction. Metal Gear Solid was equally out there. Silent Hill. BioShock. DOOM, even. All of these games completely broke the mould when they first released, but people latched on.
Relaunching Assassin's Creed or Gears of War or whatever, ad infinitum, is a tested means of turning profit, but it's not the only way. People will pay for quality. People will pay for originality. Those things are perhaps harder to create, and harder to market, than an additional entry into a franchise, but they don't necessarily spell financial death.
To keep launching, launching, launching another game in the same series is to ignore, I think, a great deal of what people respond to from videogames, from movies and from TV.
What I'm saying is it's safe to just put Assassin's Creed down and walk away. The audience for videogames is not so fickle as to lose interest once you mention new ideas. On the contrary, it's what we're all waiting for.
Ed Smith writes about games, films and culture for IBTimes UK. He has also written for The Observer, Vice, New Statesman and Edge magazine. Find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed