I'm sorry, but I find the entire practice worrisome. It can start with Call of Duty and Madden but where does it end?
I distinctly recall Ubisoft saying – several times – that Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood would be Ezio's last story. …and yet, here he is again for Revelations , slated to arrive exactly one year later. And oh look, there's Altair, another pre-designed character. Now, I'm not saying the developers aren't doing their damndest to create yet another engrossing atmosphere – the second-to-none environments in AC is the primary reason I adore the series – but you can't tell me they aren't rushing things for the sake of an annual release approach. It's just impossible to avoid.
EA seems hell-bent on keeping pace with Activision in the shooter department and to do so, you can bet they'll have to release a high-profile FPS every year. This year it's Battlefield 3 and next year it'll probably be Medal of Honor 2 ; it isn't the same franchise, but we're looking at similar technology and shared ideas between internal studios. Now, we're talking about the most popular video games in existence so where does it end? The question isn't whether the annual installments are good; the question is, what do designers have to sacrifice?
Fantastic games take a while to make. It's just a fact. What would happen if Konami forced Kojima to put out a Metal Gear Solid title every year? It would never happen; Kojima would say it's impossible because he's a perfectionist, and each title wouldn't be able to fulfill his ambitious visions. What if Sony told Naughty Dog we needed an Uncharted every year? One could even make the case that Square Enix is trying to release a Final Fantasy title every year; exactly when did they decide on Final Fantasy XIII-2 ? I'm actually afraid of the answer.
I think it was right around the time they saw CoD and AC – both massive multi-million unit sellers – ruling the roost each year. Then they looked at their flagship franchise, realized it was just about the only chance they had left to restore their former glory (sorry, Deus Ex: Human Revolution probably won't do it), and said…"hey, we need to 'annual-ize' FF.'" I'm just worried about the future, and what we can expect…