A Look at the Video Game Industry’s Obsession with Trilogies

I couldn’t help it earlier when reading about Sony securing the domains for The Last of Us 2 and The Last of Us 3 I had to let out a groan. Not because I don’t want to see more great games from Naughty Dog and not because I’m dreading the release of The Last of Us (I’m actually looking forward to it), but because it has become a growing trend within the video game industry to push for games to be more than just one game, but to be a series, to be a trilogy. There is nothing wrong with games being made in trilogies, but after a while it does grow to be a bit cumbersome to see that just about every game series needs to be a trilogy or set of trilogies.

Trilogies have existed in literature for a long time, dating back to ancient Greece, but really became a bit more common when George Lucas created the Star Wars trilogy in the 70’s and 80’s. Even then, you could say that he was taking inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was published over the span of a year and a half between 1954 and 1955. Since then, trilogies have become almost commonplace, starting with films. We saw George Lucas do another trilogy with Indiana Jones, as well as push for a second Star Wars trilogy, with a third incoming. Since then we’ve seen the video game industry start to spread its wings a bit more and start producing more story-driven games, which has led to the advent of the trilogy.

In a way, the concept of a trilogy makes sense; there is a beginning, there is a middle and there is an end. Together they collectively become a whole story, told over the span of three chapters which can be sold separately. When it comes to marketing a story, being able to split it up over multiple chapters seems to be a brilliant idea, which is probably why we’ve seen so many games become trilogies.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the trilogies that we’ve seen; Halo, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, God of War, Dead Space, Fable, Killzone and, well, you get the point, right? All of these games have had hefty budgets, have sold a lot of copies (some more than others) and have had some sort of story that has stretched over a main trilogy, with some having offshoots or even having multiple trilogies made out of them. We are reaching a point of critical mass where it seems almost like game developers are trying to tell bigger stories but are sticking to familiar confines like trilogies to tell their stories.

As long as the games are good it is hard to complain about multiple titles and a sprawling narrative, but a part of me wonders if everything really needs to be a trilogy. A good, recent example would be Dead Space, which was stretched out into a trilogy and the third title met with a lukewarm reception and the sales have been less-than-stellar. Some video games just don’t need to go beyond one or two titles to accomplish what they set out to do.