There are a number of new, potentially huge AAA IPs slated to launch on the current generation of consoles over the next year, with representations from most of the biggest publishers in the marketplace. Games like The Last of Us, Fuse, Remember Me and Watch Dogs, among others, have the ability to launch new franchises just as we’re preparing to make the leap, avoiding the current trends of yearly iteration and reboots and reimaginings of series that have been popular in the past in the process. This practise is refreshing for the fans, but it also offers the promise of being financially beneficial for the publishers when Sony and Microsoft finally do offer their next consoles.
This isn’t necessarily because they will offer a massive influx of income at their first outing but because of the aforementioned possibility of sequelisation. If the past few years have proven anything in this industry, it is that we, the gamers, are insular in our purchase choices. In general, we know the games, series and developers that are capable of delivering high quality entertainment on a regular basis. Why else would the likes of Call of Duty, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls and Gran Turismo sell as well as they do on a consistent basis? One can argue that the hits driven nature of the industry is a result of gaming reaching into the mainstream, but this isn’t strictly true as it has been this way for years.
Many of the gamers that made the jump to the seventh generation early did it because they were anticipating the continuation of their favourite franchises from the sixth as much as due to those new titles that were gaining attention as flagships for the new one. As much as we, as a whole, crave innovation and new ideas, we are hypocrites in that we willingly embrace and support the increasing prevalence of the same ideas and are typically happy to take the safe route in our purchases.
Call of Duty: The Safe Purchase Route
Bearing this in mind, the creation of new IPs at the end of a console generation suddenly make as much, if not more, sense as it does to wait until the official beginning of the next. Releasing it now means that it is thrust into the public spotlight earlier and has access to over a hundred million potential customers, a luxury that can allow a game to turn a profit with a less than one percent attachment rate, as was recently the case with Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw. Introducing a game to such a prolific audience has the natural benefit of more people paying attention to it, perhaps purchasing it now, leading to a far greater brand awareness than might otherwise be the case.
It makes perfect sense for the publishers, and has proven to be lucrative in the past, through the likes of the Ninja Gaiden reboot, Fable, Forza Motorsport, Killzone, God of War and Mafia being examples of series that launched relatively late in the cycle of the previous generation and have gone on to have quite a bit of success more recently. There aren’t a huge number of series typically launched in this period, and this, according to Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot , is because it simply is not an easy proposition because gamers are more set in their ways, while they are more open with their wallets early:
“It’s a lot less risky for us to create new IPs and new products when we’re in the beginning of a new generation. Our customers are very open to new things. Our customers are reopening their minds — and they are really going after what’s best. … At the end of a console generation, they want new stuff, but they don’t buy new stuff as much. They know their friends will play Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed so they go for that. So the end of a cycle is very difficult.”
EA’s Frank Gibeau mirrored these beliefs with the caveat that innovation is better siphoned into existing and established franchises towards the end of a generation:
“The time to launch an IP is at the front-end of the hardware cycle, and if you look historically the majority of new IPS are introduced within the first 24 months of each cycle of hardware platforms. Right now, we’re working on 3 to 5 new IPs for the next gen, and in this cycle we’ve been directing our innovation into existing franchises. If you look at what we’re putting into Need For Speed: Most Wanted we’re taking a lot of risks there, the same thing with Battlefield – you have to admit that, from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3, there’s a huge amount of change there.
“But, if you look at the market dynamics, as much as there’s a desire for new IP, the market doesn’t reward new IP this late in the cycle; they end up doing okay, but not really breaking through. We have to shepherd the time that our developers spend, as well as the money that we spend on development in a positive way, so we’re focused on bringing out a bunch of new IPs around the next generation of hardware.”
Whether they are right or wrong hardly matters, the reality is that introducing a new series at the end of a lifecycle provides a foothold for the future. It’s all good and well for them but as gamers, the fiscal matters of publishers should be least in our minds when it comes to this topic. For us, one of the best aspects of launching a new IP late in the generation stems from the fact that, by this point, the developers have gotten a real handle on the hardware available and are able to do what they have wanted to all along most effectively, leading to better and more ambitious games. Besides this, it offers the very real possibility of getting the jump on the ideas that will drive the next generation as they can safely be considered as cross-generational.
Guillemot also suggested that new consoles drive creativity and that is why more fresh IPs are found in the beginning, but this doesn’t always pan out for long term success. We’ve seen a number of great titles fail to spawn a real sequel due to sales that were perceived as being poor. Valkyria Chronicles, Blue Dragon, Heavenly Sword, Brutal Legend, TimeShift, Too Human, Pure, Fracture, Mirror’s Edge; the list goes on, eclipsing the number that did go on to have mainstream success. Granted, not all of them adhered to standard of more successful titles but many of them were rife with uniquely powerful aspects that could have been used and improved in the sequel, along with the technical aspects. They simply never got a second chance.
Left waiting for so long…
The same can be said of games that launched at the end of the last cycle, like Killer7 or Cold Fear. Of course, things are a bit different now thanks to the way that gaming is really embracing the mainstream meaning that there is a better chance for such games to take off, particularly with the easy available of media for fans and those interested via the internet. It’s a different world, and with many fans still claiming that they aren’t necessarily ready for the next generation, why do publishers and developers not embrace them and add incentives for their upgrading by sequelising late generation games relatively early on rather than throwing 101 new IPs at us. It just makes sense.