Why are we asking this now?
It’s been a great year for new games franchises. In fact, last month was one of the most promising with the release of both Enslaved and Vanquish. But both failed to set the chart on fire – Enslaved flashed into the top 10 for one week, Vanquish didn’t even make it that high.
Both Sega and Namco have since commented that although they have faith in the quality of the IPs, sales have been challenging. It must be doubly galling when, in an MCV report just three weeks ago, both had prided themselves on grass-roots campaigns to build pre-release awareness.
And it’s been a watershed year for arguably under-performing new IP such as Bayonetta, Alan Wake, Blur, Singularity, Heavy Rain and Split/Second.
Are these new IPs just unpopular?
Critically, the games are darlings. Enslaved has a Metascore of 80; Vanquish gets 84; Alan Wake has 83; and Split/Second has 83.
Yet commercially a question mark hangs over the future of this year’s new crowd – even those which technically aren’t a ‘flop’ have had less-than-stellar-arrivals.
Why should we care about new IP?
All franchises – those based on licences excepted – once started life as a lone title that flourished into a powerhouse. Publishers need new IPs to build company value. And without new IP, gamers get the same thing over and over.
So the market just can’t support new IP now?
Not at all. Just a few years ago, Ubisoft released the untested Assassin’s Creed into the market – we know the rest of the story. It’s second sequel arrives just next week. Since the original came out, every publisher has tried to create their own Assassin’s Creed.
That said, the market has changed. Retailers are rightly tight with budgets. And big, bold, praised original games did arrive this year. But, um, they just weren’t released via retail. Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Limbo, Joe Danger – the list goes on. All sold millions of units and are new IPs. But they were sold online, away from the traditional model.
What did those games do right that the new IPs at retail didn’t?
It’s a mix of things. Certainly, the efforts to bring them to retail are not in doubt. All those retail games cited are from expert studios, they tick all the post-launch DLC boxes and did well to tickle pre-release hype. But marketing and PR cut-through is tougher to achieve than ever. So why devote shelf-space or advertising budget to something unproven? These are high-risk gambles. In the relatively quiet May, three new IPs headed to market (Alan Wake, Split/Second, and Blur) and were destroyed by Red Dead Redemption. It was futile.
And, to play devil’s advocate with some generalisations for a moment – from a certain point of view these new IPs simply weren’t new enough. Enslaved? It’s just an Uncharted clone, isn’t it? Vanquish – well that’s just Gears of War with robots.
So was there something wrong with how these games were built?
Perhaps. Commissioning content that’s ‘a bit like that other triple-A game’ makes sense on one level. If a consumer has just £40 to spare, they might go with the unknown over FIFA provided it ‘seems like that other game I like’.
But radical ideas might just be better. Heavy Rain, obvious proof that new IP does sell (it made it to No.1 and has sold over 1.5m units), is now the exception to a new rule – that new IP will almost always fail.
So we shouldn’t bother with retail at all?
Not at all. There is an array of new games coming over the next 12 months – Inversion, Brink, Rage, Bulletstorm, Homefront, Nail’d, Child of Eden, Shadow of the Damned, Hunted, Bodycount, and many more. All could be the Next Big Thing.
That said, new IP is as hard a thing to bring to market as it ever has been. The rewards, when they arrive, are bountiful. But the losses today are greater than ever.