2010 was a terrible year for new IP. Not in terms of quality – the likes of Bayonetta, Dance Central, Heavy Rain, Vanquish and Enslaved were amongst last year’s most critically lauded titles.
But commercially new IP was a non-entity. Out of the 30 biggest sellers last year only one was a new IP, and that was Just Dance, a game released in 2009.
Last year was a period that proved how dangerous developing new brands can be. Sure, if you get it right you could be sitting on the next Assassin’s Creed. But get it wrong – as Bizarre and Realtime Worlds discovered – and it’s game over.
Earlier this year, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told MCV that introducing IP late in a console’s lifecycle is difficult as “the big established brands soak up most of the sales.” A view shared by many of the publishing elite.
And yet in 2011 we are witnessing an altogether different trend. In the first five months of the year, three new IPs have topped the All Formats chart – Homefront, Brink and L.A. Noire – a feat only one original 2010 title managed (Sony’s Heavy Rain).
So why? What’s caused the sudden interest in new brands?
Interestingly, it has little to do with quality. As our graphs above show, the critical ratings of games in 2010 are in line with those released this year – in fact 2010 has the edge in terms of quality.
However, this year’s new IPs have an advantage in being able to target fans of existing franchises.
Homefront was THQ’s answer to Call of Duty, L.A. Noire is from the publisher of Grand Theft Auto, Epic Games used Gears of War to help drive Bulletstorm, while Brink leverages on the current popularity of multiplayer shooters.
Compare that to a single-player adventure based on an ancient Chinese novel (Enslaved) or a psychological thriller where the main character runs around with a torch (Alan Wake). Great games certainly, but hard sells and a tough task for marketers.
In order to make a new IP succeed in today’s challenged market, publishers have to get fully behind their brands. And not just send a game to retail, book a few print ads and hope for the best.
Homefront received the full backing from everyone at THQ, from CEO Brian Farrell right down to the individual PR and sales teams. In the UK alone a £2m ad campaign was booked, while the PR team was busy placing interviews, previews and sending crazy promotional materials to journalists.
Rockstar lavished similar attention and budget on L.A. Noire, while Bethesda treated Brink as one of its triple-A brands.
And that’s because new IP is worth the investment. Just look at this year’s big sellers with the number 2 at the end of them – LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2, Crysis 2, Portal 2 and Dragon Age 2. They were all new IPs just a year or two ago.
Ultimately, the idea that new brands can’t compete in a mature console market dominated by Call of Duty and FIFA is a fallacy, a myth. The success of Homefront, L.A. Noire and Brink proves it. Consumers are open to new experiences as long as they can be confident it’s an investment worth making.
And it’s up to the publishers, the developers and the marketers to persuade them that it is.